Comments 13

So you think you’ve met a TCK…

To whom it may concern,

Congratulations! You’ve recently befriended/started dating/have hired a Third Culture Kid. It’s likely you’ve already asked the “Where are you from?” question and were completely bewildered by the answer. Here are some tips for success:

1. We’re really not trying to brag. When we tell funny stories about our trips to South Africa or Turkey, we’re not trying to impress you. We just want to share with you important memories from our childhood and personal history.

2. Speak up for the flag. When TCKs get together, we tend to bash American culture. We don’t mean to be offensive, but comparing cultures is just the way our minds work. But your cultural experiences, whatever they may be, are probably just as (if not more) meaningful as ours. So speak up.

3. Be patient, ask questions. TCKs suck at pop culture trivia. And we ask stupid questions all the time, like “What’s a burrito?” We’re just trying to navigate various cultures at once, so humor us. At the same time, ask us questions too. We don’t like it when people make assumptions about the places we’re from, but we love it when people are interested in our backgrounds. We’re pros at sharing stories and flaunting our well-organized Flickr.

4. We’re oversharers, but only to a point.
According to the book “Third Culture Kids,” by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, TCKs jump into deeper communication levels faster because we’ve had to constantly and quickly form new relationships. But here’s the thing — once you get to know us, you might find that we keep you at bay. We’re just so used to leaving (or being left by) people who are close to us that sometimes we don’t want to form very deep relationships, for fear of losing them.

5. If you’re dating us,
don’t be offended if we don’t invite you home for Thanksgiving, or if it takes you years to meet our parents. They’re kind of far away. Are you OK with Skype-meeting them?

6. If you’ve hired us, use our strengths. According to TCK expert Van Reken, TCK’s think outside the box and can appreciate different points of view. They are “socially adaptable and intellectually flexible,” she writes. Don’t believe me? Read Van Reken’s article, “Obama’s ‘Third Culture Team,'” yourself. More than 80 percent of TCKs say they can relate to anyone, no matter what race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality.

7. We’re sorry if we leave at a moment’s notice. TCKs will try to maintain an international dimension throughout their lives. We have lived highly mobile lives and rarely feel deeply rooted anywhere. So, if we leave, it’s not that our relationship to you isn’t important. It’s just that leaving you does not mean that our relationship is over. In other words, if we get offered that overseas assignment, we’re going to take it. To us, crossing country borders is like crossing state lines: a formality.

8. The best thing you can do is be our friend. And you’ve done that already.

We’re normal. We promise.

Your TCK friend.

Written with kind advice from Denizen contributors Suzanne Leung, Kathy Lin and Jon Charnas.

But wait, there’s more!
From WikiHow: How to Understand a TCK


  1. Tiffany says

    This is really great Steph. I wish I had this two years ago to share w/ all my friends freshman year!

    I’ve been reading other articles and you’ve definitely touched upon so many issues I’ve thought about and wanted to voice, but never had the chance to. Thanks!


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  3. Christina says

    Actually, being a TCK too, i personally disagree with the statement that TCK suck at pop culture.

    I’m Manila-born Filipino, spent my early childhood in Singapore, and LA, and as an exchange student in Paris during highschool, and one of the first things I tried to find out growing up was what the “cool” kids of the nations were into.

    I came up with this conclusion that most TCKs have this innate instinct to adapt fast and keep note of the pop cultural thing as one of those fun personal trivias. For me at the time, I think it was kind of my way to relate with the other kids even though I knew I was different. It kind of reminds me of this scene in that teen movie “Mean Girls” when one of the characters asks Lindsey Lohan why she liked math and she answered “because it still comes up with the same answer in every country”. Brilliant.

    Being a TCK rocks! I can’t wait to have kids and show them what it means to be a true “global denizen”


  4. Steph, you really nailed it with this article. I have often wondered why I am an oversharer to a certain and then clam up. I guess it is a conditioned TCK approach to communication. TCKs are great at a cocktail reception.. they have the small talk down and can connect fairly quickly. The follow-up is where they need help from more stationary friends:)


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