Third Culture Kids, Notes by Caroline Kurtz

The TCK Formally defined:

“TCKs are people who have spent a portion of their formative childhood years (0-18) in a culture different than their parents’. Most TCKs will return to their parents’ home country at some point in their lives, undergoing repatriation. TCKs tend to develop their identities while living abroad, thus blending their ‘home’ culture with the culture of the world around them. People who have attended international schools, who are children of diplomats, ‘military brats,’ or children of missionaries are just a few examples of TCKs.” Denizen, an online magazine for TCKs

In Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds authors David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken write that a “TCK builds relationships to all of the cul-tures, 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.”

And, of course, from Wikipedia: “Today, the population of third culture kids, also re-ferred to as “third culture individuals” (TCIs), is increasing with globalization, transna-tional migration, numerous job opportunities and work overseas, accessibility of interna-tional education, and various other factors. The number of people who are currently liv-ing outside the old nation-state categories is increasing rapidly, by 64 million just within 12 years, reaching up to 220 million people (2013). Since TCKs’ international experi-ence is characterized by a sense of high mobility, they have also been referred as glob-al nomads.”

You know you’re a TCK when …

• “Where are you from?” has more than one reasonable answer.
• You’ve said that you’re from foreign country X, and (if you live in America) your audi-ence has asked you which US state X is in.
• You flew before you could walk.
• You speak two languages, but can’t spell in either.
• You feel odd being in the ethnic majority.
• You have three passports.
• You went into culture shock upon returning to your “home” country.
• Your life story uses the phrase “Then we moved to…” three (or four, or five…) times.
• You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
• You don’t know whether to write the date as day/month/year, month/day/year, or some variation thereof.
• You get confused because US money isn’t colour-coded.
• You own personal appliances with 3 types of plugs, know the difference between 110 and 220 volts, 50 and 60 cycle current, and realize that a transformer isn’t always enough to make your appliances work.
• You fried a number of appliances during the learning process.
• You think the Pledge of Allegiance might possibly begin with “Four-score and seven years ago….”
• Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you.
• You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted ball.
• You consider a city 500 miles away “very close.”
• You get homesick reading National Geographic.
• You cruise the Internet looking for fonts that can support foreign alphabets.
• You’ve gotten out of school because of monsoons, bomb threats, and/or popular demonstrations.
• You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel.
• You have frequent flyer accounts on multiple airlines.
• You constantly want to use said frequent flyer accounts to travel to new places.
• You know how to pack.
• You have the urge to move to a new country every couple of years.
• You think that high school reunions are all but impossible.

Aren’t we lucky to have gone to a school that started an alumni association so that school reunions are not only possible, but happen regularly!

The stages of TCK development:

Sponge—in childhood, when you were soaking up all the impressions, languages and customs of your host country
Chameleon—in childhood, having become flexible and adaptable, able to use whatever parts of whichever culture fit the given situation; able to switch effortlessly between lan-guages and sets of customs
Hidden Immigrant—upon return to passport country, feeling like a stranger in a mono-culture that people expect you to be comfortable in. Common reactions are feelings of:
• deep loneliness
• being trapped in the past
• being overly critical of your passport country
• anger, bitterness
• depression

The healthy goal is to pass through these stages and to become trans-national, global citizens who:
• do not hide their pasts nor talk compulsively about them, but can share appropri-ately and comfortably about their experiences
• do not grit their teeth and “stay put” on principal, but make wise and flexible choices
• do not run away from their passport countries, back overseas, but again, make wise and flexible choices about where to live
• use the cross-cultural skills both at home with their passport cultures and abroad in cross-cultural experiences

As we grow up, we learn how to define home, how to answer the question about our roots, about what defines us, and about where to go next.

TCKs react differently, depending on how they’re wired, to the influences of their young experiences in different cultures, and with the losses and challenges that life brought. Here are a few typical polarities.

How do you stay in touch when you move?
• Keeping track of everyone, filling an address book as big as the Manhattan phone book
• Letting people go easily—out of sight, out of mind

How do you develop close relationships?
• Dive deep, quickly—there’s no time to lose
• Don’t ever go deep—because what’s the use, it will be taken from you

How do you feel about being a TCK?
• I put it behind me; many of my friends now don’t know I grew up overseas
• It’s a major part of my identity; everyone I know knows about my strange and wonderful childhood

What are Characteristics of TCKs?

• TCKs are 4 times as likely as non-TCKs to earn a bachelor’s degree (81% vs 21%)
• 40% earn an advanced degree (as compared to 5% of the non-TCK population.)
• 45% of TCKs attended 3 universities before earning a degree.
• 44% earned undergraduate degree after the age of 22.
• Educators, medicine, professional positions, and self employment are the most common pro-fessions for TCKs.
• TCKs are unlikely to work for big business, government, or follow their parents’ career choices. “One won’t find many TCKs in large corporations. Nor are there many in government … they have not followed in parental footsteps”.
• 90% feel “out of sync” with their peers.
• 90% report feeling as if they understand other cultures/peoples better than the average Ameri-can.
• 80% believe they can get along with anybody.
• Divorce rates among TCKs are lower than the general population, but they marry older (25+).
• Linguistically adept
• Teenage TCKs are more mature than non-TCKs, but ironically take longer to “grow up” in their 20s.
• More welcoming of others into their community.
• Lack a sense of “where home is” but often nationalistic.
• Depression and suicide are more prominent among TCK’s.
• Some studies show a desire to “settle down” others a “restlessness to move”.
• More creative than average—art, photography, writing
• The most rapidly growing population

TCK Movies

The Road Home
Somewhere Between
Neither Here Nor There
The Best Marigold Hotel (Not actually TCK, but about culture adaptation and culture shock)

TCK Blogs (a sampling)

TCK Books (a sampling—two by Schutz alumni!)

Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds—David Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken
Letters Never Sent (memoir)—Ruth E. van Reken
Migration, Diversity and Education: Beyond Third Culture Kids—Saija Benjamin (Editor), Fred Dervin (Editor)
Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids—Gene H. Bell-Villada and Nina Sichel with Faith Eidse and Elaine Neil
Chameleon Days: An American Childhood in Ethiopia (memoir)—Tim Bascom
Homesick: My Own Story (memoir, China)—Jean Fritz
The Scent of Eucalyptus: A Missionary Childhood in Ethiopia (memoir)—Daniel Cole-man
Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life (memoir, Nigeria)—Elaine Neil Orr
Jakarta Missing (young adult novel)—Jane Kurtz
In the Time of Trouble (young adult novel)—Charlotte Gelzer
Tribal Origins (memoir)—Peter Parr