In this issue, we introduce to you writer, journalist, and TCK Ryu Spaeth. Ryu is an editor at New York Magazine. He was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the Philippines and India. In addition to being a TCK, Ryu is also a cross-cultural kid (CCK), as his parents are different nationalities/ethnicities. In this conversation, Ryu describes an experience that many of us have had: first grappling with TCK identity issues upon returning to his passport country for university. In talking about the concept of home, he explains how living in a big city like New York reminds him of other big global cities he’s known. Besides New York Magazine, Ryu’s writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, and The New Republic. Enjoy getting to know Ryu Spaeth!

Tell us a bit about your experience as a TCK.

My father is an American from New York who  moved to Tokyo in the late 1970s to work at the  Yomiuri Shimbun, one of the country’s largest  newspapers. He met my mother there. After  they married, they moved to Hong Kong, where  I was born, then the Philippines, then India,  where I graduated from high school in 1999.

When did you learn about the  concept of being a TCK? Did it resonate with you?

I think I probably was aware of the concept in high  school, but it didn’t really resonate until I moved  to America for college, when it became clear that  I was neither an American (which was what my  passport said) nor an Indian (where I had spent  the bulk of my life) nor Japanese (my mother’s  country). I felt very much that I was in a no man’s  land between places, without a home to call my  own, and that feeling stemmed from spending my  formative years as a third culture kid. 

What early interests guided you  into your chosen career?

I’ve always been a reader, and I was always  interested in literature and history, two subjects  that are of great importance to journalists.

I felt very much that  I was in a no man’s  land between places.

Ryu and his family in India.

How have you experienced your  background as an asset in your  career? In your personal life? 

Growing up in India and traveling all over the  world have been vital in giving me a perspective  that a lot of American journalists don’t have.  This was my true education, much more so than  anything I learned in university. I think it has  probably had a similar impact on my personal life,  though it’s also an alienating experience that not a  lot of people can relate to. I’ve always felt a bit of  an outsider in that respect.  

Did your childhood/teen years  affect how you think politically,  especially in terms of world  politics? If so, how?  

Absolutely. I feel like I am less susceptible to  notions of American exceptionalism, to name  one example, and I opposed the Iraq War when  I was in college not because I knew anything  about geopolitics really, but because of some  vague, visceral sense that America was behaving  arrogantly and badly. Going to an international  school also instilled in me a deep respect for  pluralistic diversity and a tolerance for all kinds of  people, principles that are unfortunately valued  less and less in India these days under [Prime  Minister] Modi and the BJP [his party]. 

What about your background  makes you better at your job?  

I think being able to see life from other  perspectives is important. Knowledge of different  cultures also just makes you a more sophisticated  person, more worldly; and journalists pride  themselves on knowing things, on being people on whom nothing is lost.

Ryu (left) and his brother at the Taj Mahal.

What about your background  creates hindrances to your work  (creative or professional)?  

There are vast swathes of American pop culture  (particularly television) that are completely  unfamiliar to me, which is a hindrance for  anyone who wants to write about American life.  

Have you struggled with or  embraced the idea of “settling  down” in one location? What  does that look like for you?  

I very much wanted to put down roots after  college; I didn’t want to roam the earth forever  looking for a home. I found that home in  New York City, in no small part because it is  reminiscent of the places where I grew up. The  noise, the bad smells, the chaotic energy remind  me of New Delhi, while Chinatown could be  a simulation of Hong Kong. And you can find  some of the best ramen in the world here, too.

I didn’t want to roam the earth forever looking for a home.

Your writing sounds like you  could be an NYC “insider”—do  you feel you are? Does it feel  like home to you? If not, where  is home for you?  

I did not feel like an insider for a very long time,  but now I suppose I am, in the sense that I  occupy a senior position at an elite New York  institution. New York is the only place that feels  like home, with the exception of Japan, where I  spent long summers in my youth and where my  relatives live.  

This issue’s theme is “Risk.” Tell us  about a time you took a big risk  (and if it succeeded or flopped).  

I suppose the greatest risk I took was becoming a  writer. Journalism is a difficult profession even in  the best of times, and I could so easily have failed  and grown bitter. But if I’ve achieved a modicum  of success there’s no guarantee it will last. So, I’ll  say the jury is still out on the question of whether  I’ve flopped or not—as Montaigne said, “Count no  man happy until he’s dead.”

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