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What is a 'Third Culture Kid'?


Gone are the days when extended families lived within a few miles of each other.

Ease of travel and global working have facilited a world in which children are increasingly likely to grow up in countries outside of their parent's passport cultures.

These children are known as third culture kids (TCKs).

Not only are the number of third culture kids increasing, but the cultural complexity and relevance of their experience and the adult TCKs (ATCKs) they become, is also growing.

Who Made Up the Term 'Third Culture Kid'?

This term can be attributed to Ruth Hill Useem, an anthropologist and sociologist, who dedicated a huge portion of her time in the 1950s, researching expatriates in India.

She discovered that folks who came from their home (or first) culture and moved to a host (or second) culture, had, in reality, formed a culture, or lifestyle, different from either the first or second cultures.

She called this phenonmenon the 'third culture' and the children who grew up in this lifestyle 'third culture kids'. Ruth went on to study expatriate families in over 70 countries. She continues to be considered the authority on this topic and the depth of her work is unparalleled.

An important trend that has continued to develop since Ruth studied this phenomenon relates to the makeup of expatriate familes.  During the 50s and  80s, when most of Ruth's work took place, most expatriate families were made up of parents from the same culture and functioned within a single host culture while overseas. This is no longer the norm.  Expatriate children are now far more likely to be part of a mixed heritage family. 

Take, for example, Brice Royer, the founder of TCKid.com. His father is a half-French/half-Vietnamese UN peacekeeper while his mom is Ethiopian. Brice lived in seven countries before he was eighteen including France, Mayotte, La Reunion, Ethiopia, Egypt, Canada, and England. He writes, “When people ask me ‘Where are you from?,’ I just joke around and say, ‘My mom says I’m from heaven’.” What other answer can he give?

Within the Commisceo Global Consulting team, a significant number of staff are third culture kids. Our head of training, for example, has a mother who is half Nepalese and half Malay and a father who is British. As a child, she spent 6 years in Singapore and 7 years in in the UAE. As an adult, she feels the absence of any roots and doesn't identify with any particular culture. 

These indiviudals tend to be able to move between cultures fluidly and are naturally placed to adapt their style depending on the cultural context in which they find themsleves.

Read more about TCKs in this article  > Telegraph

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

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