Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Third Culture Kids - Definition

"TCKs are the prototype citizens of the future."
Ted Ward, sociologist, 1984

Lately I have come across the TCK (Third Culture Kids) definition repeatedly, a term that became popular in the early 1980's. Personally I discovered TCK back in 2005 when I read David Pollock and Ruth van Reken's book "Third Culture Kids". I was amazed to discover that there was actually a name to they way I had been living.

The authors explore the experiences of those who have become known as "Third Culture Kids" - children who grow up or spend a significant part of their childhood living abroad. The book is rich with real-life anecdotes and examines the nature of the TCK kid experience and its effects on maturing, developing a sense of identity, and adjusting to one's "passport country" upon return. The authors give readers an understanding of the challenges and benefits of the TCK life and provide practical suggestions and advice on maximizing those benefits.

Definition of Third Culture Kids:
“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”

Who are the Third Culture Kids?
They come from many backgrounds - Military/Army BRATS, Non-military government like diplomats' kids, Missionary kids, Business kid, intergovernmental agencies, educators, international non-governmental organizations, media, etc. Before World War II, 66% of TCKs came from missionary families, and 16% came from business families. After World War II, with the increase of international business and the rise of two international superpowers, the composition of international families changed. Sponsors are generally broken down into five categories: missionary (17%), business (16%), government (23%), military (30%), and "other" (14%). Some TCK families migrate for work independently of any organization based in their country of origin.

Some TCK's are moving between countries all their childhood, some have stayed only in one country, others have moved abroad, repatriated, and then relocated overseas again.

There are some characteristics that are common to the majority of TCK's – They better understand other cultures, have eaten different types of food, speak more than one language fluently, and have friends in many places. However, each child has his own amazing story, and his own way to cope with the challenges; some resent their parents for taking them away from their friends, school, family and country. Others might embrace the adventure, enjoy it, and make lots of friends in the host country.

The hardest thing for TCK'S is saying goodbye to their friends and to a place they used to call home. The world as they knew is gone forever. Only the memories are left, and many TCK's will not see their friends ever again. It is a great feeling of loss, and a big hole in their life.

Having said that, much of the research shows that Expat kids grow up to be diversified, tolerant, intelligent, savvy, articulate, worldly wise and interesting adults. Just check out this video.


DrieCulturen said...

Hello, I am so glad you wrote a post all about third culture kids. I would encourage all expat parents to read the above mentioned book & to watch the short film. It is so important that the knowledge about TCKs grows! I am a (A)TCK and it really helped me when I heard about TCKs& their characteristics, wish I had heard about it earlier...Read more about this topic on my blog:

Anonymous said...

Wow! I had no idea anything had been written about this. Thank you, I am looking forward to reading this book. We are about to start another expat assignment with our 9 year old daughter and although she is very excited and keen to leave again I worry about the effect it will have on her.

Expat with Kids said...

@DrieCulturen: Really enjoyed reading your blog especially the twitter update about TCKs. Brilliant recap.
@ExpatWife: How is your move to Bangkok going? Have you found a house? Good luck.

Glenn Hannan said...

I got here much interesting stuff. The post is great! Thanks for sharing it! Health in switzerland

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