Thursday, September 13, 2012

Third Culture Kids

They speak multiple languages,connect easily with someone from a new culture, and take global issues very seriously. They may have more in common with a Chinese student in their European school then they do with peers from their passport country. They also learn at a young age about loss and saying good-bye. They've moved many times and "home" is hard to explain.

They are Third Culture Kids or TCKs as they are commonly called. American sociologist David C. Pollock describes Third Culture Kids with this definition: "A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside of the parents' culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. "

I've noticed this TCK phenomenon in my own kids. They think in terms of having two different national anthems, and speaking in two languages. They relate better to kids from other countries living in El Salvador than they do to their own cousins. 

I had to smile while we were in the States this summer for the Fourth of July for the first time in years. When the fireworks started my five year old son turned to me and said , "Mommy, this is just like Christmas!" Because he is growing up in Central America my son's cultural association with fireworks is Christmas, not the Fourth of July. It is definitely different from my childhood!

In some ways it seems strange to be raising children who have experiences so different from the ones I experienced. It is strange, but I don't feel sorry for them. In fact I celebrate the richness of their lives. Their lives include picnics at the sites of ancient Mayan ruins, four stamps on their passports by the age of five, and the gift of being effortlessly bilingual. But more important than that, they are living out God's call right there with us. They are learning to walk in faith and experiencing what it means to be a part of God's global Kingdom.

How do you feel about raising TCKs? How has it changed your family? In what ways are your children experiencing life in a different way than you did?


  1. We haven't yet experienced the hard parts about our kids being TCKs because they are relatively young and are just not yet aware of how different their lives are, but i am amazed at the positives as I look at them. My oldest daughter just started Russian school this year. Looking at what she does every day (she is immersed in a fully Russian learning environment every day for 5 hours and is expected to do what the rest of the kids do even though it is not her first language and there is no such thing here as "RSL"), I am just amazed that she doesn't bat an eye and seems to feel that it is totally normal and even enjoys it. She has never once (either in school or pre-school) complained about how she has it so much harder than the other kids. It is just her norm to do school in Russian. I am thankful for these unique experiences.

  2. I am an adult TCK now raising TCK's of my own, and while there are hard things about growing up overseas, I definitely wouldn't trade my experience for the world, and I hope my kids feel the same way when they are grown. My life was so enriched by the experience of growing up in Africa, but now I am raising my kids in South America, so their experience is definitely different than mine on some levels, but quite similar on others. One of the things I am really thankful for these days is all the resources available now to people raising their families abroad. So much more is known nowadays about the experience of "growing up global" and how to help children process their experiences and emotions in a healthy way. This information was not available 50 or even 20 years ago. I am thankful for people like Dave Pollack who let us TCK's know that what we think and feel is NORMAL, and provide ways for us to connect with others who have had similar experiences.