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!