Thriving Thursdays – Third Culture Kids: Beyond and Between Borders with Ahana Banerjee

For the second podcast of our series about Third Culture Kids: Beyond and Between Borders, we were fortunate to have Ahana Banerjee, a young TCK and successful entrepreneur, who shared her experience of growing up in diverse countries and how it influenced her life and career choices. Ahana was born in India, but her family moved to the UK when she was still a baby. At the age of 14, she moved to New Delhi with her family and two years later she found herself in Singapore completing her last two years of school in IB.

The young entrepreneur was exposed to three completely different cultures. These experiences have shaped her into the person she is today and contributed to her current achievements in her career as the CEO of Clear which is a skincare start-up company. Throughout her life and moving places from an early age on, Ahana encountered challenges such as identity issues, adapting to new environments, being accepted into society, as well as discrimination.

Childhood and Challenges as a young TCK

During her early years in the UK, Ahana tried to adapt and fit into the British environment which ultimately led her to hide elements of her Indian heritage. She feared playing into certain stereotypes would portray her as someone different from others. Due to the differences in her Indian culture, appearance, including her parents’ profession, she perceived herself as an outsider in the UK, but even more in India. When she went to an international school in India during her teenage years, citizens did not acknowledge her Indian origin.

A girl, who did not speak her native language and who grew up in Britain during her early childhood years, was seen as fully British by Indian local people. Hence, Ahana felt even more separated from her heritage. Everything changed when she moved to Singapore where she was exposed to a large Indian community. Indians living in Singapore openly embraced their traditions, culture, and norms. For the first time, people were identifying Ahana as Indian.

However, whilst living in Singapore, the young TCK also encountered discrimination for the first time. Her family was denied entry into a property that was primarily dominated by Westerners due to their Indian background. According to Ahana, similar discriminations or stereotypes are common around the world, in particular within the workplace where people get promoted based on their race and nationality rather than recognizing them for their skillsets and competencies.

Even in school, she faced judgments where people of certain backgrounds were put into a specific category that separated them from the majority. She was only able to come to terms with her background, grow, and develop maturity once she left Asia to move back to the UK where she felt at home. All these challenges of adapting, trying to fit in into a certain environment, and being accepted by the people as well as having a mix of eastern and western influence while growing up, have shaped Ahana into the person that she is today. She increased her self-awareness skills as she travelled around the world, enhanced her intercultural communication abilities through interacting with diverse people, and furthermore, having grown up in different environments strengthened her competencies on the international level.

Career Path

Ahana always had a passion for studying and took part in many extracurricular activities. Math was one of her favourite subjects. Later in school, she recognized her skills in Science and describing things as well which led her ultimately to her pursue a degree in Physics which is a combination of her favourite subjects. Before studying at Imperial College, she attended an American School in New Delhi. Yet, she perceived the American high school system, particularly Math, as less advanced relative to the British education system. As a result, she overestimated her skills and had major gaps in her knowledge due to the curriculum change when she applied for school in Singapore.

In order to pass the exam to study high-level Math and IB, she had to review all new topics during the summer and her effort was paid off. Although she undervalued her competencies in Math, she excelled in Physics and IB which secured her a place at her dream university, Imperial College in London. Nevertheless, during her first year of university, she was unable to meet the high expectations of her professors and keeping up with her peers turned out to be a challenge. She was behind with her knowledge which led to an existential crisis and did not know if she belonged to the environment. She wanted to use her broad range of skill sets and interests in other fields besides physics. Thus, she applied to Software Engineering, Banking, Hedge funds consulting firms in addition to many other subjects. Due to her broad range of expertise, she was fortunate to receive excellent internship positions and received her first job at a start-up company.

The combination of critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and analysis increased her interest in working at a start-up company. Halfway through the final year of her degree, she worked for a different start-up called Quill which was a B2B SaaS Minutes Automation Software that pivoted from that into Clear, her current start-up. Clear is an integrated social commerce app for skincare. She wrote the code for Clear herself, bootstrapped to over 6,000 users, fundraised an $800k pre-seed, and now manages a global team of 6 people, and got accepted to Y Combinator which is one of the most prestigious Silicon Valley accelerators.

TCK Skills

According to Ahana, one of the skills as a TCK that contributed to her success is the broader experience of communication capabilities, understanding people due to her increased knowledge of diverse cultures as a Third Culture Kid, language abilities, and enhanced international expertise from growing up in different countries. The challenges and problems that a TCK face while navigating through life, are highly valuable in the working world. Ahana believes that the type of challenges you face in life are the types that you encounter in the workforce. Thus, for TCK these kinds of difficulties are more natural and easier to overcome. The young entrepreneur stated that her upbringing as a TCK in different environments contributed to her educational and professional success more compared to her physics degree, which makes TCK more well-rounded. Nonetheless, not being a TCK does not mean you will not succeed, but she believes based on what she has seen, there are some advantages that TCKs have to excel in the professional work environment.

Conclusion

Recognizing and acknowledging these experiences and applying them in her career and educational path, have increased her skills and contributed immensely to her achievements as a successful entrepreneur. She realized that being a TCK brings more advantages because of being exposed to and exploring different countries, people, and cultures. However, it is significant to acknowledge the skillsets and achievements that you have acquired and learn from the challenges and problems while growing up in order to succeed in life.

“The role of culture is that it’s the form through which we as a society reflect on who we are, where we’ve been, where we hope to be.”       – Wendell Pierce

Final Words: SIETAR Austria and Raw Culture greatly appreciate and want to express gratitude to Ahana Banerjee for participating in this journey of spreading awareness of TCK and how her experience shaped her as a young TCK as well as the great benefits that bring with it. We wish her good luck in her career.  

You can find further information about Ahana Banerjee’s work at: https://getclearapp.com/ Furthermore, we are grateful to Weirong Li, founder, and CEO of Raw Culture, for working to increase the value of diverse cultures.


References and Sources:

Information about Ahana Banerjee:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ahana-banerjee/

YouTube Link to Expert Talk with Ahana Banerjee:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtljAxFLpug&t=1s

Information about Raw Culture’s Community for TCKs: 

https://links.geneva.com/invite/2b89c652-9173-4be3-9435-23db919da91c
Zalina Alieva

Zalina Alieva

My diverse background, passion for unique cultures, and languages inspired me to become an international manager. Throughout my studies and work experience, I have obtained expertise in leading, collaborating and communicating across borders with intercultural and monocultural teams in various projects in person as well as within the virtual and blended environment.

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