Many expat parents can find it difficult to understand and deal with the challenges of raising global-minded children. Not many people know there can be various psychological effects for children when growing up in a culture (or cultures) different to their birth country. 'Third Culture Kid' or TCK has become a commonly used term to describe children raised overseas.
Social scientists, Drs. John and Ruth Hill Useem, came up with this term while studying Americans living overseas in India. The scientists noticed that the expats shared a third culture that was different from both their native and host culture. TCK researcher, Dr. David Pollock has defined the term as "an individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than the parents' culture(s), develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any". Dr. Pollock goes on to explain that factors from the different cultures are incorporated into life experience and a sense of belonging in relationship to others develops from similar experiences.
TCK's show several qualities, some beneficial and some maybe not. Below are a few that you, or your child, may be able to relate to:
1. 'Survivors not thrivers': TCK's often spend their energy on trying to fit into the culture rather than fully participating in and taking a proactive role in it, because of the new place(s) and people.
2. Cultural chameleons: Being on the move constantly allows TCK's to learn to adjust their behaviors to fit different cultural surroundings. In some cases, linguistic aptitudes develop – definitely an advantage!
3. Uneven maturity: TCK's are usually more comfortable with kids older than themselves. However, many TCK's go through a delayed adolescence at age 22 or older, because the normal development of establishing themselves as individuals may have been short-circuited while growing up in a cross-cultural, highly mobile world.
4. Can-do-practicality: TCK’s tend to be calmer when things don't go as planned and are able to form alternate plans to work around their obstacles. Think about it: they're less likely to be upset over a missed flight because they're so used to flight changes and jet-lag.
5. Prejudiced (or unprejudiced): TCK's have lived among different ethnicities, cultivating a greater appreciation for equality and diversity so they tend to see people, not their race or culture. However, the opposite can also happen. They may develop an elitist attitude toward their host culture and people, especially if they lead a privileged lifestyle or if the adults around them express their negative opinions about the host culture.
6. Creating and releasing friendships: Because TCK's are constantly on the move, they tend to skip past the initial superficialities in developing new friendships and dive right into the deeper levels of bonding. However, some TCK's have suffered the loss of so many relationships due to relocation that they may have intimacy issues because of the inevitable loss that is assumed to follow.
7. 'Where is home?': TCK’s struggle to developing a sense of belonging, commitment and attachment to a culture which in turn can create a deep feeling of disconnection from the world. Low self-esteem and confidence are other possible byproducts. For some TCK's, a lifelong nomadic urge takes hold, and they find it difficult to settle in one place, or job, or relationship.
8. Real and perceived arrogance: Having the ability to see things from multiple perspectives may not be as beneficial as it may seem. TCK's can be impatient and contemptuous of those who seemingly only see things from one perspective. They tend to feel as if they're much smarter and 'worldly' than people from a single culture.
Our rapidly growing world sees more and more people relocating to different parts. A great deal of research is still being conducted on ‘Third Culture Kids’ because of the influence globalization has had on human behavior. The characteristics listed in this article may or may not help you understand TCK’s better, but they certainly do give a better look into their world.
Want to know more about TCK’s? Check out some of the resources below.
"The Third Culture Kid Experience" by David Pollock and Ruth van Reken.