I am the proud parent of two Third Culture Kids. For those not familiar with the term, a Third Culture Kid (TCK) is someone who spent time during their formative years living in a country other than that of their parents. The term was originally coined in the 1950s by the American anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem. The connotation is that these children are not fully part of their parents’ home culture nor are they fully part of the culture of their transplanted home. Instead, they take pieces from each and find themselves with their own hybrid, or third, culture.
In our case, my children lived in England for four years. Their formal education began in London where they were surrounded by other TCKs that were the children of other expats. Moving back to Kansas City prompted a number of moments when it became clear to us that our children were indeed TCKs. My son once asked me “what time does the Super Bowl match start?” My daughter to this day still prefers the British spelling of savo(u)r and neighbo(u)r and refuses to change. This could also be explained by her stubbornness, but that’s for another post.
Beyond simple differences in vocabulary, there is a deep connection amongst children who have had the experience of living abroad, even when the countries of origin and residence differ. We have seen this firsthand as we are fortunate enough to live next door to another TCK who is European by birth but has lived for many years in Asia, and now is in the U.S. Additionally, my kids stay in touch with their friends from London who now live in Myanmar. Listening to their conversations is something to behold. They can seamlessly discuss flavored Kit-Kats from Japan, their favo(u)rite Indian meal, getting carsick driving through the Alps, and how to get their Nintendo Switches to connect to each other while in Cambodia.
But what amazes me the most is their unflinching ability to take pieces from different cultures that work for them while leaving the rest behind. They’re willing to say that something is “different,” but rarely that it is “weird.” By not making an immediate value judgment, nothing for them is above being questioned. Put another way, there is an unwillingness to accept that “this is the way it’s always been done.” When they’ve experienced life in different parts of the world, changing the way things are done at home, wherever that home may be for the moment, isn’t nearly as scary for them.
In that sense, we can all learn something from Third Culture Kids.
About the Author
Aaron Mann is the Senior Attorney for Litigation with Terracon Consultants in Olathe, Kansas. He is an IRC Board Member and cannot fathom coming home from a trip without knowing where he’s going to next.