Being a Third Culture Kid - Part 1: The Challenges (Photo: Chaud)

Being a Third Culture Kid – Part 1: The Challenges

Do you have small children and are you thinking of moving abroad? Did you shift between cultures as a child? Are your children spending a significant part of their development years in a culture that isn’t their original one? If any of the above apply to your situation, you probably have come across the concept of the “Third Culture Kid” (TCK) before.

Origin of the term Third Culture Kid

This term was used for the first time by researchers John and Ruth Useem in the 1950’s, related to American children living abroad. Nowadays also known as “global nomads”, “cultural hybrids” and “cultural chameleons”, TCK’s are children that have lived abroad for a significant amount of time, not relating totally to their home or host culture, an ambiguity that results in the creation of a cultural identity of their own, known as the third culture.

Challenges of being a Third Culture Kid

As you might have guessed, being a third culture kid has its challenges.

Here are five of the most pressing ones:

1) Fitting in. The TCK can’t relate a hundred per cent to any specific culture and this can generate feelings of inadequacy, strangeness and rootlessness. The truth is that a TCK will never have the sense of belonging to a specific culture experienced by most kids.

2) Making close relationships. Since TCK’s typically move around a lot, they can become accustomed to making new friends and loosing old ones. This in turn can lead to a certain degree of superficiality in friendships, because avoiding close relationships protects the TCK from further emotional loses.

3) Commitment issues. This is related to the previous point. TCK’s are submitted to a lot of changes and they know from experience that nothing can be taken for granted. So committing to a relationship, a school or even a job can be a challenge.

4) Making decisions. If you grow up never knowing what comes next, decisions can be tough. A TCK might hesitate between A or B more than other kids because he knows a decision implies changes and with changes comes adjustment.

5) Ignorance of home culture. Being immersed in the host culture, it’s easy for the TCK to forget or not have motivation to keep the knowledge of his home culture alive. This applies to the language, costumes and even sense of humor of the country of origin. Parents can have a hard time accepting this while abroad, but the child will suffer the most when returning to the home culture.

Read also part 2 of this article: Being a Third Culture Kid – The Benefits

And part 3: Being a Third Culture Kid – Part 3: The Parents’ Role


Note of the publisher:

Catarina Queiroz is a writer and translator living in Den Haag. You can read her thoughts on parenting and expat life here.

Catarina Queiroz
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