Riley Amelio 18' poses in front of his fraternity house, Pi Kappa Alpha, on Monday, Sept. 19, 2016. Amelio is one of a handful of Lehigh students who, despite not being considered an international student, grew up in a different country. (Alek Mosholt/B&W Staff)

‘A foot in both cultures’: Lehigh’s third-culture kids


Somewhere between Lehigh’s domestic and international student populations are those who are American citizens but grew up in another country. The Office of International Students and Scholars calls these students “third-culture kids.”

“They’re a population of students who often get lost in the mix,” said Jen Topp, the manager of international connections. “They’re really interesting people.”

Riley Amelio, ’18, is a U.S. native who lived in Singapore for about 10 years because of his father’s job relocation. He attended the Singapore American School until his time at Lehigh.

“Since I moved when I was so young, I didn’t struggle to get used to my new life abroad,” Amelio said. “In fact, I fell in love with the city. It is considered one of the safest places in the world, which allowed me to venture out on my own and experience Singapore’s rich culture from a very young age.”

Although Amelio spent the majority of his life in Singapore, he was no stranger to Lehigh. His father was a wrestler at Lehigh, and after being told anecdotes from his past experiences Amelio made sure the university became his priority over other college applications.

After being at Lehigh for three years, Amelio finds himself relating more with American students, but says it’s also  easy to relate to people who have lived in Asia.

Another student, Austin Edwards, ’18, also attended the Singapore American School for a few years before moving to Geneva, Switzerland. Edwards was born in New York City and lived in New Jersey for eight years. His father took a job in Singapore the summer after Edwards completed third grade, but the family had to move yet again to Geneva four years later.

“Having moved before, this news was less of a shock, and I went into it with a positive attitude,” Edwards said. “It was cool being in high school in Geneva because a lot of students were engaged in global politics because their parents worked at the United Nations. Classroom debates were always extremely interesting, which I appreciate now since I have carried my passion for politics to Lehigh by majoring in International Relations.”

Like Amelio, Edwards finds himself relating more to American students, specifically American students who have lived abroad.

“I think I relate more to American students because my closest friends abroad were American,” Edwards said. “Despite the time difference, we would all wake up at 3 a.m. before school to watch NFL games, we played baseball together and followed American politics closely, which I think gave me a closer tie to the U.S.”

Amelio and Edwards both attended the Singapore American School in middle school, and have had the chance to reconnect at Lehigh as classmates and fraternity brothers of Pi Kappa Alpha.

Another international student, Kilian Druggan, ’20, had a somewhat different lifestyle from Amelio and Edwards. Druggan was born abroad in Milan, Italy. He holds an American citizenship because his father is American, but his mother is a native of Milan.

At age 7, Druggan moved to Germany for six years, but then spent the last five years in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Druggan knew he wanted to major in engineering, so his college counselor mentioned Lehigh. After touring colleges in the Northeast, he narrowed his choices to Lehigh and Lafayette, ultimately choosing Lehigh.

Although Druggan went to an American school, he still learned Italian and feels part of both cultures. He said the toughest part about being an international student is explaining to other students he is actually Italian. When he tells people about his ethnicity, people often assume he is an American with an Italian heritage who lived in the United States.

Initially, even Lehigh made this assumption. Druggan originally reported to the Office of the First Year Experience, rather than the Office of International Students and Scholars, due to his American citizenship. However, he called the school and asked to be a part of international student orientation, because he had never lived in the United States before, Topp said.

Druggan said he finds himself relating more with international students more than with American students.

“I went through international orientation, and all of the friends I have now and the ones I hang out with are international students,” Druggan said. “That’s just the way it worked out, so I can’t pinpoint an exact reason.”

Topp also said she thinks third-culture kids bring a different perspective to Lehigh and could be valuable in bridging the gap between international and domestic students.

“We feel these students might be a really good bridge to Americans and internationals because they have a foot in each culture,” she said. “They don’t specifically belong in either, but they belong in both”

Having had the opportunity to experience different cultures abroad is something each of these three students said they wouldn’t change.

“What I appreciate most about my unique experience is the ongoing development of cultural awareness from places around the world,” Edwards said. “I was lucky enough to travel a lot while living overseas, and I believe that immersing yourself into a culture different from your own is an incredibly valuable experience. I think this is the reason why I have yet to hear of a Lehigh student who didn’t love their study abroad experience.”

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