Third-culture Hongkonger strikes up the brand

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 2011, 12:00am

It's been nearly six years since Christina Domhardt moved back to Hong Kong, her birthplace. The twenty-something half-German, half-Chinese is educated, outgoing and has a successful career as a marketing manager for a fashion and apparel company - a job that sends her flying around the world.

On the surface, it seems as though she should be loving life here. But as recently as two years ago, she often found herself feeling dejected, angry and isolated.

Life as a third-culture child - someone who has spent a significant portion of their formative years outside their parents' culture - may seem easy to others, what with the multiple languages, passports, and the affluent family background that usually comes with the identification. But for a child growing up, being pulled from your native culture and placed into a foreign one - sometimes more than once - can take an emotional toll.

Domhardt, who moved to Thailand when she was eight and then Australia six years later, developed a severe case of identity crisis when she moved back to Hong Kong. She speaks fluent Cantonese and has always considered herself more Chinese than German. (Her father, who worked in the construction industry, also left his native Germany at a young age.) But because of her Eurasian looks, it's an uphill battle to shed the gwai mui label in Hong Kong.

Working at a company made up of almost entire Chinese staff didn't help matters. She remembers, vividly, the teasing of her colleagues.

'You understand what we're saying, right?'

'Wah! I can't believe you know how to use chopsticks!'

She knew her colleagues meant no harm, but the words added up, which didn't help her identity crisis.

'I think it's normal for third-culture kids to feel like they don't belong, because we're so used to morphing into the environment we're in,' Domhardt says.

Assimilating to various cultures is a skill Domhardt mastered early on in her life. In Thailand, she hung out with local children, eating food on the streets. In Australia, she took a part-time job throughout school because 'that's what teens there do'.

But in Hong Kong, she thought she wouldn't need to assimilate.

'I am Chinese and I was born here,' she says. 'I didn't think I would be treated like a foreigner.'

Things got so bad she thought about quitting her job, but ultimately decided against it, putting faith in the clich?, 'whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger'.

What ended up making her stronger was an epiphany, discovered with the help of a friend.

'I was meeting a friend for drinks one night, about two years go, and after hearing my story, he told me to just stand up for myself and tell everyone, 'I am from Hong Kong,'' she says.

With her marketing expertise, she came up with a branding strategy.

'I am who I say I am,' she says. 'And if anyone doubts me, I'll reinforce it.'

Calling it the 'Made in Hong Kong campaign', Domhardt first tested it out on colleagues, even once flaunting the three stars on her ID card - the mark of a permanent resident.

She says the campaign has empowered her and wiped all insecurities away. So recently, she took her campaign online, sharing her story on Denizen, an online magazine for third-culture kids.

'I've been getting many interesting comments, from both TCKs and non-TCKs,' she says. 'It's been inspiring.'

While her wanderlust is still present (she doesn't know if she has committed to staying in Hong Kong for the long haul yet), Domhardt has found herself. After years of looking at the glass half-empty, she's now embraced her blend of cultures, frequently integrating her local, Cantonese-speaking friends with her English-speaking friends.

'Now,' she says, 'I tell people I'm a citizen of the world.'


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