Third Culture Kid Dating; adults who have spent their developmental years outside their parent's culture


Dating as a Third Culture Kid: Part 1

I would say that I first realised that the ‘TCK-ness’ (having lived outside my passport country) would have an impact on dating and relationships when I started seeing a Kiwi guy in New Zealand. I had just moved to Auckland to study abroad there for seven months. Boston University had fantastic study abroad programs, and I had never been to Australia or New Zealand.  I was excited to go back to a place that was warm, green, and outdoorsy! I had an inkling that it would remind me a lot of Johannesburg (we lived there for about six years when we were kids) so I couldn’t wait to see if it would resemble it. It did. It was as luscious and beautiful as I had imagined it to be.  And that was the North Island! The South Island was even more impressive; we did a road trip around it that I will never forget!

From what I remember, there were about seventy study abroad students from Boston University, mostly American. We started classes at Auckland University, learning about the history and culture of New Zealand. And we did a little bit of our own learning… By heading out to the nearby bars in the evenings. The amazing thing about Auckland was that it was so walkable. We could easily walk from our dorms to the centre.  And the bars were all quite close-by. Bar crawls were really easy, as it literally was a couple (swaying) steps to the next one.  Locals were so friendly, and it was ridiculously easy to meet new people. As a Third Culture Kid, you know how much I enjoy meeting new people. It’s what I’m used to. It’s the buzz. One night around two AM we found ourselves sitting outside having some drinks in a quite empty bar. It was just the three of us at that point. We were sitting on high stools chatting about our ridiculous night of dancing when two guys walked by our table. “Hey.” That’s all I said. Looking back now, it was definitely the drinks I’d had! But I just couldn’t let one of the guys pass by. There was something about him.  Luckily, they didn’t just ignore us and keep walking.  They smiled and walked over to our table.  The five of us sat there chatting away whilst the guys ordered more bottled beers.

He wouldn’t stop looking at me. I had never had those kinds of butterflies. We ordered more drinks and learned more about Auckland. They’d been living there their whole lives so they knew everything about New Zealand. Perfect tour guides! The girls and I decided to leave after a couple of hours as it was getting late, and we were all thinking how hungover we’d already feel the next day! He asked me if he could have my number.

He texted me the next day to ask me out.  Of course, I said yes!  We dated for the next three months.  It was fun. It was exciting. He would come around with his car and pick me up to go the restaurant. To go to the cinema.  He brought me red roses on Valentines Day.  He sent me (possibly looking back cringe-worthy) romantic texts. He would dedicate songs to me with his guitar in hand. I wasn’t used to this!

The American guys I’d met in Boston were more about going to see a Basketball game or going to UNOs, and I just couldn’t picture any of them sending those kinds of poetic texts and dedicating songs to me. Of course, I’m sure there are American guys out there who would do that. But I was just comparing it to my own experiences of dating American guys. I was enjoying getting to know the customs by someone who’d spent his life in New Zealand. And I was enjoying getting to know him.

But then, slowly, the novelty wore off. Little by little, I realised I wasn’t that comfortable around him. I wasn’t able to be fully myself. I didn’t feel we had enough to talk about. I was bored. Everything felt quite predictable. I was not surprised by anything he’d do.  I felt restless. He also never really knew who I was, what I was about. He would often express how impressed he was that I’d travelled so much growing up. He would say it all the time. It was all a bit too much. I understood his disbelief. But, in my head, I would think: stop putting me on this pedestal. I had moved around a lot, yes. But, at the time, I thought that doesn’t make me any different! Also, I realised we just didn’t have enough in common. It always felt that our conversations were quite superficial. I still wonder today if it was a culture clash. If it was because he hadn’t moved around.  If it was because he couldn’t understand me.  Or if maybe I couldn’t understand him. Or had it simply been a personality thing?  I broke things off. It didn’t feel quite right.  I had learned a lot. And he’d always been a lovely guy. But it was just not for me. But when you don’t feel understood and feel like there’s a whole lot missing, you can’t settle. You need to keep looking.

Has your ‘TCK-ness’ ever influenced your relationships?



What would you tell your 18 year old self?

I was inspired by a beautiful post on a fellow adult Third Culture Kid’s blog Prepped and Loaded from Bate Consulting on what you would tell your 18-year old self. I actually found it really hard to write because there are so many things I’d say. And I’m sure, I could think of a million more things! But I’ve tried to narrow it down to 10 things!

But first, a quick reminder as to where I was at 18. I had just finished High School at the International School of Hamburg.  I had applied to plenty of universities in the US, mostly on the East Coast.  I had finally decided on Boston University in Massachusetts.  For the first time in my life, I was going to move countries without my family. After 4 moves together, this time I’d have to fend for myself. I was moving to Boston alone. I could not have been more excited though! I couldn’t wait to see what class would be like at university.  I’m a geek at heart and was ecstatic to meet my professors and learn all about economics and finance. I couldn’t wait to join the football and basketball intramural teams! I was thrilled to discover all the cafes, parks, and bars (even though I had to wait until I turned 21!) Boston had to offer. I was already planning on taking the bus to New York City on random weekends! I was psyched to meet the other students at orientation!  So what would I tell my 18 year old self at that point in time?

1. All of the hard work you put into university will be worth it!  Those days in the library studying Finance and Managerial Accounting will help you get the job you want.

2. The friends you meet at university will surprisingly not be the people with whom you’re friends with in your twenties! And that’s OK. You’ll change so much in the next 8 years that you’ll be looking for something different at that point in time.

3. Stop worrying about not meeting guys you could fall in love with! You’re young.  Stop stressing about how bored you are on those dates. Enjoy experiencing new restaurants and meeting new people. Seven years later, you’ll meet a guy who you can’t help falling in love with.

4. The study abroad trip you do in Auckland and in London is the best decision you make at university. It will help you realize where you want to settle down. As a TCK, that was bound to be a challenge in itself!

5. Don’t be so hard on yourself you overachiever! Relax!

6. Keep forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s when you’ll experience the most amazing moments of your life.

7. You’re allowed to use your friends as a support system. As a TCK, you’ve learned to rely on yourself. It’s OK to ask for help.  They will be so happy that you finally asked for it!

8. You haven’t quite learned how to be vulnerable yet, and that’s alright; it’ll come with time.

9. Your parents, your sister, your brother, no matter how far they are, will always be one phone call away. Their support will be unconditional regardless of the life choices you make with regards to career, love, and life.

10. You’re still figuring out who you are at 18. It’s fine not to know exactly who you are just yet. The more you challenge yourself by taking on new projects, meeting new people, and throwing yourself in the deep-end, the sooner you’ll figure it out!

Tell me, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?



You should be a pro at leaving!

If we’ve moved so much before the age of 18, does this mean we are really really good at leaving places and moving to new ones? Does practice somehow make perfect? Does it make us total pros at leaving people and friends and places behind?  As a Third Culture Kid, I was only 2 months old when I took my first flight from Tokyo to Paris! I couldn’t believe it when my mom told me. That is a small baby! I can’t imagine how annoying my crying must have been for other passengers and my mom!  So we start at such a young age. Airports become familiar. Leaving friends becomes the norm. Changing cities is all we know. But does all the moving, the flying, the goodbyes, the new beginnings, the new friends make us experts at leaving?

Well, my sister recently spoke about this in her latest post. As you know from my previous post, she moved to Belfast for work a couple of weeks ago. She brought up this question of whether or not it gets easier for us to move. If you’ve done it so many times in the past, it’s like anything, you should get better at it right?chloe belfast

Not necessarily.  My sister had been living in Paris for 6 years. That’s a long time for a Third Culture Kid!  With that amount of time, you can properly build a community, a network, a ‘family’ of friends.  You have a local pub.  She had several actually! But one of her favorites was in the 5th Arrondissement. You have your favorite supermarket. She had one just downstairs from her flat that she’d go to all the time. She knew them really well by the end; they’d always say hi when they saw her coming in to buy her fresh fruit and veg.  She’d also made some amazing friends who she could call up at anytime to set up a dinner party and go for a dry gin martini (her favorite!).

It can be unbelievable. That closeness. That familiarity. For a Third Culture Kid. It’s funny because most TCKs tend to move from feeling incredibly restless to a deep need for stability and consistency.

The ironic thing was that when she first moved there, she wasn’t that ‘French’. Yes, she has a French passport. And, yes, our dad is French. But as all TCKs and global nomads out there know, that doesn’t mean you feel fully French.  There’s a part of you that is connected to it, of course, but you’ve also spent so much time in other countries that it can also feel very distant.

But over time, of seeing her living there, visiting on a weekend, going there for work. I noticed a change. She was becoming in a fantastic way more and more Parisian.  Why fantastic? Because she was born there, and yet spent the majority of her life outside of France. And yet, then and there, she was becoming Parisian. Of course, there would always be a huge part of her that was every other nationality (Belgian, Japanese, South African, Austrian…) as we had grown up in those countries. But she was starting to know things. Know the ins and outs of Paris. She knew people. She knew customs. She knew what to do on a cloudy Sunday in Paris. She knew where the good bars were on a very late Wednesday night. She knew about the new restaurant that had just opened up.

And so, even if you’ve done it, what feels like a million times as a Third Culture Kid, moving and leaving friends doesn’t necessarily get any easier. And I think the biggest reason for that is that there is again that sense of loss. Even if you’re about to meet brilliant new people, learn about a new job, discover new customs that make a place unique, it still means you’ve left behind a number of things that had become your home.



Are you a Chameleon, a Screamer, or a Wall Owner?

Lived outside your passport country growing up? You’re a Third Culture Kid (TCK), and it’s a must that you read Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, a fantastic book written by Ruth Van Reken and David Pollock.  They argue that there are three different reactions that Third Culture Kids can have.  Try and detect who you are:

Chameleons : They define them as “those who try to find a ‘same as’ identity. They hide their time lived in other places and try to conform externally through clothes, language, or attitudes to whatever environment they are in”.

Screamers: Ruth Van Reken and David Pollock describe these TCKs as “those who try to find a ‘different from’ identity. They will let other people around them know that they are not like them and don’t plan to be”.

Wall Owners : One last way for TCKs to react they describe as “those who try to find a ‘nonidentiy’. Rather than risk being exposed as someone who doesn’t know the local cultural rules, they prefer to sit on the sidelines and watch, at least for an extended period, rather than to engage in the activities at hand”.

So, what are you? A Chameleon? A Screamer? Or a Wall Owner?  Am I the only TCK out there whose thinking oh my gosh this is so relevant to us!  How many times have we reacted in these ways? Does it change from one day to the next?  We’ll so often be the odd ones out that we need to choose to react in one of these ways. Whereas monocultural kids don’t have to worry about this. They will know the cultural rules and behaviour you should have each and every time. We’ll have to walk on egg shells to make sure we’re not bending the cultural rules.

But yeah, if you’ve been moving every couple years, and you don’t necessarily know all the customs and appropriate behaviour you’re meant to have in social events, then sometimes you simply choose not to engage.  You’re tired of making that extra effort that only adult Third Culture Kids will understand.  I mean how many times, as a TCK, have you thought, I should go out tonight to that Housewarming party, but even just the effort of having to go along with the customs and norms… You just can’t make that effort. You’re just having one of those days and you don’t want to engage or try. You’re reacting like a ‘Wall Owner’.

Ok, well what about when you decide to engage? You go on that weekend away.  You know you’ll have to constantly be adapting to behaviour and have the ‘normal’ reactions that a local would have. And you choose to hide your international upbringing.  You bring all the ‘fancy dress’ you’ll need for the Disco night. Even though you never grew up with that sort of thing. You bring a bottle of gin. Knowing that everyone will be drinking all day. That’s just what they do here. Even though you didn’t grow up in that sort of culture. That wasn’t the norm. But again you choose to hide what you constructed as your views over time. For once, you want to ‘fit in’ and not be bothered by others about your differences. You are blending in. Or at least, you’re trying. You’re reacting like a ‘Chameleon’.

Then, sometimes, you go to that leaving drinks for your colleague. But you have no interest that night in ‘fitting in’. You have a glass of red wine. Even though everyone else is sharing bottles of Prosecco. When someone asks you if you’re thinking of going to see Kaiser Chiefs in 2 month’s time with a couple of the other team members, you blatantly tell them you don’t really listen to them, so no.  Might not be the culturally accepted way of answering the question or being subtle enough. But you’ve chosen to answer the way you learned in a more direct fashion in the country you spent the most time in years ago. An 80s tune comes on, and you tell your colleagues to come dance. You’ve crossed that invisible line.  First, there is that awkwardness. They are looking at you, thinking, should I? Is this appropriate? Then, when they join one by one, everyone is smiling and laughing. You haven’t played it by the cultural rules, but you weren’t planning on blending in.  You’re being yourself, which of course means a mixture of different customs you’ve picked up over the years. You don’t want to hide that night or adapt or adjust.

So what are you? How do you react as a TCK?

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Oui, j’suis Française et Belge. But I have an American accent when I speak English.

As a Third Culture Kid or someone who has lived outside their passport country growing up, did your parents unconsciously or consciously teach you about customs from their ‘home’ country?  For example, did they want you to go to a school in their native language? Or want you to take courses that allowed you to learn their native language at home after the English-speaking or international school you went to?  Did your parents really want you to know how cook all of the old family recipes? Did they want you to know about politics in their country?

My parents never pushed the French/Belgian customs on us. And yet, unconsciously, they did have an influence on us.  And this is probably simply because they had grown up in France (my dad) and in Belgium (my mom). So what they knew was the culture they’d grown up in. Although over the years of being expats, behaviours and customs might have shifted for my parents as well.

But, for instance, my mom was adamant that we be able to speak, read and write in French. She always said how important it would be later on in life to feel comfortable working in both English and French.  We were attending International Schools throughout so we were learning how to speak English there. Hence the misleading American accent my siblings and I now have when we speak English. And yet, because our parents spoke to us in French, never in English, we have a French accent when we speak French.

So my mom encouraged and taught us how to read and write in French. We did this course called CNED after-school. We would do about an hour or two three times a week. I remember we used to complain so much about it. My siblings and I thought it was so annoying to have to continue doing work after going to school in English. But today, we are so grateful as it’s already helped us so much in our careers.

My dad always loved French music so we would often hear Jean-Jaques Goldman or Starmania on our long car journeys ‘home’ from Hamburg to Brussels or St-Quentin in France.  We learned all of the lyrics by heart! That’s how much he had it on. We loved it though. I remember an hour or so before we’d arrive in Brussels, he put on the Starmania CD and we’d all sing along at the top of our lung!  It’s so funny that hearing it again today brings back so many memories.

But I guess I’m lucky that my parents didn’t feel like we absolutely needed to identify with everything French or Belgian. They didn’t force it upon us. Or make us feel as if we should be less ‘Americanised’ from the customs we picked up in the International Schools.  They accepted who we were becoming. And accepted that it was not going to classic French/Belgian.  But a real mixture of different cultures.  And even today, when we go back to visit them in Germany, they accept that we don’t live in France or Belgium. That we don’t have French partners. That we don’t have a close bond with those two countries.  It will always be a part of us, yes. But it will never be the one and only!  Did you experience this too? Did your parents consciously or unconsciously impose the customs of their home country on you?  What about today, when you go back to see them?

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You’ve followed your globetrotting parents around the world…

Did you know that Barack Obama was a Third Culture Kid? The number of Third Culture Kids keeps growing and yet it’s not always clear what a Third Culture Kid is.  I have had a few questions recently about what a Third Culture Kid or TCK actually is. One person asked me if it means they need to be a child as the word ‘kid’ is involved. Someone else asked me if they were a Third Culture Kid if they had lived their whole life in one country, say England, but then had moved to Australia when they were 22 and had been there ever since. There are quite a few different definitions out there, and I think everyone has a slightly different perspective on what it means to be a TCK.

After going back through the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, I reread their different definitions for a TCK and found the following. By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it! It’s such an easy read. And it uses authentic personal stories and explains the challenges a Third Culture Kid faces.  So back to the definition! The authors describe a Third Culture Kid as someone who “has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.  Although elements from each culture may be assimilated in the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”. That’s a mouthful!  They focus on having lived outside their parent’s culture during their ‘developmental’ years, which means that someone who has lived in their parent’s home country up until 18 and then moved away to Australia would not necessarily be defined as a ‘TCK’.  Perhaps simply an expat? Although who is to say that 18-22 aren’t developmental and formative years…

I find it’s sometimes easier to explain the term through examples and in practical ways. So for example, if you have lived outside of your passport country growing up, you are a Third Culture Kid. If you have been to International Schools growing up, you are probably one too!  If you have spent some time outside your parent’s home country growing up, you fit the bill!  It can be someone who was born in Kenya and then lived in the US, but whose parents are British. Or it could be someone who was born in France and has French parents, but who before the age of 18 lived in Spain and Egypt.  It doesn’t matter which countries they’ve lived in. It can be a mix of so many combinations. The reason the parents have moved so much is often as a result of their work. For instance, they could have been missionaries, diplomats. They could have been in the army, worked for an international company (the reason my dad moved around so much). They may have been self-employed or doing free-lance work.  The reasons are endless.  The world is becoming more globalized so we expect to see this happen more in business.

A new Finacord Research Report found that the number of foreign expats would grow in the UK from 1.19 Million today to 1.3 Million in 2017.  The Financial Times recently wrote about the growing number of EU citizens living in the UK and stated that the Office of National Statistics recorded around 2.3 Million EU citizens living in the UK! Who knows? Maybe quite a few of those are adult TCKs!

So, why the word ‘kid’? Well, it’s because you did the moving around as a kid, during your formative years.  But some argue that the term Third Culture Kid is used when they are children and ‘adult’ Third Culture Kid is used when they have grown up. I’d say it’s up to us to decide what we want to use!

I would love to hear your thoughts about how you would define a ‘Third Culture Kid’. And perhaps you don’t like the term TCK.  Maybe you prefer using ‘Cross Cultural Kid’ (CCK) or even ‘Global Nomad’?  Let’s discuss!


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What do you feel is the biggest obstacle to you finding love?

I think we never really want to ask ourselves the difficult questions because it means having to potentially find difficult answers.  What would you say is the biggest obstacle today for you to find love?

Is it your job? Do you spend so many hours in the office each day and week that you feel as if you don’t have the energy in the evening to go out with friends and potentially meet someone? Or that you are so tired by the end of the day that you have often cancelled dates, thinking there was a slim chance anyway that you’d fancy them. Instead, you choose to relax in front of an awesome series and a cold beer!

Is it that your spare time is mostly on the weekends and that’s when you want to spend time with your friends? Maybe you work all week with colleagues who you like but wouldn’t necessarily consider to be close friends. You meet with clients all week. That you would simply like to spend some quality time with friends when you finally have some time to yourself. And a date involves spending time with someone you don’t know. Someone you have to make small talk with. It might be awkward. And it could be a waste of time. You think, why waste your free two days a week doing that?

Is it something else? Are you still thinking about your last relationship?  Feeling as if it’s not quite done yet. You haven’t been able to fully move on. You don’t have the closure you need to really feel like you can open up to someone new again. You think that there may still be something there.  It’s stopping you from taking that new step forward.

Do you feel there’s something else stopping you? Is it that you’re feeling insecure about going on that date you got asked on? You’re scared they won’t find you fun? You’re nervous they won’t think you are as cute as they remembered? Or that they’ll think you don’t look like the picture if you met them online.

Do you simply feel that the biggest obstacle is that although you go on plenty of dates, you just never to seem to find that spark? That it’s always a nice enough person, but that you don’t, as a friend of mine would say, want to jump across the table to rip off their shirt! There’s not enough attraction there. You enjoy their company, but you just don’t feel enough chemistry! There’s not enough there for you to feel it’s worth being in a relationship for.  I, personally, find it’s ridiculously hard to find people who can make you laugh, make you smile, and make you want to jump up and down because you’ve finally found them. I think it’s rare to find. Hence why it’s so special when you do find someone who can make you do all of those things.

What would you say is your biggest obstacle? Lack of time? Lack of good options out there? Something else?