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

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