6 min read

⛺️ Third Culture Kid

What do you do when there's no place to call home?
⛺️ Third Culture Kid
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

I just read about it and although I don't enjoy making self-congratulatory posts, I think this can help many other TCKs out there by sharing a bit of my story and what being a TCK actually is like.

So feel free to share to help your friends if they also apply to this definition.

And more importantly, how can we start talking about things that matter to us, and how different we might be from our peer groups?

Early morning, all packed, my parents wake me up to get in the car because the trip is going to be a long one.

I muster enough strength to get up just enough to collapse back again in the car.

I wake up at 9 AM, we are on the road. Everywhere I look filled with trees and pasture.

It's just us and the road for most of it. So I get to have some time to think about what it all means to me now.

Does this mean I'll have to start all over again? Chit-chat, and then make new friends in a different town?

What about my old friends? Will they keep in touch? Will I keep in touch?

A billion thoughts rush into my head and I keep reassuring myself "I've been through this before, it's going to be alright".

School year arrives shortly after. I start class and everyone seems to know each other already. I am introduced as the new kid, for the 5th time or so.

"Hi everyone". I sit at my desk and try to get some sense of peace by getting all my stuff out of my bag, the books, the pencils, everything for that particular class.

Teachers seem nice in this new town, I've talked with some boys over the intervals. But I'm still distant, this time isn't like the other ones, I've lost so many friends I can't muster any motivation to make new ones. Why bother? It's all so impermanent anyway.

I sit alone on the bench to eat my morning snack, an apple, and some chocolate milk.

I look at all the kids playing soccer, or basketball. Some girls are dancing, and others just talking to each other.

This is going to be a long year. I'm not very comfortable here at this school. I just stay away from everyone at intervals until I can come back to the classroom. At least there I have an excuse to not talk to anybody.

The final bell rings. I leave for home. My dad picks me up and leaves me at my auntie's house. That's where we are staying for the time being.

Neither my auntie nor my folks stay at home for too long, so I get to have the afternoon all by myself.

I play video games and sometimes watch the History Channel. Play with the dogs, Nero, Madonna, and Princess.

Princess is the older one, and very fragile.

Nero is a strong young pup.

And Madonna is a rescue dog that looks almost like a fox (but all yellow), she was my favorite, but she used to get angry when she heard loud noises. Who knows what she's been through?

Anyway, when I'm not playing with my dogs I'm on my bike up and around the neighborhood.

I'm lonely but at least I've got stuff to do.

It was about then that I started feeling very self-conscious about not being "good at anything". Even though I got the highest grades in the class. That to me meant nothing, I wanted a real skill, painting, making games, programming. I had none. Or so I thought.

If I had made the mistake of succeding my self-harm attempts back then, I might have never found out about my other talents. Never mind meeting amazing people since then.

About 6 months in, a new kid arrives, he is very smart, and charismatic and was the one that finally got me out of my shell. I started talking and engaging with the rest of the class because of him.

It's very much like that meme, where an extrovert adopts an introvert, I felt very introverted back then (although my friends would disagree nowadays on that).

Good things aren't forever though, by the end of that year I would move out again. Change schools, all that again. That would be my 6th move or so.

New school, same issues, I see the jocks, the popular girls, the nerdy ones. This time I at least get to study with my cousin (that is just like a sister to me). So I eventually eased into her friends' group that I still keep in touch with to this very day(big win, such awesome people).

I moved out about 2 times since the previous school (number 5). One in the middle of high school and one to go to college.

Now, what is a Third Culture Kid you might ask? I'm going to get into some technicalities so that you can fully comprehend this unique situation some people face.

In a simple sentence:

Someone that grows up without a particular culture or place to call home.

Now the long version:

  • Kids growing up in a culture other than their parents', or country of nationality.
  • Kids living in a different environment during a significant part of their development years.
  • TCKs move between cultures before they have the opportunity to develop personal and cultural identities.

Who Coined the term?

John and Ruth Useem in the 1950s used Third Culture Kid to describe children from American citizens living abroad.

They studied these kids' behaviors and then showed their different standards for interpersonal behavior, work-related norms, lifestyle, and communication.

Benefits for these kids growing up in this type of environment

  • Expanded worldview(especially when they moved between different countries and had the experience of learning other languages). That leads to them being more aware of having more than one way of looking at something. But this can pose a challenge later on.
  • Third-dimensional view of the world. With more experiences, TCK eventually grow up to have a multicultural view of the world(source).
  • Interpersonal Sensitivity. TCKs are more keenly aware of their own emotions and register societal norms to produce higher sensitivity to other cultures and ways of life(source).
  • Cultural Intelligence - capacity to function well in many different environments and cultures (national, ethnic, organizational).
  • The major benefit tends to be on the side of language exposure, with opportunities to practice a second, third, or even fourth language(source).


  • Confusion about loyalties. With no place to call "home", many TCKs experience confusion on politics and inner values. Tend to change views often and find a hard time creating an identity(source).
  • Painful awareness of reality. Seeing other cultures might influence the way you interact in a mono-cultural environment, especially if people in that environment aren't aware of "other ways" people might look at the same issue(source).
  • Difficulty adjusting to adult life. Sense of belonging and identity tend to be lacking for individuals growing up with very different cultural experiences. Feelings of rootlessness and restlessness are common challenges TCKs suffer and can make it harder to transition to adulthood(source).
  • Special attention is needed for TCKs in educational settings to make sure they are supported when entering new schools(source).
  • Female TCKs tend to hesitate when starting new relationships and have shifted focus from getting a sense of belonging to merely adjusting socially.
  • There have been studies showing how TCKs tend to have less emotional stability than those that grew up in more socially and culturally stable environments(source).

Some Statistics if you are not yawning already

  • TCKs are 4 times as likely as non-TCKs to earn bachelor's degrees(source).
  • Teenage TCKs tend to be more mature than teenage non-TCKs, but in their twenties, they take longer than their peers to discover and set their aims(source). This is also called Prolonged Adolescence.
  • Highly skilled positions are most common for TCKs(source).
  • Depression is comparatively very prevalent among TCKs(source).
  • TCKs may also experience stress and grief from relocation experience(source, source2).

So all this brings us back to the thing I wanted to talk about at the beginning of the post.

You should just think just like I do, so that you won't be wrong...

Life can be so ironic

How married to your thoughts are you?

I always ask "Is there ANYTHING I could say to you that would make you flip your position on this?".

This is how I measure how open-minded someone is.

It is my default mode to look at the pros and cons of everything. Dark and White thinking just doesn't fit me at all.

I do realize relativizing everything comes with a cost too, not being certain about things that could give one a sense of security and peace.

In any case, I've learned just as much from gray thinking and black-and-white thinking to realize discussions will always be needed for a civil life among peers.

Taking common understanding for granted doesn't work for people who have vastly different life experiences than you do. That happened to me many times, where my common sense didn't match some people's common sense from their city.

Now with far more globalized work and remote-first cultures, talking about personal differences is even more important.

We need to talk it out, we need to communicate with others so that we can go forward on the same grounds.

If you think you have irredeemable differences, just remember that the study of philosophy started when cultures with far different religions started coming in contact with one another.

Let something positive grow out of disagreements.

Be different.

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