you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into
Yes, I am a Third Culture Kid! But that doesn’t mean I’m any kind of expert - I just identify with the situations and feelings that are characteristic of TCKs.
A Third Culture Kid is basically someone who was born in one country, then goes to live in a different or several different other countries, and then returns to their home country. Basically where your parents are expats, you’re a Third Culture Kid because you have to grow up in this different culture, you know? You absorb it the way that adults don’t and can’t, and so upon return home you feel a weird sort of unbelonging. Like you’re not completely one nationality or the other. But it’s more than just what country you’re from; it’s a place to belong. It’s an identity. TCKs aren’t fully one thing or another. They’re in that awkward in-between place where nothing really feels like “home” because our homes have been so different.
Sociologist David C. Pollock said it really well:
A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside 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.
For a quick explanation, it’s a term for kids who have grown up in more than one country, but don’t really identify with either country’s culture 100%, so they feel more comfortable in this sort of “third culture” that they construct, a mixture of both (or more) countries.
I was born in California, but when I was six I moved to Scotland. Two years later, I returned to my home in California. After my freshman year in high school, I moved to England, where I am now. I haven’t returned permanently to the States yet but I intend to once I graduate high school next year. In a lot of ways, that weird rest period in between the two moves gave me feelings that I can literally only identify with the characteristics of a TCK. It’s a loss and confusion and search for identity, and a certain disconnect with people who haven’t experienced that. It’s an openness and general appreciation for all cultures, but a loss and confusion about your culture. So it feels more comfortable to construct our own culture, made up of several parts of different places.
But it’s more than that. It’s like…we struggle with this, and it’s something that people don’t really understand and it’s not really their fault, it’s just that people who haven’t experienced this just can’t understand. Our parents and adults don’t understand either; it’s during our developmental years, our younger or teenaged years, where we’re building and forging ourselves and our relationships, and as we leave certain places, parts of our identities get taken away. Things in different countries change so drastically that it’s like a Lego is missing from some part of you, like something is just wrong and uncomfortable. Which is weird, because TCKs also tend to be very good at taking change and adapting to it (no matter how much they may dread it). But it’s true that we don’t necessarily adapt to it - we cope. It’s often a confrontational experience to meet people from our past, instead of being nice and relaxing, it makes us uncomfortable.
All or none of these traits apply to TCKs. We are a very varied group of people. For example, I’ve only had two major moves in my life, and both were pretty much to the same place, and I spent a long time in between the moves in my passport country (the US). But some people were born in America, or their parents are American but they were born in Saudi and have lived in Singapore, or China, or Egypt, or Libya, or France, or Switzerland, or South Africa, or Brazil or Mexico or any number of places. We still all qualify as TCKs. Many, if not all of us, still struggle with our identity and, especially as we grow up, finding a place that’s comfortable and that understands us. I think that’s the big problem about being a TCK. No place understands and comprehends us fully.
We have a globalized culture. It’s a great one, and it’s fulfilling and we’re so blessed, but it leads to frustrating dilemmas. It leads to a sense of being not a part of something, and to not belonging, and this weird sort of “where-do-I-go-when-I’m-done-here” feeling. You know? Like you can only globetrot for so long. What then? What happens to our lives then?
I’m not an expert, I just find comfort in the experiences of other TCKs, because they make me not feel so weird and outcast. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask or contact iamatck or uncdan, both of which are more educated and articulate than I about what being a TCK means.