10 things you might not have known about Third Culture Kids (TCKs) - Expat Nest e-counselling


10 things you might not have known about Third Culture Kids (TCKs)

A Third Culture Kid (or TCK) is a child who spends a significant period of their developmental years in a culture outside their parents’ passport culture (D. Pollock and R.E. Van Reken, 1999). Although that seems simple enough at first glance, the term often throws up some queries and confusion. Here are a few more common characteristics of the TCK.

1) Whether you’ve moved once or five times or ten times during your developmental years, you’re a TCK. And the word ‘third’ doesn’t refer to the number of moves; i.e. you’re not a fourth culture kid if you’ve moved four times! (I have been asked this question several times.)

2) Many TCKs often wonder “what’s the point?” when it comes to investing in friendships/relationships as they know they will move again or have already experienced the pain of leaving people behind. In a way TCKs may learn to shut off their emotions so as to avoid feeling the same pain again. If you hear your child expressing the futility of making friends or anything along those lines, then counselling is recommended.

3) Yet many TCKs have realised from their experiences that moving doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship/friendship is over. It just changes format, frequency, and even time zones! TCKs may have friends around the globe.

4) TCKs have experienced the pain of saying goodbye and leaving friends, family members, pets, favourite toys and places behind… They need their time and space to process these feelings. Again, counselling can help with this by providing that time and space in a safe environment.

5) Most TCKs speak at least two languages fluently.

6) TCKs learn to cope with change and realise early in their lives that change is the only constant in life.

7) “Where is home?” is one of the most difficult questions for a TCK. Home can be everywhere and nowhere; it can be where their parents are. The answer can be different for each child and is based on their particular experience.

8) TCKs truly know how to celebrate diversity. They have it within them!

9) A must read for TCKs is the Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worldsby Ruth E. Van Reken and David Pollock. I highly recommend this and consider it the ultimate TCK life manual.

10) I once overheard this dialogue between a TCK and his classmate. When the latter asked, “Where do you come from?”, the TCK replied, “My father is from Brazil, my mother is from the States, my brother lives in Canada.”

“And you are..?” the classmate asked.

Blessed,” he replied.



Based on your experience as a TCK, what would you add to this list? Which of the above resonate with you? We’d love to hear! Let us know in the comments section below.

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© Vivian Chiona

FEEL FREE TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR BLOG OR NEWSLETTER. We ask only that you attribute Expat Nest and include the following: Expat Nest (www.expatnest.com) is a professional online counselling service for expats.

Photo: Prawny / Pixabay



  1. Sherry Wright says:

    Thank you SO much for this Vivian. We are in an area that has quite a number of refuggees/immigrants and it will be a really useful resource for counsellors who work here.
    As am immigrant myself….I can relate personally as well. 🙂
    Kind Regards

    1. Dear Sherry
      Thank you so much for your kind feedback and glad that you find this article valuable for your community there.
      How long have you been an expat ?
      Wishing you well.
      Many thanks

  2. Arulnathan John says:

    This article is cool! Third Culture Kids have a blessed and diverse life.

    1. Thank you so much John!

  3. P. Dooley says:

    Oh my god, as a person who grew up abroad ever since birth I did feel a sort of detachment and never knew about people who were in a very similar circumstance to me. Only recently have I heard of the term ‘TCK.’ And have found numerous people I can relate to, which really have given me a more positive view of my life and how it is. I am a teenager who was born in Oman, my father from the UK, my mother from the Philippines – and have moved fully to about 10 different countries now to live in. Thankfully i was immersed in mostly international schools so I had some support to some extent, but knowledge of this hidden community has really thrilled me!

    1. Dear P. Dooley,
      Welcome to our Expat Nest community and thank you so much for your comment! Glad to hear that you found this article valuable, that you have recently discovered other “blessed” individuals like you which had a positive impact on your life! You are indeed not alone in this situation. Be sure to keep in touch with others of this incredible and diverse – it sounds like you may have found the home you have been looking for!
      Best wishes,
      Ps. Since you recently heard the term TCK, you may enjoy reading our article on ‘expat language’: http://www.expatnest.com/understanding-expat-language-call/

  4. Alaine says:

    YES to everything! This one made me laugh: 10) I once overheard this dialogue between a TCK and his classmate. When the latter asked, “Where do you come from?”, the TCK replied, “My father is from Brazil, my mother is from the States, my brother lives in Canada.”
    My entire family and extended family are scattered across the globe. We’re the global nomad family 😉

    1. Dear Alaine,
      Thanks for your comment and welcome to the Expat Nest community 🙂
      Indeed such a global nomad family you have; very similar to mine.. Enjoy the blessings of it!

  5. Kathryn says:

    Hi there, I was just looking at Third Culture kids, and I thought I might share some experiences. For me it is particularly hard to think of my birthplace as my home, I hardly learned any history about it, instead I learned about places everywhere else. I make strong connections with just a few people that I know I can trust and put faith in, and goodbyes are always incredibly painful, but the best I can do is remind myself that all I need to do is send my friends a message. I think in my experience it becomes hard to trust sometimes, because every time I get settled down in a new place, and then suddenly thrown out of my ‘natural habitat’ I lose faith that I’ll be able to stay there, and it causes a lot of distrust until I made new friends.

    In my life, I moved to Bangladesh as soon as I was flight ready, and stayed there until first grade. I went to Tajikistan from third to sixth grade, and currently I am living in Uzbekistan.


    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Dear Kathryn
      Thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences. You raise such a good point about one’s birthplace not necessarily feeling like home, especially if you never really had the chance to put down roots there. I’m so glad you are able to create deep friendships (it takes only a few to feel a sense of friendship). And be kind and patient with yourself as you build trust after each move. This is a beautiful skill to have.

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