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.


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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

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Sarah says

      I LOVE LimitlessLaowai!!!! It’s helped me so much in adjusting as an expat.


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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…


    • 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


      • 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!


    • Seth says

      I understand Abby, I know what its like to drift in the winds as a seed declined soil and sustenance throughout youth, growing in some ways but not in others. Tumbleweeds is what they should call us, weeds matured, feeding off winds and chance shower to grow without ever a place in the world. We settle among tree, brush, stone and sand alike and have come to know them, to feel them as they are, understand them and yearn for their acceptance, yet we are not tree. brush, stone or sand and struggle to find our true place in the world. You are not the only weed tumbling and you are not alone, send me an email let the winds settle us side by side and both us wanderers have someone to relate to, someone to talk with.
      I hope after 2 years this reply reaches you


      • Seth says

        This counts for you too Alice and Peter, and anyone else who finds this page.


  17. olivemegamean says

    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.


  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,


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  27. chris H. says

    Time to outgrow the TCK model and definition. It served its initial purpose to shed light on an uncommon phenomenon. Today, the “third culture kid” phenomenon seems to have been mostly explored from an American worldview, cognitive framework and socio-psychological dimensions.
    In the 21st century, it now represents only a fragment of a larger phenomenon, which is often referred to as Transcultural individuals (Welsch, Epstein). Therefore, the socio-psychological components described in the literature regarding TCK needs to be updated with more positive information thanks to recent transdisciplinary and transcultural qualitative inquiries written in other languages than English. There is a well-being and freedom in being a transcultural (Mikhail Epstein) that is undermined in the American academic literature. For further insights, it is suggested to seek beyond the American conceptual framework. The Canadians have been exploring transcultural models since the 1970s and their academic literature offer very interesting and diverse perspectives. Today’s transcultural narratives and discourse explored in the transcultural comparative literature field (e.g. Arianna Dagnino) exposes how transculturals live beyond those invisible cultural barriers still prominent, alienating and pervasive in the American way of life… a sort of paradox for the land of the free.


  28. This is spot on! This girl at an international school just did a great TED talk about being a 3rd/4th culture kid, I didnt know what it was, but she explains her first hand experience well.

    Her name is Hajar Khalid, she is saudi arabian, pakistanian, trinidad, and american. !!


    • My understanding is that the third culture is an amalgamation of the parents culture or cultures (1st culture), and the host culture (2nd culture), making the cross-cultural kid a Third Culture Kid. I too have parents of two nationalities, but was born in a third, and brought up in a fourth. This makes me a Third Culture Kid (TCK), not a fourth, a fifth, but a Third Culture Kid. Admittedly, the TCK literature out there deserves being updated to shave off some of the American bias in the TCK profile, namely to include refugees and other types of trans-cultural kids, but the basics of identity and belonging are applicable to all sorts of cross-cultural kids.


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  32. Hi, I realize this is an old post, and there is a possibility that you will never see this anyway, but I want to leave this here. When I was 13 my parents and I went to West Africa for 6 months. I had such a hard time coming home because I didn’t feel like I belonged with my friends anymore. I had had too many hard and different experiences to engage in their 8th grade fascination with the male gender. It left me feeling confused and hurt. They didn’t care to hear what I had experienced. They didn’t understand me anymore. So while this was a relatively shorter trip at a later point in childhood, I believe that I did become somewhat of a TCK. At the same time, I know where home is. West Africa is also home, and I feel like part of me is missing sometimes because I am not there, but the US is more of a home. Therefore, I can’t truly even fit in with TCKs. Any feedback? I am now 18, trying to figure out life and heading to Germany in two weeks for 8 months. Thanks for reading my ramblings.


    • Hey I am also a TCK, I am currently 17 and Living in Xian China. I get what you mean about people not wanting to hear about your experiences. I’ve returned to the states twice so far and its hard to try to adjust back to the culture of your friends state side again. Its tough but you aren’t alone! You got this! Just think… Its a privilege to be able to identify multiple places as your home


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  37. Bobby says

    As a TCK, I want to feel close to all my favorite people around the world, as that’s the closest thing I (we?) have to a sense of “home” or “belonging”. Given the diverse locations, life-stages and contexts in which these relationships were formed, they are all unique and precious. These people all helped shape a piece of me, and its not really appropriate to share that part of myself with anyone else. Unfortunately, as we inevitably move away, we eventually drift apart and have to “normalize” and start over with others…. 😥

    Regular Emails, phone calls and chat messages can be easily missed, awkward and intrusive. i.e. “Hey long time!” “How have you been?” “We should really stay in touch better” “What’s new?” etc…..

    Even though we’re all connected on social networks, what we broadcast to everyone is hardly what’s meaningful in the context of real friendship.

    Luckily, I’ve found that when I DO see these dear friends again, it’s like a day hasn’t passed, we pick up where we left off and we have so many relevant stories/experiences to share that few others could find interesting / relevant. I only wish there were an easy, light way for us to keep this mutual value alive regardless of distance.

    How do you stay in close touch with your diverse groups of friends around the world?


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