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The Triumphs and Tribulations of Being a Third Culture Kid

Do you think that it is really a great thing to enjoy the best of several worlds? Ask a third culture kid and you may get to hear a mixed bag of answers. Whatever the opinion of a TCK, there is no doubt about the fact that being a TCK is a challenging and life-changing experience.

A third culture kid (TCK) is a child who has spent a considerable part of life or years of development outside their parents’ culture. They are, thus, exposed to a variety of cultures and customs, thoughts and attitudes. These differ considerably from those that permeated their parents’ upbringing. TCKs also include adults who have experienced life as a TCK during their growing years.

This term was introduced by Ruth Hill Seem to describe kids who have to adapt to new places and cultures frequently as a result of the mobility of their parents. TCKs come from different backgrounds. They are the kids of diplomats, government officials, the military; anyone whose profession involves considerable amount of movement and instability. Due to their frequent relocations, the word home is just a phrase for them. What experts say is that the frequent shifts and changes result in the loss of three things which are vital for the healthy psychological and emotional development of children- belonging, recognition and connection.

Third Culture Kids – Not Like Other Children

TCKs are products of complex experiences- which can be overwhelming on one hand and liberating and enriching, on the other. Unlike other children, third culture kids face lots of challenges when absorbing the facts of life from many cultures, before they have even developed their own identity. Third culture kids may have experienced familiarity with the culture and customs of different countries while feeling discomfort with their own country of origin. They may feel out of place with the home country of their parents and are more comfortable with the different kinds of terminologies and customs in their country of residence.

Raising a TCK

Unlike other kids, TCKs are more difficult to understand. For once, you really need to be in their shoes to understand how they feel. That is not easy! Most often, TCKs are deprived of people who understand them and teachers often find it difficult to notice and identify them. But they can observe the following behavioural traits to detect a TCK in their class. These kids may seem like other kids at first glance and they may appear to merge very well with their new environment on a superficial basis but on closer observation, one can tell that they are not quite comfortable in their environment. They may appear to be angry and tense, or frustrated and unable to make friends easily. They may be alone and withdrawn.

Many times, the parents themselves are not aware of the loss their children experience and the psychological impact on them; as a result they end up underestimating the attention these kids need. The problem remains buried somewhere, until one day it will surface. The grief, pain, and loss is internalised by the children and the adults they grow up to be. Many of them do not find a way of dealing with the loss of loved things and bonds developed at each place. Their pain is brushed over and done with.

The Advantages of Being a TCK

On the other hand, TCKs can turn out to be children of exceptional abilities and skills, if they have insightful, empathetic and observant parents. If the life experiences and stressors are handled well, TCKs have immense potential as leaders. Because of the different kind of life experiences they had, they are often adventurous with a zest for life, amenable to taking up challenges, very curious, and very adaptable. They are open-minded, possess exceptional skills in different languages and are often very sensitive to other people and cultures. They develop a mindset which is exceptionally tolerant and understanding.

All this makes them diplomatic and that is a skill much needed in an increasingly globalised and multicultural workplace. You create a flutter wherever you go. They can get along with multiple sets of people and as great communicators, they often have excellent conflict management skills and their experiences of different cultures  sharpen their drive to start independent ventures. This is a whole set of abilities and qualities which make TCKs potential leader and which compensates somewhat for the stress they have to go through.

Being a TCK is often a matter of circumstances and not choice; but sensitive parenting and a courageous and positive disposition can turn it into a great lifelong advantage!


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