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

Third Culture Kids: Prototypes for Understanding Other Cross-Cultural 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(s). 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, developer of the TCK Profile, founder, Interaction, Inc., co-author Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds

As Ruth Useem wrote in an early article describing the Third Culture, “each of these subcultures [community of expatriates] generated by colonial administrators, missionaries, businessmen, and military personnel—had its own peculiarities, slightly different origins, distinctive styles, and stratification systems, but all were closely interlocked.”1

In other words, for all the differences of background, nationality, ethnicity, and purpose for living internationally among the groups, there were some fundamentals they all shared that transcended those differences. It was here in the early days of cross-cultural interchanges that a new way of looking at “culture” began. It was also here that the impact of how such a lifestyle impacted children began as well.

Common characteristics of Third Culture experience (for adults as well as kids)

  • Cross-cultural lifestyle
  • High mobility
  • Expected repatriation
  • Often a “system identity” with sponsoring organization/business (e.g. military, missionary, corporate, foreign service)

Common personal characteristics of TCKs (children who grow up in this world)

  • Large world view

  • Language acquisition
  • Can be cultural bridges
  • Rootlessness—“Home” is everywhere and nowhere
  • Restlessness
  • Sense of belonging is often in relationship to others of similar background rather than shared race or ethnicity alone

Major challenges

    Many of their losses are not visible or recognized by others. With no language or understanding to process these losses, many TCKs never learned how to deal with them as they happened and the grief comes out in other ways (e.g. denial, anger, depression, extreme busyness, etc.).

    “Cultural marginality” describes an experience in which people don’t tend to fit perfectly into any one of the cultures to which they have been exposed or with which they have interacted, but may fit comfortably on the edge, in the margins, of each. (For how that relates to TCKs see http://www.worldweave.com/BSidentity.html)

Continue reading the rest at www.crossculturalkid.org