Where is home for third culture kids?

Expat children

Third culture kids are very sociable, but often feel misunderstood when adapting to new social circles.

An increase in global mobility has seen more children being born or raised in countries that neither of their parents are from. These so called “third culture kids” often struggle to identify themselves with one nationality or culture.

What is a third culture kid?

The term third culture kid (TCK) describes “A person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.” The TCK builds relationships with all of the cultures they experience, while not having full ownership of any.  Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of a similar background.” (Pollock and Van Reken).

In short, third culture kids grow up experiencing different cultures for substantial periods of time. As a result, they end up having a culture of their own.

Where are third culture kids from?

The hardest question for a third culture kid to answer is simply, “Where are you from?”. The most typical problem TCKs face is not completely identifying with just one nationality.

Some third culture kids often testify that they don’t feel completely bound to their host country’s culture. This is either because their families have raised them as close to their original culture as possible, or because the locals still see them as foreigners.

Going back to their ethnic culture doesn’t seem to fix the problem. The same people say when they go back to their home country they don’t feel a complete connection to the local way of life either. It is possible that people who live there see them as “foreign” and treat them more like a tourist rather than a compatriot.

And it is not just how others treat them. Third culture kids have a hard time themselves deciding where they really belong. Even though they claim they feel like a part of their host country’s society, in many cases they act and think in accordance with moral and ethical norms of their home country and vice-versa.

Benefits of being a TCK

Several studies have been conducted on American TCKs to determine how growing up in another culture affects them personally. These studies found:

There were some negative findings from the research. Depression was found to be comparatively more prevalent among third culture kids. Nearly 90% of TCKs reported feeling “out of sync” with their peers.

Understanding third culture kids and how they see the world is important. It is even more important that the people closest to a TCK should help them understand themselves. Third culture kids need to be taught not to feel depressed about who they are and where they come from. But rather embrace their unique background and learn to appreciate and enjoy the benefits it brings.


You may also like...

Rumiko says:

I have suffered from desiepsron due to chemical imbalances since infancy, but that deep longing to go back home knowing the only place I’ll ever really feel at home in again is Heaven is just so painful sometimes that I struggle with living for today some days life just seems like too much of an effort I was born and raised overseas, and have moved a lot even as an adult I feel that every time I try to put down roots they are ripped out again I often dream of going back and finding our old homes overgrown by apartment buildings, but somehow finding old mementos of a mostly happy childhood. We came back to the States when I was 15 quite a culture shock, and I was painfully shy. I wanted to stay there for highschool but no one asked my opinion I know of other MK’s who stayed with another family when their’s had to return stateside, but I don’t think I could have handled that either I’m such a home-body .even tho I realized later that I had a rather disfunctional family, I have never done well away from home never have slept well at camp, in motels, etc I’ve averaged a different abode every 2 yrs of my life and this last move from a house we lived in 7 yrs was so painful I cried for months (not non-stop!) I plan to call my memoirs Many Houses recalling the memories made in each one This world is not my home, I’m just a-passn’ thru But I know He is preparing a place for me one I will never ever have to leave again. I long for that so much! I often wonder if the christian radio stations realize how hard it is for some of us to hear those songs about not feeling at home here and not belonging here Sometimes I have to change the station when I’m severely depressed I really wonder how many suicides have occurred after listening to one of those songs I don’t think I could ever do that to my family, but sometimes the thots are so strong I just wanna go home!