Third Culture Kids
Growing Up Overseas

third culture kids

On this page about Third Culture Kids, you’ll find:

Who are “Third Culture Kids” or TCKs?

Children who grow up overseas, whose parents’ careers keep them abroad for most, or all of their formative years, may experience a rootlessness that constitutes a major personal and psychological challenge. These kids are called – Third Culture Kids.

There are enormous benefits that these kids also discover, as they grow up and become ‘Global Citizens’, who know how to be equally at ease anywhere in the world.

Studies show that these kids mature faster, are more independent and introspective, more sophisticated and cosmopolitan, and far more knowledgeable about the world than their compatriots from their country of birth.

Perhaps most important, virtually all of them, once they are grown, say they would not trade their international growing-up experience for anything else.

The term TCKs was first coined by Ruth Useem in the 1950’s to describe the kids of US military personnel who had lived in foreign countries.

Today over 6.6 million Americans live overseas (US State Dept. statistic). And they have a diversity of experience both culturally and emotionally, that leads to a different world-view and set of values, that are not shared with children in their homeland.

The Characteristics of Third Culture Kids

There are 4 common themes that give these kids an edge or advantage in today’s world.

  1. Change – They know how to cope with high change, because of the constant change of location, friends, schools and cultural experiences they have been exposed to. They are in a continual process of adapting and relating the culture(s) they are coming from, with the new cultures they are entering every few years.
  2. Relationships – Before the introduction of social networking, they learned to make friends quickly, and also to let them go just as quickly, because of the many relocations they went through. However this traumatic aspect is becoming a thing of the past, with the trend to social networking sites like FaceBook, Twitter, and Skype that allow them to maintain close, day-to-day communications no matter where they are in the world. These kids are now able to keep a network of close friendships even though they are not in physical proximity. This is a global revolution that is sure to have implications professionally, as they become adults and move into the work world. Hopefully, it will also influence the future of world affairs in a positive way. It’s interesting to note that President Barack Obama was a TCK.
  3. World View – They see the commonality between cultures, viewing themselves first as humans, in a Global World, rather than being connected to any particular culture. Because they have friends all over the world, they have compassion, empathy and concern for people who live in other parts of the world, whose culture they have known personally. They understand that one can hold a personal truth, and still acknowledge the existence of other truths being held in other cultures, without necessarily being impelled to change the views of others to conform with one’s own worldview.
  4. Cultural Identity – As a consequence of their global living experiences, they are not attached to any particular culture. Third Culture Kids can feel at home anywhere on the planet. They also have the capacity to select and integrate aspects from many different cultures that they have experienced. This gives them a strong cultural openness and understanding that is beyond the grasp of mono-cultural children.

    They do not feel separate or isolated, as they move around the planet. They carry an inner confidence that if necessary, they could survive anywhere. They are truly ‘Inhabitants of the World’ – Global Citizens who can take a job in any culture, and fit in.

Keeping In Touch via the Internet

Today, it has become so much easier to keep in touch through voice over IP applications on the Internet, like Skype, where friends can meet again each day, and see each other face to face on the screen, at any time, for free. Internet technology has become a lifeline for ‘third culture kids’.

School kids can play computer games with friends across the world, as if they were just down the street.

Social Networking Sites offer the opportunity for teens to keep in touch by posting photos, celebrating each other’s successes, exchanging information, and talking over problems.

Tweeting has become so common, that they literally can have conversations in real time with their friends anywhere in the world, keep their friendships fresh, and never lose touch.

Our kids are playing in a ‘Global Village’!

From Global Citizens to Global Careerists

So international careers will have an impact on children, as well as their parents who are working in the foreign culture.
“Third Culture Kids” (TCKs) grow up in an environment that is quite different from the home culture of their parents. They attend school and play with kids from a foreign community, every day.

These kids are not truly socialized in any culture. They are Global Citizens.

If children have been raised in a series of countries that are as culturally different as Africa, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Indonesia,
they cannot identify with the culture of their parents, in the way their family may expect.

Even if they have consistently spent the summers with their grandparents – in the culture of their parents, they still spend more time abroad, and because of that, they may not have the same attachment to the culture of their parents.

Adult Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids grow up to be ATCKs – Adult Third Culture Kids. There are millions of ATCKs, in fact they are creating a culture of their own. These Global Citizens have a confidence that comes with having lived in many countries, survived a lot of change, and created a network of many foreign friends. As a result of the lifestyle they have lived, it’s much easier for TCKs to become Global Careerists.

They have already been there, they know their way around, they can adapt easily, like chameleons. They are that much ahead of kids who have yet to have their first overseas experience. Third Culture Kids are lucky indeed, to be able to call the whole world their home – to know how to be equally at ease anywhere on earth.

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