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


Still that niggling feeling…

ImageI know I am happy about having settled down and lived in one city for four years now.  But once in a while, I still get that niggling feeling of wanting to jump on a plane and move to a new country!  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I know it’s important to build relationships and bonds with other people.  And I’ve said that I find it easier to do this by sticking to one place.  I think it can help in terms of support and just overall happiness levels to have strong friendships.  Gretchen Rubin wrote a book called the Happiness Project.  She explains how important friends are in life.  I read the book and I strongly recommend it.  I think it’s just a great way to be more aware of yourself and others and to not take life for granted. She also writes a great blog on how you can proactively choose to be happy by making the effort: to challenge yourself, to try new things, to put energy into your friendships, to strive for more in your career and so on.  But that’s for another post on happiness!

So yes, Gretchen, reminds us how important it is to put effort and energy into friendships and to continue to build these connections.  And in so many ways, I’m so happy with the friends I’ve made here in London.  I have an absolutely wonderful time with each of them when we go see the new movie that’s just come out at Cineworld, drinks out in Clapham Junction, birthday drinks at that busy beer garden or simply a lovely afternoon in Hyde Park. They make me laugh.  We exchange stories.  We talk about the latest issue at work or the most recent date on Tinder. I feel like I can help when they need advice. And they’ve been amazing about just being there for me. 

But once in a while, very randomly, I’ll get this strange niggling feeling of wanting to start over new. Start afresh. Move to a brand new city.  I mean, very honestly, that feeling has reduced quite a bit since I first moved to London. It happens much less often than it used to. Just once in a while.  I guess the trigger can be when I meet someone new.  For example, at a recent TCK event from the Meetup group in London, I experienced that sort of event that makes you question things.  We’re out for drinks at a lively, noisy bar in Soho.  And one of the TCKs I’ve met tells me all about how she’s thinking of moving away again for a new job, maybe New York City, maybe Hong Kong.  She’s ready for that next move.  And while I’m listening to this, I get this strange elation and energy.  And I start thinking, “ah, me too! I want to do that.  I miss it. I miss the excitement. The intensity.”  That feeling will then usually remain until I go to sleep that night. I’ll think about it. Wonder how much I want it. How much of that feeling is real.

And the next morning, it’s gone. That feeling is no longer there. And I’m again so content and satisfied of what I’ve built here and what I have in London. I know that it’s because I’ve put effort in my friendships, my career, the football team I play with on the weekends, and all the other things.  If I leave and move, all of that would go away.  And then and there, when I do a quick cost-benefit analysis, I realize that the small benefit of the excitement of a new city does not outweigh the huge cost in terms of losing the community I’ve spent so long to build, the friendships I’ve taken to form, and the professional network I’ve slowly acquired.

Will that niggling feeling ever totally go away? Ah, I don’t think so.  I mean, who knows, I could surprise myself.  Hard to erase 22 years of moving around though. How do you feel about this? Do you ever get that feeling?



Where are you from?

How many times have you had that question? I think this topic has been done again and again. But I think the reason that it’s been covered so many times by third culture kids and global nomads is because it happens so frequently in our lives, and it always takes us 20 times longer to answer the question than anyone else.  And we either feel uncomfortable or arrogant in answering the question.

I think we (TCKs) all have that little 1 minute speech memorized by now.  I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly trying to shorten it.  Because I just always feel that it sounds so pompous: “My dad is French; my mom is Belgian. But I’ve never lived in either of those countries. I was born in Tokyo, moved to Dusseldorf, Johannesburg, Vienna, Hamburg and then did my undergrad in the US.”  And I have no desire to sound arrogant about it. There’s no reason to be.  I mean, come on, the majority of us (TCKs) only traveled around the world as a result of one or both of our parents’ jobs. It’s not from our own risk-taking behavior.  What are you going to do as a kid? Say no? Question it? Why would you? You’re five years old. And after the first or second move, it becomes so normal, that you never really feel the need to question it. I wasn’t bothered. I absolutely loved it.  If I had the choice to do it again in the exact same way, I would. 

This is why I don’t think people should be impressed by our ‘where are you from’ response. I’m much more impressed by people who say they’ve traveled since they left their parent’s house.  Living somewhere for six months, a year, in a foreign country on your own. That’s amazing.  It means that you were willing to take that risk. To go off on your own and see where it would take you. Not following the regular path of uni and that full-time job. No, you chose to pack your bags and not stick to what everyone else expects of you: your friends, your professors, your parents, society in general, really.  I’ve met people who have traveled a lot since they were 18, and they’re always surprised when I say how fascinated I am by that.  It’s a completely different thing.  Yes, I’ve lived in different countries. But that was because my parents moved around. And, well, after I continued moving around (Boston, Auckland, London) because that’s what I knew.  I loved getting out of my comfort zone. But I had years of practice.  I’m more interested by those people who didn’t do it when they were growing up and yet have this yearning and curiosity for different cultures (purely from their own interest).

And that’s why, I don’t think it’s ‘impressive’ that we, TCKs, have lived in all of those countries.  Our parents were impressive, maybe. As they took that risk, to be expats, to intentionally move to another country and have to learn a new language. To learn new customs.  But us?  We just followed.

This is why I try to shorten my spiel when I’m asked where I’m from.  I’ve tried only saying “French-Belgian”, but it never works. They’ll just ask me why I have an American accent.  Which, to be fair, I completely understand. If I heard someone with a British or American accent, of course, I would just assume they’re from the UK or the US.  Why would they be from Europe?  I mean, I get it, all of my cousins and extended family on my dad’s side have such a thick French accent when they speak English.  So immediately when you meet a French or Belgian person, you think they should have that sort of accent when speaking English.  It’s misleading.  How do you feel about all of this?  Are you also constantly shortening your response to the question ‘Where are you from’?


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Dr. Ruth Useem’s Research on Third Culture Kids: “TCKs 4x more likely to get a Bachelor’s Degree”!

Dr. Ruth Useem spent a great deal of time researching the effects that third culture kid experiences has on them as adults.  You can find out more about her in my previous post!  In one of her research studies, she collected 700 questionnaires from adult TCKs  In this sample of adults, “82 percent lived abroad both as pre-teens and teenagers” (Useem & Cottrell, 1999).  They found that in the majority of families, the primary employee was the father. 

They also found that 81% of adult TCKs had a Bachelors degree.  Useem and Cottrell also found that a great number of these adult TCKs had changed majors two to three times at university.  Some dropped out of university to take up an opportunity that arose.  They go on to discuss how adult Third Culture Kids never fully adjust, instead they adapt to the new community or find niches to settle into.  From the answers they collected, they learned that we as TCKs do not want to be encapsulated.

I found the following quote they used to describe adult third culture kids so accurate: “Their camouflaged exteriors and understated ways of presenting themselves hide the rich inner lives, remarkable talents, and often strongly held contradictory opinions on the world at large and the world at hand”.  I think this is so true. We have had to adapt so much that we can mold quite quickly into the setting or group of people we are with.  However, this can also cover up a great number of aspects of our personality, thoughts, and opinions.   Is it perhaps true then that we can only show our fullest and most complete self with our family and perhaps others like us?

world map

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Who coined the term Third Culture Kid or TCK?

I recently stumbled upon the ‘founder’ of TCK research, Dr. Ruth Hill Useem.  You can find the full article on the TCK World website  She did a Phd in Sociology, Anthropology, Social Psychology, and Psychology in 1947.  She moved to India with her husband John Useem to conduct research and returned a second time with her three sons to do a study on overseas Americans.  It was from this research and these life experiences that they coined the term ‘third culture’ and later ‘third culture kid’.  She started publishing her research on third culture kids in the 1960s.

Dr. Ruth Useem did research on expat populations and overseas communities.  She travelled to over 70 countries to do her research on TCKs.  She has worked on or helped contribute to 30 different doctorate dissertations on third culture kids.  Her main focus was looking at the impact that living abroad as children has on them as adults.  Her findings were fascinating and more of her reports and articles can be found on the TCK World website.  On one project in particular, she collected 700 questionnaires from adult third culture kids ages ranging from 25 to 90. Each questionnaire consisted of 20 pages of questions, which shows that she collected a great deal of information from these Adult TCKs!  In the next posts, I will bring up the findings she came up with when looking at adults who had spent the majority of their developmental years outside their parent’s culture.Image


Dating as a Third Culture Kid. Would dating a TCK be the best option for you?

What do you think? I know that for friends or acquaintances, when I meet someone who has also moved around during their childhood, we straight away have a connection.  We can talk about the experience, the cities we’ve lived in, international schools, the lack of friends we are still in touch with, and all the rest!  I have to say it’s been quite rare for me to meet Third Culture Kid guys.  And on the rare occasion I have met TCK guys who could have been potentials for dates, and by that I mean attractive, my age, and charming…  Well, they were quite arrogant.  Ok, I am generalizing, and I have definitely not met enough TCK guys to even make a point of this. But that is only because those are the ones I’ve come across.

When I was in Boston, I would go to bars and pubs and meet American guys, mostly guys who had spent their whole life in Boston or Providence, and there would be either of two reactions. The first was a fascination for my background. They found it exotic, sexy, different, the unknown for them.  And to be honest, this is not that appealing, as we know, as TCKs that we don’t feel ‘exotic’; we are who we are, fair enough different but not ‘exotic’.  ‘Sexy’- well, that’s subjective ! And the second reaction is complete disinterest.  You know that look of ‘oh right’ and then the ‘turn around’. Too different. Not that cool. And I don’t want to make the effort to care.  Let’s be honest. That kind of guy might act like that with all girls, TCK or not.  But since I often had this reaction, I started feeling as if the two were connected.  What would you say? Do you feel the same way?  Do you get the same reaction when you answer their questions about where you’re from and they find out you’re a TCK?Image


When I finally settled down in a city, how did I work on building sustainable relationships?

In my previous post, I mentioned an article by Bill Drake about how adult Third Culture Kids (TCKs) have less problem-solving skills in relationships and friendships than other adults. He explains that the reason for this is that they move so often that they don’t need to resolve issues that come up within their relationships. They simply move on to the next city and make new friends, rather than working on those older relationships.

Although I was surprised by this statement at first, I then realized it was true, at least for me as a TCK.   When I moved to London for my first job out of uni, I made the conscious decision to change.  I had to start working on my relationships here as I knew I would be sticking around for a while!  I had to build more sustainable relationships.

After two years in London, when I noticed I was pulling away from one of my close friends, I had to figure out why I was doing this.  On the one hand, I had spent amazing moments and times with this friend: dinners out, late cocktails on Friday nights, chatty coffee breaks at work, and endless conversations on life, career, friends and love.  The problem: I was bored.  I didn’t feel that same level of excitement I had at the beginning. I was annoyed by some of the little things she did.  I didn’t feel like working on the relationship either.  I simply wanted to drop her and make new friends. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s what I had done repetitively throughout my life as a Third Culture Kid, and over that time, it was not always by choice. It’s all I knew.

I had reached that two-year point, and normally at this stage I would have moved cities and therefore built new friendships and met plenty of new people. Meeting new people gives you that adrenaline rush. That flavor of excitement.  That feeling of getting out there, reaching out to people, charming them to make them like you.  And it’s just not the same as keeping an old friend.

She felt it. That I was pulling away.  For some reason, she knew and expected it too. Probably because I had mentioned this sort of situation in the past when moving from city to city.  She called me out on it and told me that I meant a lot to her and that I wasn’t going to throw her away.  This made me face the reality of it. I couldn’t constantly be throwing away friends when I got bored.  I needed to work on my friendships, build that spark back into it.  Plan fun and exciting nights out over gin and tonics in Shoreditch.  Leave our routine, and get out there to meet new people. Go out again to house parties with her and flirt with the cute guys we met. Make up ridiculous stories to the ones who were drunk and annoying us.  And funnily enough, when we did that, I didn’t feel bored anymore.  That relationship is stronger today because I have been through more with her. It’s more interesting. It’s built on past experience. It’s built on memories. It’s built on stories she knows about me. It’s built on holidays away together. It’s built on hour-long conversations about that wonderful first date we had with a guy met on Plenty of Fish.  It’s built on more glasses of red wine than I’d like to count.

I know this is going to be a constant challenge for me. Not to get bored. Or more importantly, when I get bored, to work on a relationship. To fight to bring back that spark. To shake things up.  Not to throw away the old and look for the new.  To build.

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As Third Culture Kids, do we struggle to solve problems in our relationships?

After reading an article by Bill Drake on cosmopolitan blog The International Man, I thought about what he said: “Third Culture Kids often seem to lack problem solving skills in their personal relationships since many have moved frequently and learned to leave a problem behind rather than deal with it”.  I was upset when I first read this, thinking, come on, that’s not true! It’s too easy to say that just because we moved around every couple of years, as adults, we were more likely to ignore a problem then solve it because we never had to resolve issues in our relationships as kids.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I started to realise that I did find it difficult to care enough to resolve an issue with a friend. I had never had to resolve issues with friends before because I always knew that there was an expiry date to my stay in that city.  By the end of my stay, there was something bothering me about the friendship that I was in. However, rather than taking the time to solve it, I thought, what’s the point? I’m leaving anyway.

So for example when I was doing my Bachelors in Boston, I had decided to study abroad in my Junior Year.  One of my best friends who I had spent the majority of my freshman and sophomore year with had recently started dating a new guy.  She started spending all of her time with him and when she asked me to hang out, she would constantly bring him along. I would therefore feel like a third-wheel on their dinner and movie dates.  Instead of bringing up the issue I had with her, I thought, what’s the point, I will leave in 2 months’ time for Auckland, New Zealand (where I was studying abroad). It felt like too much effort. And from past experience, I knew how quickly I would make strong bonds with new friends as soon as I arrived in Auckland.  Instead of resolving the issue, I thought, I’ll make new friends in the next city.

I saw myself doing this several times in my uni years: in Boston, in Auckland, in London where I studied abroad, and Paris where I spent summers during my uni years.  I just never felt the need to improve those relationships or deal with the problems that had arisen.  When I moved to London in 2010 for my first job out of uni at Bloomberg, I made conscious decision to change this.  Find out how in my next blog post!

Paris pic