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Third Culture Kids

  • Third Culture Kids

The following blog post was written by Diane Little, a Career Coach with the Corporate Readiness Training Program at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.

“Hi!  Where are you from?” is one of those common conversation starters that third culture kids (TCK) find impossible.  When you are born in Singapore, grow up in Saudi Arabia, attend high school in Canada and university in the United States and work in Kuwait, where are you really from?  If you carry a Canadian Passport, then perhaps you are from Canada.

Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem developed the term third culture kids to describe children who have been raised in a culture different from their parents' culture (TCKWorld, n.d.).  The third culture comes from the blending of two (or more) cultures to create a third separate and unique culture of its own. While each person’s culture is their own, these people have a unique set of circumstances with some common outcomes (Useem, 1999). Returning to their parents' culture is particularly difficult for TCKs.

While being raised in another culture is full of adventure and fun, it also has particular challenges. From my own experiences, children raised in another culture have great tolerance and understanding of other cultures, a willingness to try food and activities from other cultures, less fear around traveling and often a friend in any given city they visit.  However, they don’t have a grounded sense of home, a firm friend base, and ease around social interactions.

What needs to be recognized with TCKs is that they are not alone. There are now many Canadians who have not been raised in Canada, and many other new Canadians who have feelings and situations similar to TCKs. Reaching out and sharing stories enables others to learn from you and identify with you. This in turn builds understanding, relationships, and new friends.

There is also a lot of fun around TCKs. TCKid (2008), a non-profit organization for TCKs, has put together the following list:

You know you’re a TCK when
  • “Where are you from?” has more than one reasonable answer.
  • You speak two languages, but can’t spell in either.
  • You feel odd being in the ethnic majority.
  • You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
  • You think VISA is a document that’s stamped in your passport, not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
  • 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 haggle with the checkout clerk for a lower price.
  • You know how to pack.
  • You have the urge to move to a new country every couple of years.
  • The thought of sending your (hypothetical) kids to public school scares you, while the thought of letting them fly alone doesn’t at all.
  • You have friends from 29 different countries.
  • You sort your friends by continent.
  • Your family lives in 5 different time zones.
  • You realize what a small world it is, after all. 

Two great resources for TCKs are:

So, how do you answer the question, “Where are you from?”

References

Cottrell, A.B. (1999). ATCKS have problems relating to their own ethic group. Retrieved from http://www.tckworld.com/useem/art4.html

TCKid. (2008). What is a Third Culture Kid? Retrieved from http://tckid.com/what-is-a-tck.html

TCK World (n.d). The Official Home of Third Culture Kids. Retrieved from http://www.tckworld.com/

Useem, R.H. (1999). Third Culture Kids: Focus of Major Study -- TCK "mother" pens history of field. Retrieved from http://www.tckworld.com/useem/art1.html