Third Culture Kids

What are Third Culture Kids?

If you hate being asked “Where are you from?,” chances are, you’re a Third Culture Kid. You’re a global nomad, an international traveler, a wanderlust. Denizen was created for you.

Formally defined, TCKs are people who have spent a portion of their formative childhood years (0-18) in a culture different than their parents’. Most TCKs will return to their parents’ home country at some point in their lives, undergoing repatriation. TCKs tend to develop their identities while living abroad, thus blending their “home” culture with the culture of the world around them. People who have attended international schools, who are children of diplomats, “military brats,” or children of missionaries are just a few examples of TCKs.

In their ground breaking book, Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds authors David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken write that a “TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

TCKs are, quite literally, citizens of the world. They are hard to define and are made of an infinite amount of experiences. The bottom line is, whether or not you fit into the formal definition of a Third Culture Kid, if you think you’re a TCK, then this community will welcome you with open arms.

Explore Denizen by reading personal essays, studies on relationships, interviews with successful Third Culture Kids, or the article that started it all.

80 Comments

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  4. Anne says

    This is even more problematic or confusing with a long term damaging effect for those who have been uprooted due to Genocide. The identity crisis is such that people are in perpetual and continuous search of belonging which should add comfort. It is not good enough saying who you are but most importantly which culture you should absorb or get attached to in order to become whole . Although it is refreshing and mind opening to understand and adopt other cultures but having your own will strengthen one’s roots . Like a tree with strong roots which will withstand any strong currents or blow. One can argue that we are all humans and it doesn’t matter where we come from or who we are but this exact knowledge of our identity is the core issue. It is like discipline which in itself is comforting and
    rewarding.

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  16. Abby says

    I’ve always struggled being a TCK; I’m sixteen and I was born in Uganda and raised in America since I was one and a half years old. I’ve gotten so used to saying goodbye to all my friends…to everyone….that I don’t cry anymore. I’m sad, yes, but if I really had to cry if have to force myself…does this mean that in letting go of too much too soon? I know that as you go through high school you’re supposed to lose some friends but it seems like I have to prod some of them off…I can’t stay in one place for a long time because I get restless unless I’m doing something everyday. But at the same time I want to settle into a routine and not move around and get to know some people for at least 2 years…I don’t know what to do with myself, nor do I know how to handle my identity problems. I don’t know how to let all the things in the past rest; because, it seems like I’m always frightened to let the dust settle and see what lies on the horizon. I really wish I had someone to talk to about this, but no one understands…

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    • Alice says

      I feel the same, I’ve been living in another country other than the one I’m from.
      Ever since I was born I’ve moved around a lot, and we finally settled down when I was eleven, but i got so use to moving around that I did even bother to settle in here. But little did I know that I would have to stay here for 6 years. And by then most people around me assumed I was unsocial. I’ve been spending the last 3 years trying to fit in. (It might seem strange to some that it would take a long time to fit in, but i attend a international school were people from all over the world go to, and most groups of friend are formed from people from the same place, and unfortunately no one from where I was from attended the school and many people enrol in this school since kindergarden or elementary, and trying to fit in later on is realy hard) But now I’m sort of not that bothered since I will be leaving again for university and my parents were talking about moving again this year

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      • Unlike my peers, who stayed, at an early age I was used to writing to keep in touch. My friends often didn’t write back as to them it was an unusual way to keep in touch. But when I would be back they would have some idea of who I was. But you also realize that –especially when young–that you do change and your friends do, and many frienships just don’t rekindle because you’ve each grown differently without the proximity allowing both of you to internalize the changes.
        But with the internet you can even skype, so try keeping in touch. At least it may help your writing skills!
        Good luck and remember –the joy of moving is you can, to a certain extent, re-invent yourself, not bound by the identity formed by peers if you stayed in one place. On to the university!

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  17. My little sister is now a TCK, whereas I am what you would call a “Second” Culture Kid. It’s weird to think that she is experiencing such a different upbringing to me and I hope it doesn’t make us as emotionally distant as it does physically !

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  19. Shosho says

    It makes us more human living in different cultures. I was born in the middle east and moved to Europe at 5yrs. old then back to the Middle East at 15 and then on to America where I currently live. I get asked all the time ‘what are you? and where are you from” . Now here is the strange part: When I am in America I don’t feel American, when I am in Europe (Switzerland and England) I don’t feel English or Swiss but American, and when I am in Egypt I don’t feel Egyptian yet I feel comfortable everywhere! It is true, all my friends and family are multi-ethnic and it feels normal! I tell people who ask “I am an earthling” and leave it at that.

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  20. Peter Munsing says

    I feel for the children who get deported with their parents, who have not lived in Mexico for a long time, who are more at home here. However, just as many of us faced the label “foreigner” even though we looked, sounded, dressed like “natives”(sic)*
    Truth be told, in many places the “natives” aren’t really. British a race? Pull the other one. Part Viking, part Saxon, part Norman, part Celt. Add the blood of slaves brought over periodically (you think they stayed home Saturday night?), refugees, travelers, and the “British stock” seems to be “assembled in the UK from foreign sourced parts.”
    I wouldn’t say I hate being asked where I was from, I’d just say either the name of my neighborhood, or “all over.” Between people in the service, truckers, the US is a mobile society so that often suffices.
    I find it odd to be in a place where everyone stayed. And has been there for generations. Didn’t move.
    Now that’s odd!
    Though I will admit I sometimes reply “Why?” If I really feel devilish, I’ll drill down–“No, really, why did you ask?”
    As with Kipling’s feline, I am the cat that walks by himself–and all places are alike to me.
    Adios, bon soir, gutte nacht, favel,
    Peter

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