Third Culture Kids aka TCKs

This week I’m going to talk about Third Culture Kids popularly referred to as TCKs. These are kids of the diplomatic, international development, military or international industry personnel whose childhood are spent moving from one country to another and changing schools, friends and environment.

A recent UN conference revealed some disturbing truths by researches conducted on third culture kids. Research shows that despite the excellent socio-economic background they enjoyed due to status of their parents and the good schools they attend, they are very good in languages, have a very high level of confidence but when compared with kids with similar socio-economic background who were stable either in their own countries or a second country, some TCKs fall behind. It went on to say that “after some years there is a high level of decline in achievements both in higher education and professional life. They have a high sense of entitlement due to their background but normally not backed up by efforts and achievements”.

Psychological study of TCKs show an alarming recurrence of certain problems in adult life and suppressed anger and grief they carry from ‘detachments’, being left on their own, processing the many ‘good byes’, lack of concentration and the ‘constant flight mode’ in their professional and private life”.

After reading the document, I spoke with my own TCKs to hear their opinionand here’s what one of them wrote:

TCK: acronym for Third Culture Kids.

ethnic womenFirst time I heard of Third Culture Kids (TCKs), my mom has just forwarded one of those emails to me. Mom is fond of sending me educational emails or information she thinks I’d use.

I had just moved from Switzerland to Jordan and was getting ready to move one more time. She explained to me that it refers to” a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture” although I did understand how I fit into this category, I didn’t give it much thought.

I’ve never really belonged to any categories and it has always been something I have been proud of, as it allows me to just jump from a “social group” to another and mix things up.

Then started the lists on Buzz-feed – you know, the ones you see on facebook that go along the lines of 25 things only British do  or 25 things Arabs say or 13 things best friends know– and one of them was Things expat kids experience. The list went on and on and every single point applied to me one way or another, and I noticed via the comments that most – if not all – of my TCK friends felt the same way.

Finally I realised that we have our own category. We were TCKs. I felt great about it. There is no more shame or embarrassment due to the fact that I couldn’t answer the question “Where are you from?” or “What are you?”

To me I was more than just a nationality, I had built myself on more than that, I felt a bit Arab, Nigerian with a bit of Ivorian, French of course, definitely some South African and so on. Relocation was neither a burden nor a choice. It’s an integral part of who I am, probably because it hadn’t been my decision but my parents’. I was born in expatriation. It’s all I had ever known and who I want to be.

In spite of the positive vibes around being a TCK, sometimes it is also a source of problem. Indeed, moving to an international environment like Jordan, in an international school was blissful. Everybody had moved once, twice or four or five times and those who hadn’t, had grown up in this cosmopolitan atmosphere, hence cultural appurtenance could not be an issue. But moving to a small town in a very locally minded region could on the other hand make one’s live a living hell. This happened to me in a small town in Switzerland. The difference in school systems coupled with the fact that I was 1 year ahead academically back in France translated into my being 2 or 3 years younger than my Swiss class mates. The ancient rivalry between French and Swiss gave them grounds to attack me;  my fluency in three languages then and my determination and willingness to master the German language as well as they did definitely didn’t help.

I tried hard to conform but for them, I was just too different. I was a twelve years old girl in a class of 5th generation Swiss white and very close minded young men and women. I was very keen on world politics in a Swiss that’s the most notoriously neutral of the world; no debate, all’s fine. How could I fit in?

Finding TCK, reading what people other than my mother had to say, knowing I was not alone and we all had our own story made me come to peace with my difference. I now happen to be a TCI (Third Culture Individual), but that does not define me. Neither does my birthplace nor my parents nationalities.

[legend title=”BE UR SELF” style=”1″]

Experience makes the person. If you happen to have lived in the same region all your life, you will have different issues to a person who has never stayed more than 2 years on the same spot and that’s fine. The key is being okay with yourself. Like Winnie says, just be yourself! It’s hard, it’s a journey, but the inner peace and happiness that comes with it is priceless. No one should have to feel guilty about being different. In today’s world everything is unique, difference is the norm.


I’d like to end this saying that being different is okay. If people ask me what I am now, I still don’t have a perfect answer, but it’s not a problem anymore. It’s not about what I am. It’s about who I am: TCK, and happy to be”.

Hope you enjoyed the reading. If your kids identify with the report, it is not a fatality.  I'd encourage you to share this with your kids. Share your comments and opinions, your kids are invited to share their experiences too. If they wish to publish them, I promise I will.

P.S. If your kids identify with the result of the research and need help to assume their status, invite them to get in touch with me for solutions.

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