Who are TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and Why Are They Increasingly Relevant in Today’s World?
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This week’s discussion has been on my mind for quite some time, as it is something I frequently find myself discussing with expat parents. I am referring of course to the phenomenon of Third Culture Kids (TCK). Let’s dive in.

A natural consequence of the international professional, accelerated in recent years through increased globalisation and advances in Global Mobility, is the rise of Third Culture Kids, or, children who have grown up in cultures that weren’t the passport cultures of their parents. This term originated through the work of American sociologist Dr. Ruth Hill Useem in the 1960s. You can read more about her legacy here.

Given that the term has been around for so long, some of these children have now grown up and are referred to as ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). Therefore, it is important that their unique experiences and those of current TCKs are recognized and better understood, as they will be shaping the future. I’d like to do just that.

TCKs Have an Expanded Understanding of the World

Research has clearly demonstrated that TCKs are more tolerant of other people, their beliefs and cultures because of their broader worldviews. This allows them to build relationships with all cultural backgrounds, which makes them great international assets as professionals.

However, They Can Suffer From Identity Crises

A person’s self-esteem and identity is intrinsically linked to their attachment to the social constructs of culture, the sense of belonging that comes from such an attachment can often be lacking in TCKs, given that they are uprooted from their origin culture at a young age and thus they can become culturally “homeless” if their transition into the new culture is not smooth.
Often, the reverse can happen as well, with the TCK adjusting smoothly to the new culture but becoming alien to the original one. This fear is something expat parents frequently bring up with me and I always suggest that parents try to maintain a link between their children and the culture of their homeland. A great way to do that is through books, particularly those that spark the imagination of inquisitive young children. In fact, Cukibo has a range of delightful and enchanting books geared specifically for expat children that will help them learn and remember what makes their home culture so wonderful. Do read more about this series, it is called Journey to Another Homeland.

Identity Issues Lead to Further Difficulties

These identity issues, at such a critical time of psychological development, can lead to further problems down the road for TCKs. They have trouble adjusting to adult life as the feeling of not having roots like those with cultural “stability” can lead to frustration and a further loss of self-esteem. Their values can be compromised as well, particularly if the home and expat cultures have complementary cultures.

However, TCKs Develop Excellent Cross-Cultural Competence

That is solely due to how the Global Mobility has changed in recent decades. Previously, most expats moved once, overseas, and built a life there. That is no longer the case, with expats moving multiple times and bonding with more and more diverse people. It is not uncommon for TCKs now to belong to 3 or more cultures, and as part of their upbringing they develop the capacity to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures.

TCKs Also Boost Global Mobility

Surveys have shown that TCKs retain a desire to travel and move once they reach adulthood. Their professionals careers, consequently, have a focus on international travel and mobility. The influx of these ATCKs into professional spheres is pushing greater mobility and emphasis on the international aspects of their development: multilingualism, high cultural intelligence and sensitivity.

There is no denying that TCKs face the kind of challenges that non-expat children do that, but by overcoming those challenges, Third Culture Kids grow up into the kind of three-dimensional and evolved professionals and human beings that are slowly ushering the world into a new era of globalism and open-mindedness.


Finally, I would like to mention an opportunity to improve on your education. The Erasmus University in Rotterdam has an effective Masters course in Global Mobility, which distills the knowledge of academics and professionals with diverse and extensive field experience – this will help you attain the necessary qualifications to lead GM into the new decade! You can peruse through details at the link here.

You can contact us for workshops with third-culture kids. Reply or email at angela@globalpeopletransitions.com to book your slot now.

Have a great week!

Kind Regards,

Angie.



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