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Why TCKs (Sort Of) Suck at Trivia

Members of Betty Chen's team discuss answers to trivia questions.

About to invite your Third Culture Kid friend to a fun night of bar trivia?  Just a heads up — we may not be as much help as you’d think.

Trivia questions require participants to recall “common knowledge” facts about pop culture from our childhood, which might as well represent a lobotomy of sorts for TCKs. You see, we missed out on this “common knowledge” pop culture while growing up in Saudi Arabia, South Africa, or Chile. A limited flow of information meant that our pop culture DNA may be non-existent or slightly flawed.

In a highly scientific experiment, I rounded up a group of TCK and non-TCK friends to join me in a night of bar trivia in Chicago. After analyzing my observations, I present to you some bar trivia categories we are relatively useless in:

Sports: American football does not exist outside of America. Many of us didn’t attend our first tailgate until we came to the United States for college (and will readily admit that it’s the best part about football). For the few of us who do follow American sports, TCKs are still at a disadvantage because watching live games is tough in a different time zone. So, we are probably not going to know who played in the 1989 Super Bowl. In fact, consider us lucky if we manage to match team mascots with corresponding city. And by the way, when we refer to “football,” we are probably talking about soccer.

Music: Just like you, our middle school dances included Britney Spears, Boyz II Men and the universal adolescent anthem, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” However, we were also exposed to music from around the world. Some of us grew up thinking that the boy band battle was not just between BSB and N’Sync, but also Euro-pop bands Boyzone, Take That and Westlife. But when it comes to all-American music of the 80s and 90s, music from bands like Gin Blossoms or Mighty Mighty Bosstones weren’t introduced into our lives until we moved to the United States. For that reason, please excuse us if we have trouble matching lyrics to artists we might have never heard of, no matter how popular they were in the ’90s.

U.S. History: The minute the announcer started a question with, “John F. Kennedy established this program by executive order …”, the TCKs at the table immediately rolled their eyes and admitted defeat (ironically, the answer was the Peace Corps). Some TCKs attending American schools abroad might have been exposed to a bit of U.S. History. Yes, we know Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin (he’s the one on the $100 bill right?), and some of us might even know Lewis and Clark. But many of us who didn’t study U.S. history may still be trying to figure out the point of an electoral college. It’s a subject that, understandably, was not required everywhere else in the world.

Commercials: American commercials don’t exist abroad… why would they? It’s not like we could go to our local mall to pick up a Cabbage Patch doll. Our version of “cable” often had American shows (like “Friends”), but would play them straight though without commercial breaks. That’s right, you heard me, no commercial breaks. Needless to say, when the commercials round came up during my trivia night, the TCKs hung back to discuss their favorite TV shows growing up (“Full House” was a clear winner).

However, dear friend, we would like to think that TCKs are not completely useless in trivia. If you need answers to the following topics on trivia night, look toward your TCK team members for help:

Current Events: We may not know all the current events around the world, but we do know about news pertaining to our previous home countries (or regions). We may also pay a little more attention to issues that arise in the homes our TCKs friends. Ask me a question about the divided political powers in Thailand, where I spent part of my childhood, and I can probably speak to a few things.

World Geography: Constantly moving around the world and having many global friends in our lives means that we might know of “obscure” cities/countries, and maybe even capitals! Go ahead and ask us where Azerbaijan or Papua New Guinea are, and we could make a pretty educated guess.

Disney: Random, yes, but Disney is universal. Although this hardly comes up in trivia, Disney movies are probably one of the pop culture references that many of us can relate to with our American counterparts growing up. At our trivia night, we were asked: Which Disney classic is Lady Tremain is from? We knew the answer. It was Cinderella’s stepmother. As one TCK put it, “What else were we to do as kids besides watch Disney movies all day?”

Although we have our strengths and weaknesses in trivia, TCKs and non-TCKs are equally terrible in some categories, notably U.S. geography.

Which states does Yellowstone National Park span? Our trivia team, consisting of both TCK and non-TCKs, debated. After many discussions, we answered all the wrong states. (The correct answer is Wyoming, Montana and Idaho).

Well, looks like we really are not as different as we would like to think.


  1. Isabelle says

    YES! I’m good at U.S. History because I always went to American schools, but music and sports?! Forget it!


  2. Megan says

    Hi! I am a TCK raised in Colombia, SA… my family then moved to Atlanta where I completed high school (homeschooled) and college. I started my masters by the time I was 19. Now I am writing my thesis and was looking at what I call “runaway youth” (teens who run from the church) but I don’t really understand “American” youth so what do you all think about perhaps looking at TCK youth instead? I am looking for some much needed input. Blessings, Megan


  3. I’m a TCK raised in Japan. I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only one who is lousy at Trivia games! I have considered myself an educated, decently intelligent person. So the first time I played a Trivia game, I couldn’t understand why I knew so few of the answers!!
    Now I understand: It’s because I’m a TCK!


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