Third Culture Kids

A relatively new and odd sounding term coined by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, Third Culture Kids are a rapidly increasing phenomenon in our array of mixed cultural identities. Essentially, these are kids that grew up outside of their passport countries for a significant period during their development, before the age of eighteen.

Personally, I'm a so-called Adult Third Culture Kid because I left Norway to move to Singapore at the age of six. It will be interesting to see what mix our son will be - Colombian and Norwegian parents, born in Medellin, Colombia but will most likely move with us of the country at an early age.

Growing Up Among Worlds

The book, “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds” written by the previously mentioned authors, looks at the consequences of growing up between cultures. A question that I can remember personally is, where is “home”? There tends to be an insistence that there should be a clear-cut answer to this question and naturally so, after all, most people identify with belonging to one place and one nation. Their sense of identity, references, values and customs reflect this singular identity and in most cases, it's taken for granted and not reflected upon.

Consider leaving your passport “homeland” at the age of six and moving to Singapore for example. From one day to the next, your entire universe and reality transforms entirely and immediately. You arrive in a new country with a new language, new smells, customs, different-looking people and values. What tends to happen is that you adapt and assimilate a number of these differences, while also feeling a strong sense of identity with your previous “homeland” and after all, your parents who grew up back home, propagate those value through table manners, language spoken in the home, rituals and celebrations such as Christmas and Easter and so on.

What happens then, when you've lived in this new country for say 5-10 years and you later return “back home”? You no longer fit in or identify with their references, they speak a slightly different language than you were used to, different slang, games, ways of doing things. You look the same but are in fact, different. The expectation is that you are the same of course. You no longer fit in fully and have become an outsider.

Benefits for Third Culture Kids

Having focused on some of the challenges of “TCKs”, there are of course, a number of benefits. What tends to happen is that for a person developing within the reality of differing “truths” from nation to nation, Third Culture Kids tend to build a very strong sense of who they are individually. They develop a strong core that consists of their own values, not the arbitrary ones inherited through culture and society.

What is true in one country, might be false in another. Table manners are an example and vary vastly from place to place and what might be considered rude in the U.K., such as eating with your hands, might be commonplace and expected somewhere else.

TCKs tend not to judge people in the same way based on their race because they often grow up playing and being friends in a natural way with kids of say, different skin color, than themselves. They don't give much thought to it. Actually, this phenomenon fascinates me when you go to the United States for example, where racial issues are so prevalent and focused upon with the strict imposing of politically correct behavior that in can often suppress a more natural and truly open-minded point of view.

Return from Third Culture Kids to Immigration

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