I've always identified myself as a third culture kid, a TCK, a citizen of the world. Essentially, that means that I don’t belong to the culture of the country I was born in, nor do I belong to the culture of the country that I am living in now, but another, international third culture.
Yet it’s not the question “where are you from?” that I struggle with. It’s “how old are you?”
Instantly, the wheels click in my head when I hear those four dreaded words, the bane of my existence. I wonder how to answer the question. Most of the time, I just deflect, change the subject, and try to talk about something else. Occasionally, I tell the truth, that I am 17 (and in my second year of university). It’s a question that really tears me apart, because once you answer it and other people find out, it instantly becomes your only defining characteristic. You stop being that nice guy or that funny guy or that lively guy (I really flatter myself too much), but instantly turn into the guy that’s younger than everyone else. And with that comes its own set stereotypes.
The word “genius” is tossed around a lot. People expect you to possess unparalleled intelligence, they instantly think “oh, I read about this 14-year old kid in the news that’s doing a PhD in neuroscience, who must be like you, right?” No. Not even close.
People expect you to be immature. Those are people that I could never hang out with, people that every time you’d meet the first and only thing they would bring up was your age, and you’d have to sit there and watch them struggle to do math backwards to find out what year I was born.
Then, there were the people that always had it in the back of their minds. The people who, when you try to have a conversation with them, are giving you this blank stare, because you know they’re not even listening to you but thinking about how they could have possibly ended up in this situation where they’re having a serious conversation with someone who, to them, is a child.
To a lot of people, it was as if my age was the only explanation for all of my actions and accomplishments, not because I was smarter or had out-competed my classmates, but because of a number that I had grown to resent and distance myself from overtime. To be honest, I always dismissed these explanations as some underlying resentment or envy from my classmates, not willing to accept that I performed better in school because of factors that were within their control. They would use my age to reassure themselves that was the explanation, and so there was nothing they could do about it.
There are a few that managed to stay above the fray, to be able to accept me for being me and not a product of my age, and those are the people I would count among my closest and dearest friends. Those are the people who were never bothered by my age. They’d be shocked when I told them the first time, then you’d completely forget about it.
Kar Jin writes in his blog post, “At the same time, I also took on with ever greater fervor the perks of being young. Chatting away the wee hours of the morning on the merits of Games of Thrones, dancing and looking like a complete fool in the process, and just YOLO-ing the simple things in daily life.” Life will afford me those guilty pleasures. But then, once I do something that’s more traditionally “my age,” people will respond: ‘Ah, that’s so predictable. It’s because he’s younger than all of us.’ This really makes it difficult to revert back to the way I normally am, because people will just say ‘wait, go back to the silly person you were yesterday, that representation of you makes me more comfortable, because it’s how society has taught me to think you should be like, plus it makes me more comfortable about my own insecurities.’ I’m paraphrasing, of course.
Another thing I faced were girl issues. Girls would NEVER see me as date-able (at least in my grade), but rather as a little brother. This is especially compounded by the fact that girls mature faster than guys. And so, you might be wondering, “well Ahmed, why don’t you date someone your age who isn't in your grade?”
To that, I say that I can never hang out with people that are my own age anymore. That’s because I've spent my whole life surrounded by older people. I am an only child, so I had my parents in the early stages. Then when I went to school, my classmates were older than me, and it has been that way ever since. I've matured at the same speed and level of people that are two, three, heck sometimes four years older than me, and so now I find people my age unbearably childish, ironically just as people older than me sometimes find me incredibly childish. I’m sure this’ll be straightened out in my 20s when we’re all around the same maturity level, more or less, hopefully.
I've decided to tell no one at my university. No one knows my real age (although maybe if they manage to unearth this, my secret will be out). I feel like that’s made people take me more seriously, but I've lost what’s made me unique – I was the child prodigy in ISKL, both a blessing and a curse.
Now, I’ll have to find other avenues to be special. And hopefully, I will be able to find a way to be simply me.
|"I've spent my whole life surrounded by older people..."|
"Childhood", Taken December 2012 at Napier, NZ. Copyright of OKJ.
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