Weird Culture Kids – Ngoc Nguyen (H.18)

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My name is Ngoc Nguyen and I am the author of Weird Culture Kids, a memoir about my growing up in different cultures and not knowing where to fully belong. “Weird culture kids” is a term that I coined to designate people who do not fit into any specific cultural standard and who create their own ‘weird culture’ in which they take bits and pieces from the traditional and nation-state ones that they’ve experienced and mix everything together to create their own culture. Through this book, I wanted to share stories about the different cultures that I was born into, that I encountered with, and that I consciously chose as part of my identity. The final product will be an alteration between my own stories and similar ones of those around me who are just equally weird, culturally-speaking.

I was compelled to write this book because I am one of those kids who have always felt like I never fully belonged to any place. I was born in Moscow and grew up in Hanoi where I was enrolled in an international French school from the age of four. I left Vietnam to attend an American boarding school in Connecticut in 2008 and ever since, one of the most recurring questions that people always asked me was “Where are you from?” This had always been one of the hardest questions for me to answer because I had never believed that we should (could?) be “from” one place.

I was never sure what type of information the speaker was trying to get from my answer. Was he trying to figure out where I was living before arriving here? Or, going beyond the geographical dimension, which cultures shaped my personality and which sets of beliefs dictated my behavior? My default answer is “Vietnam”, my passport country, although I know that this simple answer does not encapsulate all the places where I feel some sense of strong belonging. And the more and the further I traveled, I realized that there are so many people like myself out there, who are equally lost and confused when being asked this dangerously common question.Through this book, I have had the opportunity to not only connect with people that I know from both my past and my present, but also strangers whom I’ve never met but who were generous enough to share with me their life stories and experiences. Through them, I learned that the answer to the “where are you from?” question doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical nation-state.

There are around 273 million people in the world who live in a different country than the one of their passport today. 273 million people is 2,7 times the population of Vietnam (my passport country), 4 times that of France (where I pay my taxes) and 0,8 times that of the US (where I’ll be publishing my book). If we were a country, we would be the fourth most populous one, just after China, India and the US. Looking at this number I realized that I was never alone, that my weird culture world was not something rare, but actually very common. The only reason that I thought it to be rare was because I never spoke about those relocations, those awkward moments, those uneasy conversations. And this book is going to do just that. So here’s to all the weird culture kids out there who are— actually— not so weird, after all! To learn more about my book and the WCK community, please follow me on instagram @weirdculturekids and please help spread the word!