Third Culture Kids

As I prepare my interview for Kimberly Willis Holt, I think I should have a post about the theme of expatriation, and what it means for our global children, these children who accompany their parents into other cultures : the Third Culture Kids.

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

David C. Pollock & Ruth E. Van Reken
Third Culture Kids

Wikipedia has an interesting article about TKCs.

One statement fascinates me because I find it to be totally true: “TCKs have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCK’s from their own country.”

My daughter’s best friend, whom I mentioned in my last post, came to visit us in France, last summer. In the TGV that was bringing her to the south of the country, they met another British family en route for their holiday destination. As the two families exchanged the usual introductory sentences, my daughter’s friend’s first question to the other children was : “So, how many countries have you lived in?” The other children looked at each other, a little puzzled. For my daughter’s friend, the question was totally spontaneous and natural. In the short 7 years of her life, she’s already lived in Australia, Singapore, India and now the UK. She was simply expressing what she knows.

My own seven-year-old has lived in New York, in Nigeria, in India, and who knows where we’ll be going next – well, hopefully, we will sometime soon. During those years, she visited France, Spain, Haiti, New York and Florida in the US, Benin, Morocco, India and Sri Lanka. She left friends in Nigeria, some who then moved to Indonesia. She has friends and family in France, Spain, Haiti and the US. She now has friends in the UK as well. And that global network of hers will continue to grow along with her. She also understands, although still reluctantly, and definitely not without pain, that her life is a lot about saying good bye. As I mentioned in my last post, even my 3-year-old knows about it, now. This also happens to be the theme of a couple of picture book manuscripts I have, sitting in slush piles here and there.

Of course, the good thing is that with the Internet, Windows Live Messenger and Skype, it is easier now than ever to keep in touch with people almost anywhere in the world. Also, studies seem to show that most TCKs do rather well in life. Still, it’s not easy, and the downsides of that life should not be disregarded, nor considered lightly.

To end on a humorous note, I found the following statements on several blogs and websites. I had to laugh, because practically all of them apply to us.

You know you are a Third Culture Kid when:

– You can’t answer the question “where are you from?”
– You speak two (or more) languages but can’t spell in them
– “Where are you from?” has more than one reasonable answer
– You feel odd being in the ethnic majority
– You have the urge to move to a new place every couple of years
– You have a time zone map next to your telephone
– You go into culture shock upon returning to your “home” country
– You flew before you could walk
– You have a passport, but no driver’s license
– You speak with authority on the quality of airline travel
– Your life story uses the phrase “Then we went to…” five times or more
– You don’t know where home is
– You run into someone you know at every airport
– You sort your friends by continent
– Your dorm room/apartment/living room looks a little like a museum with all the “exotic” things you have around.
– You automatically take off your shoes as soon as you get home
– National Geographic (OR THE TRAVEL CHANNEL) makes you homesick.
– Your second major is in a foreign language you already speak
– You feel that multiple passports would be appropriate.
– You go to Pizza Hut or Wendy’s and you wonder why there’s no chili sauce
– Your high school memories include those days that school was cancelled due to tear gas, riots, demonstrations, or bomb threats.
– Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you.
– You know the geography of the rest of the world, but you don’t know the geography of your own country.
– You realize it really is a small world, after all.


12 thoughts on “Third Culture Kids

  1. I agree !Most of my friends are bicultural (parents from different nationalities) or have lived in different countries like myself. When we are like 10, we have 8 different nationalities. But we do get along better than those with whom we share a nationality but not the way of life.That’s the way it is ๐Ÿ˜‰But I am not sure I want for my kids what I had although I love my life just the way it is.

  2. I laughed at the second point about speaking two languages but not being able to spell in them. My son’s kind of like that. Although he’s lived in the same area in Japan all his life (8 years) he didn’t really start speaking Japanese till he was three.Kids here ask him where he is from, and he once wrote that he was from America, which isn’t really true. Although he has an American mom and an American passport, he doesn’t feel completely comfortable in the U.S. But he gets along really well with international kids in Japan. I try to give him lots of opportunities not to feel so different.

  3. Hi Jo Ann, I like the comment :”I am not sure I want for my kids what I had although I love my life just the way it is.” I understand what you mean, even though it does sound kind of twisted, right ? ๐Ÿ™‚ You know what you went through, you know what you can deal with, and so, you’re ok, because you’ve probably cut your losses and made the best of it and can now enjoy all the perks of being such an international person, if feeling a bit uprooted. Does that mean you’d wish your kids to go through the same process? Not sure, right ?

  4. Hello Suzanne,My daughter is a bit like your son. She’s never lived in France, and we didn’t even have a house there before last summer, and even though she’s half Haitian, she invariably says she’s French. Maybe because I spend more time with her than her dad, and I brainwash her more ๐Ÿ™‚ I also think that kids with multiple backgrounds tend to choose one standard answer for people who ask the question without really listening to the answer. If the person seems interested, or asks more questions, then, they’ll disclose the whole information. It’s easier that way. That said, there is also the exotic factor. As a child living in France, whenever I was asked where I came from, I said I was Spanish. But when in Spain, I said I was French. I always felt different, wherever I went, and in the end, maybe I even liked it. Confusing? Probably. Interesting? Definitely.

  5. You made me want to write about that on my blog ! ๐Ÿ™‚ One of those days ๐Ÿ˜‰It will make me think about the fact I don’t want my kids to live the life I had although my father wasn’t really an expat…Trรจs philosophique, tout รงa ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. I have been using a term for some time now that refers in part to what they coin TCK. However, the Third Culture Kid definition closes out people who although they have lived a significant part of their lives outside of their parent’s culture haven’t not had high mobility in their lives. I like to call people who are multicultural because they have lived in different places and integrated various cultures to form their own “the global gang” people. These people slip in and out of countries and cultures and seem to blend in everywhere. Their passports identify them with one nation and sometimes their birth certificates with another. Usually their own culture is a hodge podge of different cultural elements. Also, the languages they speak express their varied world representations. As my 8 year old son said recently quite amused at himself: “Donne moi, un poco of soda, tanpri” (French/Spanish/English/Creole).

  7. Hi Global Gang Chica, are YOU who I think that you are :)) I never got the feeling that you had to have moved around a lot to be a TCK. Missionary kids were among the first children to be considered as TCKs, and often they spent their entire childhood in only one other country than their passport country. Also, TCKs now include children of first generation immigrants and refugee kids. These children don’t move around necessarily. That said, the global gang concept is fun ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Hey Katia,TCK’s… where do I start? Here it is. Another box to define the undefinable. I read through your list and 99% of those things apply to me and yet, the basic definition doesn’t. That’s what I hate about definitions. The whole idea is to give a home to those who don’t fit other restrictive definitions, but you end up with such a restrictive definintion that you don’t solve anything. So let’s stop wasting time creating definitions that do not fit and simply discuss symptoms and how to help. ;0And now I’ll take a deep breath and say again… there’s nothing quite like the vagabond life. It is interesting, educational, mind-broadening and ultimately leads to diplomacy and discussion versus argument and war. Is it any surprise that the current president of this nationalistic, warmongering regime has never lived outside of the country.

  9. Hello Rilla ! I’m not sure I agree with you. Definitions are useful, if only to show how restrictive they can be. Besides, a definition or a concept – like the TCKs – can evolve. Nowadays, the TCks also include first generation immigrants and children of refugees. It’s not rigid. Most of the things on that list also apply to me, and I’m not really a TCK. It doesn’t matter. I posted the definition for those out there who may not be familiar with the concept of TCK. And then, all the statements were funny. As for praising mobility, there also, sure, it’s a wonderful thing, but let’s not forget that there is a high price to pay. The whole point of this discussion is to highlight what’s good and even great about being a global nomad, but also what’s very hard. Because there are shadows, and the best way to deal with shadows is to shine light on them, not to ignore them or declare they don’t exist. Well, that’s how I feel, anyway ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Hi KatiaMany thanks for sharing this blog with me!Just thought you might be interested to know the experience of a teenager (now 17). Jamie has lived out of UK since he was 9, and the strangest thing is that he feels he has no roots. He certainly has no desire to return to live in the UK. During the past year we have been considering university courses , and he has certainly taken a global perspective in choice of location – something we parents would have only dreamed of doing! Again, with no desire to return to the UK, it looks as if Australia or the US hold more appeal. Perhaps it is the need to feel he is still part of the international community-he certainly enjoys mixing with kids from different cultures and countries, and feels more at home with them than with British kids his own age. I often hear the comment, when back in UK visiting friends and family, that he doesn’t “fit in” there any more. As for the sadness at having to say goodbye to current friends at ISH- I think it will hit him hard next June,when we finally leave Hyderabad once he has completed his IB diploma. He has already said farewell to many friends during his 4 years here,but still keeps in touch with a fair number who visit Hyderabad regularly.However, when we leave in June we are unlikely to return, so email will become more important I suppose, plus the possibility of meeting old friends elsewhere in the world. It will be especially difficult next year when he has to say goodbye to his first girlfriend! I guess we all have to move on and readjust, but it certainly doesn’t get easier as children grow up! Look forward to reading more of your blog in 2008! Good luck with the book!Best wishes, and merry Christmas!Lynn

  11. Lynn, thanks for taking the time to write this to me. I’m not surprised at all by what you describe. Have you read Third Culture Kids by David Pollock? If you haven’t, try to get your hands on it – I could lend it to you, if you’d like. Actually, Jamie would probably be interested to read it as well. According to the studies done so far, teenagers are the ones who suffer the most. On the other hand, they develop this global feeling and awareness, and often go on to have very international careers and lives. It’s very interesting. And I totally understand that he would prefer to be with other international kids than with British teenagers who never left UK. What could they possibly talk about? They don’t have the same references, etc, etc.

  12. Katia,Being a world citizen is wonderful for all reasons we know but it does teach you not to get attached to people as one day they go or you go and for children, it is heartbreaking ,and, no matter how much the adult explains, the child suffers,misses his friends ,his school his habits,his house,his marks…….It is not so easy to start all over again in a new country for a child although she/he appears more resilientThe topic is interesting as it does affect people in a different way.Dominique

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s