What is a Third Culture Kid?

“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”... (more)

Third Culture Kids Book





What is a TCK?

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one's lifetime." -- Mark Twain

 Adults who live in other cultures will broaden their perspectives, but their children will inevitably be a blend of cultures. They can be called Third Culture or Trans-Cultural Kids (TCKs).

A TCK is an individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than that of their parents, develops a sense of relationship to both. These children of business executives, soldiers and sailors, diplomats, and missionaries who live abroad, become "culture-blended" persons who often contribute in unique and creative ways to society as a whole.

The individual blend will vary, depending on such factors as the intensity of exposure to a second or third culture, at what age a child comes into contact with a culture other than that of the parents, and the amount of time a young person spends within a second or third culture. The TCK's roots are not embedded in a place, but in people, with a sense of belonging growing out of relationships to others of similar experience.

Because of frequent changes in geographic locations, a TCK tends to be a very independent person, often a loner. That self-reliance can be turned into an asset as the young person matures, contributing to the TCK's ability to make decisions and to exercise leadership. However, self-reliance is but one step away from isolation. If a TCK does not need or trust anyone, he or she cannot function in society in a healthy way.

A TCK can never change back into a monocultural person. Parents of TCKs can return "home" to their country of origin, but the children, enriched by having shared life in their formative years with another people, will find characteristics of both cultures in their very being. Acceptance of this fact frees TCKs to be uniquely themselves. In fact, TCKs have tools to be the cultural brokers of the future.

Adapted from: Gordon, Alma Daugherty. (1993). Don't Pig Out on Junk Food: The MK's Guide to Surviving in the U.S.; Wheaton, Ill., Evangelical Missions Information Service, pg.8. Printed by permission of EMIS, P. O. Box 794, Wheaton, IL 60189.

Why is "coming home" so tough? Why is it so hard to "fit in?" The Story of Mr. Roundhead is a brief presentation which illustrates the dynamics of how TCKs are "made" and why we have difficulties "coming home."

Other terms appearing in this site:

(These are intended to be working definitions. If you would like to contribute your thoughts to this attempt at a nomenclature, please email the webmaster: mairabay at tckid.com.)

ATCK - Adult TCKs or Adult Third Culture Kids. TCKs who are now adults.

Business Brat - a synonym for a Corporate Kid, though some prefer instead to simply be called TCKs or Global Nomads. The child of a business employee or executive who is living in, or has lived overseas in a foreign culture. Though all children of businessmen and businesswomen could be called by this name, this term especially refers for those who have lived overseas.

Corporate Kid - see Business Brat.

Expat - an abbreviated term for an Expatriate.

Expatriate - (noun or verb) As a noun, an expatriate is sometimes referred to with the abbreviated term, "expat." One who lives outside of his or her own home culture. As a verb, this word means to leave one's home culture to live in another. Note that this term has absolutely nothing to do with patriotism, which is an entirely different concept. The expatriate may or may not be patriotic --the words are in no way synonymous! Some expatriates feel extremely patriotic upon returning to their homeland, while others may feel disenfranchised and disappointed. When that person returns to the home culture, he or she is called a "repatriate" or "repat."

Expatriate Lifecycle - the entire process of expatriation and repatriation. Ideally, this involves the assessment and selection of the overseas candidate, pre-departure training, the overseas experience, preparing for reentry, reentry (hopefully leading to adjustment), and perhaps preparation for subsequent overseas assignments.

Global Nomad - one who grows up in a country (or countries) other than their passport country. This term implies an internationally transient childhood.

Home Culture - the culture with which one feels the strongest affinity. This may be the culture of one's birth, passport, or a culture in which one has lived, as all three of these places may be different for a TCK.

Host Culture - the foreign culture in which one lives while they are not in their own home culture.

Military Brat (MB) - the son or daughter of a member of the Armed Forces. Some MBs spend their entire childhood within the CONtinental United States (CONUS), while others spend many years overseas. This may lead to a separationist and sometimes elitist attitude among some MBs. Natural rivalries -- some playful, others more painful -- include the specific branch of service such as: Army Brat, Navy Brat, etc., or, may refer to the distinctions of being an Officer's Brat or Enlisted Brat. This is an area in which much more research is warranted!

Missionary Kid (MK) - Apparently, MKs aren't as bratty as those of us who are military brats! ;-) MKs frequently grow up within a single culture, the culture in which their parents are working. As a result, they frequently identify even more strongly with that foreign culture than the culture of their parents. Yet, they still can't "fit in" because they are not originally of that host culture. MKs are more likely to be bi-cultural, as opposed to multicultural.

Passport Country - the country through which one's passport is issued, usually the country of citizenship, although one may have dual-citizenship. Many countries recognize dual-citizenship, but the United States does not, except in cases of children who are born on foreign soil. This dual citizenship usually "disappears" when the child reaches the age of 18, at least as far as the U.S. Government is concerned. (For example, Sam Britten - the original author of this site - was born in Germany on an American military base by American parents. So, in addition to his American citizenship, he was also a German citizen until he turned 18 years of age. When he didn't claim his German citizenship it (in essence) expired. But he still has his German Birth Certificate, and the photos....)

PTCK - Parents of TCKs. (We have never before heard this term used by anyone else, or seen it anywhere in the literature. But we are introducing this term because it just makes good sense. Bless their hearts, the parents of TCKs have a tough job to do!) PTCKs who have not themselves been TCKs face a formidable task. But while PTCKs who have themselves been TCKs have the memories and may have greater insights, they sometimes block out the difficulties they experienced. As a result, they are not always as adept in helping their TCK children as one might expect. For more on this, read the interview with Lynda Hamby who grew up as a Military Brat then later became the mother of Corporate Kids.

Repat - (noun) an abbreviated term for a Repatriate

Repatriate - One who has been, or is in the process of being repatriated, returning to his or her own home culture after living in a foreign culture as an expatriate. This is frequently one of the most difficult periods of the expatriate lifecycle. See: The Story of Mr. Roundhead



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