Please Don’t Call My Child a Third Culture Kid

Please Don’t Call My Child a Third Culture Kid

I grew up outside my parents’ culture. They migrated to the U.S. from India in the early 1970s and I was born in New York City at the end that of that decade. However, they, and I, were plain ol’ “immigrants,” first- and second-generation respectively. While, of course, migrants who plan on repatriating are usually called “expats,” and those who consider their move permanent are usually called “immigrants,” it is undeniable that these various words within the language of migration carry various connotations of race, place and class .

TCK “connotes a privilege that I don’t associate with,” says Sherisa de Groot, a writer and editor from Brooklyn and a first-generation Jamaican-American whose son, born in Amsterdam, is part white-Dutch, Indonesian, and Black. “I prefer the term ‘immigrant’ over ‘expat,’ so there’s no situation in which I would use the term ‘TCK.’ Besides, what is a child’s ‘first culture?’”

“TCK” was coined in the 1950s by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem after she and her husband, John, moved their family from the U.S. to India. There, she began studying American military, diplomatic, missionary and corporate families living overseas with their children, and determined that these families’ children had unique experiences: the first culture of their parents, the second culture of their host country, and the third culture of the expatriate community in that host country. Useem’s original frame of reference was post-war American families who had traveled overseas for work.

Useem died in 2003, but as professor emeritus of sociology and education at Michigan State University, she studied the effects of how such a childhood has an impact on the adult, such as their high level of achievement, their careers, their commitment to volunteerism, and their “international dimension.”

Today, in media and in popular culture, it seems to me, the “Third Culture Kid” continues to be lauded— Barack Obama, who spent some of his childhood in Jakarta, Indonesia, is sometimes hailed as the U.S.’s most successful TCK—while immigrant children are often portrayed as potential terrorists or burdens on the system. That’s why the term makes me so uneasy.

Although the exact number of children being raised outside their parents’ countries is unavailable, an estimated 232 million people currently live outside their country of origin, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights . And given an increasingly global economy, that number can only grow.

So is it time for me to redefine a term, especially as fewer and fewer traditional expats and their children—the sort of folks that Useem might have recognized as TCKs—migrate to Asia , or to reject it altogether?

Maitri Erwin, a geoscientist and writer who was born to Indian parents in Kuwait and now lives in Houston, believes […]

Continue reading the rest at www.wsj.com

About the author: Caitlyn Wang
Caitlyn has scored above 99% every standardized tests she's taken since the ripe young age of 7, from the Wechsler IQ test, ABSRM piano performance exam to SAT. She is a proven senior business leader with global marketing, product development, supply chain management backgrounds who likes to tackle the impossible and has managed teams on three continents. Equally important, she is a devoted mother of two, a skilled pianist, certified yoga and aerial teacher, vocalist and lifelong learner.
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