I’ve had a series going here about TCKs – but what is a TCK and what does some of the research say about them?
“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”
What is the Origin of term “Third Culture Kid”?
Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term “Third Culture Kids” after spending a year on two separate occasions in India with her three children, in the early fifties. Initially they used the term “third culture” to refer to the process of learning how to relate to another culture; in time they started to refer to children who accompany their parents into a different culture as “Third Culture Kids.” Useem used the term “Third Culture Kids” because TCKs integrate aspects of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new culture (the second culture), creating a unique “third culture”
What are the Characteristics of TCKs?
There are different characteristics that impact the typical Third Culture Kid:
TCKs are 4 times as likely as non-TCKs to earn a bachelor’s degree (81% vs 21%)
40% earn an advanced degree (as compared to 5% of the non-TCK population.)
45% of TCKs attended 3 universities before earning a degree.
44% earned undergraduate degree after the age of 22.
Educators, medicine, professional positions, and self employment are the most common professions for TCKs.
TCKs are unlikely to work for big business, government, or follow their parents’ career choices. “One won’t find many TCKs in large corporations.
90% feel “out of sync” with their peers.
90% report feeling as if they understand other cultures/peoples better than the average American.
80% believe they can get along with anybody.
Divorce rates among TCKs are lower than the general population, but they marry older (25+).
Military brats, however, tend to marry earlier.
Linguistically adept (not as true for military TCKs.)
A study whose subjects were all “career military brats”—those who had a parent in the military from birth through high school—shows that brats are linguistically adept.
Teenage TCKs are more mature than non-TCKs, but ironically take longer to “grow up” in their 20s.
More welcoming of others into their community.
Lack a sense of “where home is” but often nationalistic.
Some studies show a desire to “settle down” others a “restlessness to move”.
Depression and suicide are more prominent among TCK’s.
The following video is just a small glimpse of what it’s like for us when we venture out in public with the kids. Basically, the kids are rock stars. Everyone with a camera phone within a 100 yard radius immediately begins to take photos (what do they do with the photos?)
Some especially bold people try to grab them pick them up or pose them for their camera phone photo shoot. (They don’t like that AT ALL! fyi)
We are trying to help the kids navigate this very difficult situation. It’s stressful for them to get so much attention, but it’s a reality of our life in China. The only way to avoid it would be to make the kids into hermits and keep them in our house during normal waking hours. (That’s not gonna fly!)
For now, the tactic is to try to always keep moving, never stop in any one place for very long. With exceptionally ‘bold’ people, we might have a word or two with them about giving the kids their space.
I do have to say, by and large, most people here respect us and our kids immensely and treat us with nothing but extreme politeness and hospitality. These people almost all have less than we do (worldly wealth wise), yet they would give us anything if they thought it would help.
It’s one of those realities we face because we live where we do. Please remember our three kids (TCK’s) in your prayers, ask that this difficult cultural reality will be used as a positive in their lives and will not turn them off to the Chinese people.
- “Where are you from?” has more than one reasonable answer.
- You’ve said that you’re from foreign country X, and (if you live in America) your audience has asked you which US state X is in.
- You flew before you could walk.
- You speak two languages, but can’t spell in either.
- You feel odd being in the ethnic majority.
- You have three passports.
- You have a passport but no driver’s license.
- You go into culture shock upon returning to your “home” country.
- Your life story uses the phrase “Then we moved to…” three (or four, or five…) times.
- You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
- You don’t know whether to write the date as day/month/year, month/day/year, or some variation thereof.
- The best word for something is the word you learned first, regardless of the language.
- You get confused because US money isn’t colour-coded.
- You think VISA is a document that’s stamped in your passport, not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
- You own personal appliances with 3 types of plugs, know the difference between 110 and 220 volts, 50 and 60 cycle current, and realize that a trasnsformer isn’t always enough to make your appliances work.
- You fried a number of appliances during the learning process.
- You think the Pledge of Allegiance might possibly begin with “Four-score and seven years ago….”
- Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you.
- You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted ball.
- You consider a city 500 miles away “very close.”
- You get homesick reading National Geographic.
- You cruise the Internet looking for fonts that can support foreign alphabets.
- You think in the metric system and Celsius.
- You may have learned to think in feet and miles as well, after a few years of living (and driving) in the US. (But not Fahrenheit. You will *never* learn to think in Fahrenheit).
- You haggle with the checkout clerk for a lower price.
- Your minor is a foreign language you already speak.
- When asked a question in a certain language, you’ve absentmindedly respond in a different one.
- You miss the subtitles when you see the latest movie.
- You’ve gotten out of school because of monsoons, bomb threats, and/or popular demonstrations.
- You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel.
- You have frequent flyer accounts on multiple airlines.
- You constantly want to use said frequent flyer accounts to travel to new places.
- You know how to pack.
- You have the urge to move to a new country every couple of years.
- The thought of sending your (hypothetical) kids to public school scares you, while the thought of letting them fly alone doesn’t at all.
- You think that high school reunions are all but impossible.
- You have friends from 29 different countries.
- You sort your friends by continent.
- You have a time zone map next to your telephone.
- You realize what a small world it is, after all.
…there can be a deep fissure between the country on someone’s passport and the place he or she considers home: “Your passport tells you what country you are allowed to reside in. Your heart tells you what is home.
As anyone with kids can tell you, raising children is one of the greatest responsibilities and privileges that you can undertake. Raising kids while living (primarily) overseas has additional challenges. There is even a name for kids who grow up overseas – “Third Culture Kids.”
Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are children who grow up in a culture other than their parents’. Their “home” culture is the first culture; their “host” culture, the second. And they live in the middle, the “third” culture. They face unique struggles in their lives of transition.
Here are 15 ideas from the web on how you can be meaningfully involved in the life of a TCK:
Begin a relationship with one—or with a whole family of TCKs. Commit to keeping in touch with them. Many people are in TCK’s lives for only a short time. The long-term people are few and greatly appreciated. Be one of those long-term people.
Seek them out when they are “home” visiting your country. Make it a priority to spend time with them when they come back.
Learn their names. This may seem small, but many people only know their parents’ names; it is significant to them when people remember their names as well.
Listen to them. Ask meaningful questions about their lives.
Introduce your kids to them. Encourage them to exchange pictures with each other and send cards and emails to each other when they are apart.
Go visit them in their country!
Invite a college-age TCK whose parents are overseas to live with you.
Invite TCKs who are in your area without their parents to come over for holidays and school breaks. They may need an adopted family. Communicate with their parents and encourage them in their relationship with their parents.
Learn about what it’s like to grow up as a TCK. Visit websites with TCK resources (google it!)
Pray for the TCKs when you pray for their parents. Pray Scripture for the children.
Encourage families as they make decisions for educating their children overseas. Many families choose to use local schools so their child can be a part of the culture. Be encouraging and pray that their children will shine for Jesus in their schools. Some find that boarding school is the best option for their children. Other families desire to homeschool their children. Consider sharing your resources with them or visiting a homeschooling fair on their behalf.
Consider giving them your frequent flyer miles to help with transportation to and from their two countries.
Send quality paperback books to TCKs overseas. Books can be like best friends and will be re-read and shared with others.
Don’t be surprised if TCKs do not seem to appreciate your culture like you do. TCKs often feel overwhelmed by all the excesses in American culture. For example, they may feel surprised by the size of grocery stores, how often people eat out, the high cost of entertainment and how often people “splurge,” the lack of modest clothing even in the church, the sensuality in TV shows and movies, and how much people eat in one sitting.
Get advice right from the source—ask TCKs what makes them feel loved and supported.
Many of these don’t yet apply to Elizabeth, Annna, and Nate, but some of them do. As we have just left America and returned overseas, I wonder which family members and friends will be the ones to intentionally invest in the lives of our TCK’s?