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

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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