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Third Culture Kids (abbreviated TCKs) is a term for children who have lived a significant portion of their lives in a country that is not their passport country, usually because of parents' work obligations. A synonym for this is "global nomad." Examples include military brats, the children of diplomats, children of business expatriates ("business brats"), international school educators kids, and Missionary Kids.
TCKs share some common characteristics amongst the sub categories such as multilingualism, tolerance for other cultures, a never-ending feeling of homesickness for their adopted country and a desire to remain in close contact with friends from their adopted country as well as other TCKs that they have grown up with.
Many TCKs take years to readjust to their home countries and often suffer a reverse culture shock on their return to their homeland. There are some online resources to help TCKs deal with issues as well as stay in contact with each other.
The term third culture kid was coined by Ruth Hill Useem in the early 1960s. She and her husband studied children who grew up in two or more cultures (including their own children) and termed them simply "third culture kids". Their idea was that children from one culture who live in another culture become part of a "third culture" that is more than simply a blend of home and host cultures.
Children (and adults) of the third culture share similar identities. Useem defined a third culture kid as
"[A] person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all of 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." (Pollock & van Reken, 2001, p. 19)
Two circumstances are key to becoming a third culture kid: growing up in a truly cross-cultural world, and high mobility. By the former, Pollock and van Reken mean that instead of observing cultures, third culture kids actually live in different cultural worlds. By mobility, they mean mobility of both the third culture kid and others in their surrounding. The interplay between the two is what gives rise to common personal characteristics, benefits, and challenges. TCKs are distinguished from other immigrants by the fact that TCKs do not expect to settle down permanently in the places where they live.
Third culture kids grow up in a genuinely cross-cultural world. While expatriates watch and study cultures that they live in, third culture kids actually live in different cultural worlds. Third culture kids have incorporated different cultures on the deepest level, as to have several cultures incorporated into their thought processes. This means that third culture kids not only have deep cultural access to at least two cultures, this also means that thought processes are truly multicultural. That, in turn, influences how third culture kids relate to the world around them, and makes third culture kids' thought processes different even from members of cultures they have deep-level access to. TCKs also have certain personal characteristics in common. Growing up in the third culture rewards certain behaviors and personality traits in different ways than growing up in a single culture does, which results in common characteristics. Third culture kids are often tolerant cultural chameleons who can choose to what degree they wish to display their background.
As a result, Pollock and van Reken argue, third culture kids develop a sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere. Their experiences among different cultures and various relationships makes it difficult for them to have in-depth communication with those who have not experienced similar conditions. While third culture kids usually grow up to be independent and cosmopolitan, they also often struggle with their identity and with the losses they have suffered in each move. Barbara Schaetti has proposed a developmental model for third culture kid identity development based on earlier identity literature, primarily on nigrescence, in which a number of different mechanisms are explained for the wide range of identity outcomes that third culture kids may have. Some may feel very nationalistic toward one country, while others call themselves global citizens.
- The term "third culture kid" is sometimes used in an unrelated sense to describe autistic children and people with Asperger syndrome who grow up in their childhood in considerable isolation and without much social relationship, largely in a conceptual world.
- The "third culture" implied in the concept has no relation with the phenomenon described in John Brockman's book The Third Culture.
- TCK World
- iss.edu Third Culture Kids Study Report
- Globalist Girl - dedicated to global living
- Interaction International
- YouthCompass-Navigating Life Together
- Pollock DC and Van Reken R (2001). Third Culture Kids. Nicholas Brealey Publishing/Intercultural Press. Yarmouth, Maine. ISBN 1-85788-295-4.
- Hess DJ (1994). The Whole World Guide to Culture Learning. Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME.
- Kalb R and Welch P (1992). Moving Your Family Overseas. Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME.
- Kohls RL (1996). Survival Kit for Overseas Living. Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME.
- Pascoe R (1993). Culture Shock: Successful Living Abroad. Graphic Arts, Portland, OR.
- Shames GW (1997). Transcultural Odysseys: The Evolving Global Consciousness. Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME.
- Storti C (1997). The Art of Coming Home. Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME.
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