Third Culture Kids: Seven things you might not know

Third Culture Kids: Seven things you might not know

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).

Characteristics of Third Culture Kids

Although it may seem simple enough at first glance, the term Third Culture Kid often throws up queries and confusion.

Here are seven common characteristics of the TCK:

1. Relocation during developmental years

Whether you’ve moved once, five or 10 times during your developmental years, you’re a TCK. Also, the word "third" doesn’t refer to the number of moves, so you’re not a fourth culture kid if you’ve moved four times! (I’ve been asked this question several times.)

2. What's the point?

When it comes to investing in friendships or relationships, many TCKs often wonder "what’s the point?" They have already experienced the pain of leaving people behind or know they might move again.

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. Global relationships

On the other hand, many TCKs have learned from their experiences that moving doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship or friendship is over. It just changes format, frequency, and even time zones! TCKs may have friends around the globe.

4. The pain of goodbye

TCKs learn to cope with change and often realise early on that change is the only constant in life. They have experienced the pain of saying goodbye, leaving friends, family members, pets, favourite toys and places behind. They need time and space to process these feelings.

Again, counselling can help with this by providing the necessary time and space in a safe environment.

5. Bilingualism, or even multilingualism

Most TCKs speak at least two languages fluently.

6. Home is everywhere and nowhere?

"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 may be different for each child, and is based on their particular experience.

7. Appreciation of diversity

TCKs truly know how to celebrate diversity. They have it within them!

The joys of being a Third Culture Kid

I once overheard a conversation 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.

A must read for TCKs is "Third Culture Kids: Living among cultures by Ruth E. Van Reken and David Pollock". I highly recommend this book and consider it the ultimate TCK life manual.

Vivian  Chiona


Vivian Chiona

Vivian Chiona is the founder and director of Expat Nest (, which provides emotional support to expats and their families through online counseling services. A bicultural, multilingual expat with family...

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