Third Culture Kids


I'd like to tell you a story about an 8 year old girl named Jazmin. Her parents lived in England until Jazmin was 4 years old. Then, Jazmin's parents moved to Kenya for their jobs and lived there for 5 years. Kenya is where Jazmin started school, made friends, and even learned the local language. She doesn't really remember England except for when she goes back to visit her grandparents on holidays. Jazmin is now 9 years old and just moved to Thailand for her mom's new job. One of the first questions Jazmin is asked when she arrives at her new school is, Where are you from?

Who thinks she is from England? Kenya? Thailand? A blend of some?

Last week, I visited the second grade classes and started my lessons with this story. They were studying culture in the Where We are in Place and Time unit. It is a story that many kids at LCS can relate to. Many children are not just from one culture, but are from a culture that represents a blend of other cultures. These children are considered Third Culture Kids or Cross Cultural kids and it is important to understand this culture so we know how to best support our children.

In their book, Third Culture Kids - The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, Pollock and Van Reken define a Third Culture Kid (TCK) as:

"A person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK builds relationships with all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background."

The term "third culture" comes from the intersection of two cultures or the culture between cultures as there may be more than 2 cultures represented. (diagram below).


There are upsides and downsides to almost any sort of upbringing, and this is no different for TCKs. Benefits include - excellent cross cultural, social and observational skills, greater adaptability and flexibility, less prejudice, and higher creativity and 'out of box' thinking. These 21st century skills are in high demand in our ever so globalized economy.

Challenges for TCKs include feelings of unresolved grief, choicelessness, rootlessness, difficulties with identity and sense of belonging, and difficulty expressing negative emotions because of feelings of guilt. When provided with the right support and guidance, TCKs can cope with the challenges and thrive from the benefits that come with their unique lifestyle.

Our second grade students were able to express some of the benefits and challenges they face such as making new friends, leaving friends behind, learning new languages, going to many different schools, and seeing many parts of the world. Students were challenged to think about what cultures have influenced their lives and create a flag that represented their unique blend. There were many creative flags and thoughts that came from this lesson! Can you see the blend of cultures in the flags below?

If you would like to learn more about TCKs and how best to support them as parents and teachers, here are two excellent resources:

Story by Tim Steadman - ES Counselor