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Third Culture Kids

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A third culture kid refers to an individual who has used up part of his or her developmental years outside their native culture. Third culture kid creates relationships to all the cultures he or she gets involved in while not having a complete ownership of any. Although constituents from every culture are incorporated into the life experience of third culture kids, their sense of belonging is in relationship to others with similar characteristics (other TCKs). For many TCKs, growing up has been a present and has essentially shaped their lives and work. This happens as the TCKs interact with world leaders one day and with individuals living in refugee camps the next day, as they incessantly draw upon their knowledge of living among different cultures. According to Eakin Kay , the author of According to My Passport, I’ m Coming Home, third culture kid was essentially employed forty years ago by Ruth Hill, a scholar who carried out a study on North America children residing in India. She discovered that the third culture kids strive to manage the situation rather than adjust, become both a part of and part from the kind of circumstances they are in.

The mobile kids are liable to contain more in common with themselves rather than with their America colleagues who have not had the internal mobile knowledge. Most of the time, it is their family and international contemporaries who play a major role in their formation, positioning them separately when they come to the US. The fact that the adolescents usually look for and establish a unique individuality may make the situation become indistinct when the surrounding changes radically when they return to their homeland. Therefore, the internationally movable teenagers frequently require long time to develop a secure individuality, as the American teens do not match the image the third culture kids had overseas.  Grownups bumping into these mobile teens can help in their transitions by building up friendly surroundings within contemporary groups where they are able to share their anxieties with other individuals and recognize that what they are going through is normal. During this time, chances to strengthen good decision-making skills are also of major help.

 When still overseas, the teens live in a fishbowl surrounding where they are not able to make their own decisions but the decisions are rather made by their employer or the authority making them to face the consequences of risk-taking behaviors that are very harsh. Moreover, the mobile teens have minimal view of career chances in their overseas community and most of the time they become older than their American contemporaries do before making a decision on a career. Most of the time, the mobile teens are likely to leave problems in interpersonal relationships unsolved when they move to another region therefore, divesting the third culture kids in the midst of a very crucial life skill. This situation affected numerous teens thus, the US established an organization called Around the World in A Lifetime (AWAL) located in Washington and with some branches overseas to provide the setting for the mobile kids to share and process their history and structure strategies for managing their life as American youths. Therefore, the ultimate aim of this study is to examine the situation of TCKs in detail where it outlines the global characteristics of the third culture kids, looks at the culture adaptation and integration as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the third culture kids. 

Characteristics of Third Culture Kids

 The third culture kids represent numerous countries and cultures across the world. The numbers of the mobile kids also referred to as global nomads stretches into the hundreds of thousands and are rising day by day. Simplicity of travel and the steady relocation of individuals through multinational companies and global enterprise connections add to this tendency.  After stating that, it is important to examine the characteristics of the third culture kids. Therefore, their characteristics are as follows.

  • Living life full of high mobility – the global nomads are familiar with the airport more than several individuals because they often visit airports while moving from one area/country to another.
  • Travelling has become part of their culture – most of the time, the TCKs travel from one place to another and in several occasions particularly the holidays are taken outside their home country.
  • Politically shrewd – the global nomads tend to be too good when it comes to politics because they are exposed to variety of political experiences from different countries. Moreover, they are also known to read newspapers and watch news more frequently than the non-TCKs. This makes them to be great and astute debaters. They are mostly familiar with the roots of political stands and implications for the people apprehended.
  • Speak more than a single language – most of the time the TCKs speak 3 to 4 languages and sometimes more depending on the number of cultures the kid has been exposed to. English is most of the time one language they function in, but they can speak, think and feel in several others.
  • Establish relationships faster – they are familiar with many ways of cutting through several initial levels of shyness and hesitancy when establishing relationships.
  • Prefer socializing with other TCKs on their way to adulthood – they love staying together as they share experiences they have been through thus they frequently become émigrés themselves.
  • Privileged lifestyle – their socio-economic lifestyle is most likely to be higher because of the émigrés status issued to them by some enterprises or the merits of relocation for example, they have admission to helpers, club memberships, drivers and money.
  • Converse well with adults – most of the time they are assisted with adults at the airport or when they enter new culture.
  • Tend to be more mature in their social skills.
  • They are cross-culturally augmented and less biased.
  • Adapt quickly to new environments, unfamiliar countries, culture and individuals.
  • More friendly and hospitable to newcomers into a community because they were once welcomed by other people.
  • Educational achievers – a towering percentage will concentrate on studies, join university and attain advanced degrees.
  • Live greatly in the present life, more for the moment with lots of discoveries.
  • Make massive culture bridges – they have increased structures of reference.
  • Good observers of other people – the TCKs often become too observant and sensitive.

Therefore, these are the outstanding characteristics accredited to third culture kids but should not be used to typecast them.

Culture Adaptation and Integration

Several nomads portray themselves as chameleons because they are able to quickly cope to a new environment and culture. Thus, they call themselves in most nature, sponge, chameleon, being of multiple selves. When they arrive in any place, they are able to observe the customs and ethnic values of the environment and then strive to cope with them, living in a sense that each time they are somehow new. Others take a divided sense of individuality from their experiences meaning that they may feel as if they are not similar to other people in distinct cultures. Still others stand by their own personal descriptions of who and what they are even when these individualities of cross-country arranges up.

The feeling of being a foreigner and a stranger when the TCKs arrive to their own home culture than what is observed in as foreign country is an ordinary trend among the TCKs. This is observed when these TCKs react by making emotional gestures and or by alternately rejecting and courting other peers. The system of government and official paperwork, requiring citizenship or nationality to be detected, frequently oppose this sense of classification. The impression that “I am who my Passport says I am” is depicted as a political authenticity, but does not essentially deal with the personal individuality questions that face a third culture kid.

How International Schools Best Support the Third Culture Kids

Although the global nomads discover their own differences when they compare themselves to their counterparts, they do not want to emerge different from their peers. Their main objective is always to fit into the “new culture” of their passport nations as they have the other nations where they have lived. The best thing is that the international schools’ teachers and administrators are aware of whom these TCK really are and what they feel. Therefore, they normally consider the following strategies for supporting them both academically and socially.

  • They discover and appreciate the strengths the global nomads bring into the classroom. Just like the other expatriates, they rich in experiences and talents to share that will benefit learning of the entire classroom. However, the teachers must approach sharing with a lot of keenness because some of the global nomads hesitate to portray their experiences and to appear different from their American counterparts.
  • Teacher and administrators struggles to assist the TCK students feel part of the class and school. They implement policies like buddy/mentor system and supportive learning to issue them opportunities to mingle with other students. They also encourage them to get involved in other school activities like school volleyball, hockey teams or any other competition games in school.
  • They also issue out support for academic changes. Sometimes the TCKs require support in academic areas that may differ in other nations or schools. For example, the TCKs need support in learning languages in schools especially in nations that teach using their national language other than English French for instance is used in most countries like France and Rwanda.
  • They promote students’ multicultural identities. When the multicultural components of classrooms and schools are examined and appreciated, the teachers elevate awareness of the multiplicity that the global nomads bring to schools as well.

A personal experience structures the formation of the third culture kid.

Despite the fact that a specific profile of a mobile kid cannot be established without running the risk of typecasting, some recognizable trends issue out the background of self-evaluation and self-esteem. There are two main factors outstanding; they are brought up in a sincere cross-cultural world, and they are brought up in a highly movable world. Because the expatriate crowd within a city or nation may involve people who have shifted to that area from their domestic place for work, family, and school or for any other reason where by these crowds range in organization, size, and purpose. Centered on the two outstanding factors, kids raised within a domestically mobile family can also have factual third culture kid characteristics. Domestically global nomadic groups or partially cut off sections within the US community like the military or Native American corollary subcultures are so distinctive within civilian US society as to issue out same cross-cultural knowledge, particularly when the person reenters the prevailing culture on a full-time basis.

There is no doubt that a third culture kid may not have a clear implication of where exactly “home” is. This is because most of these kids are moved from one home to another in distinct countries and can be away for more than a decade before going back “home”. Many of them therefore, do not feel the different association to any single place or set of cultures. Hence, the home issue is generally defined more as an emotional environment other than a geographical place. This kind of eccentricity can prove to be both an advantage and a limitation depending on the global nomadic kid’s view of the situation. “A person can be trivial in at least two ways; as a ‘let’s see… – daily-rate-as-an-international-consultant-is…’ marginality or as ‘alone-in-the-corner-sucking-my-thumb’ marginality” (Kalb and Welch, 1992). Most of the time, asking the nomad a question like “where are you from?” makes the kid to feel disadvantaged in cultural situations. To hasten the person to give out the answer to the question requires that the mobile kid neglects the rest of his or her roots. To issue out a longer response may seem to be boring to the listeners or sometimes arrogant of the mobile kid.

Concealing the truth about one’s childhood can be sorrowful. The worst of it is when the kid states the whole truth of one’s experience, which turns to be more painful than even hiding the truth concerning oneself. It is often hard for the third culture kids to accept the fact that they do not fit in a specific culture thus they are always under pressure from the host culture peers who may not understand them well and sometimes reject them. For example, the Chinese or Arabic peers may not appreciate a native African mobile kid because they differ in several things from race to culture. Thus, they are likely to reject the black mobile kid who will eventually feel depressed, unsafe and rejected.


Linguistic Ability

There is no doubt that most TCKs or global nomads are conversant with more than two languages and or have increased their interest and ability to learn new languages. Being multi-lingual is very valuable and advantageous. When at school where the pupils and even the teachers speak five, six, or seven languages, it does not seem like being familiar with another language. This is an added advantage in several ways because there is a lot of brim service paid to the merits of being familiar with another language. First, an individual is at a great chance to acquire a nice job by an international body like the UN where you can be employed to do translation work or teach foreign people a foreign language. For example, a global nomad who is conversant with Spanish, French, English, Arabic, Mexican and any other language is fit to leave in several countries across the world and is able to go back to his or her native country and teach foreign language say, teach Spanish language in Mexico.

Moreover, a Native American nomadic individual may be employed by the UN or any other international body to work in say Spain because the nomad is conversant with Spanish. In addition to that, the TCKs face some difficulties when mastering the non-native language because some words tend to be too difficult to stick as their own familiar words. For example, when a Native American lives in England, despite being an American and an English speaker, the English papers might have some marks taken off for every “u” omitted in words like color and flavor. This has made numerous Caucasian Americans to set aside the language ability as “unimportant” to the world where English is the language make up of the dominion. Being conversant with more than 2 languages from different cultures offers different individuals with a range of ways of expressing themselves creatively (Britten, 1998). By the way, who wants only one type of art? Why would people want only one type of language?

Therefore, it is now clear that linguistic ability is a valuable factor that is greatly respected throughout the world. This has helped the third culture kids to fit into different cultures in the world despite not being native personalities of those cultures. Most of them have also acquired good jobs in foreign countries while others stand a good chance to obtain good jobs in foreign nations.

Cross-cultural skills

Several global nomads have an easy understanding and high acceptance degrees of differences. This is because they view other cultures as different but not much better or worse than their own culture. This means that they have good knowledge of appreciating each culture as it is and view each of them as equal to another. Majority of them have the ability to encompass the best traits of cultures they have experienced. It is advisable that parents, business communities and teachers be aware of the cross cultural skills in order to enhance their acknowledgement and appreciation of the non-native cultures thus encourage their children, peers and employees to value them. Suppleness, strong observational skills and tolerance are cross-cultural skills equal and similar to excellence. Even as the world becomes more fast-licked, third culture kids come already prepared with the essential skills to modify adjustment strain into success.

As communities and cultures come intensively into communication, global mobile kids know how to appreciate and respect, observe and learn from the differences in cultures. The third culture kids usually view themselves as life-long learners where their classroom is the world. This is because they never settle at one specific area; they keep on moving from one region to the other changing cultures and environments. This means that they are in a better position to deal with rapid change hence acquiring high skills in the world looking for peace and economic progress. This fact has eliminated the past tendency to destroy what you do not understand and humiliate those who are different. In other words, the TCKs are much welcoming and know the best way to appreciate foreign individuals because they were treated the same.

The third culture kids are in a better position to teach others who are not used to coping with such rapid situation and changes. They always have the tendency to think quickly on our feet and are able to take the proposal to troubleshoot, but they frequently do so in a framework of understanding the currents and detecting the circumstance first. Having cross-cultural skills means having strong personal viewpoint and that means demonstrating leadership. Therefore, the third culture kids have high potential of becoming leaders because they posses strong personal viewpoint and they know how to tackle different situations and issues (Hervey, 2009). The forceful thinking of a person and the ability to deal with situations gathers esteem and good reputation. In conclusion, to cross cultural issue, it is important to note that the global nomads usually try to figure out the flow of current or river before they jump in. For example, the Americans will repeatedly underestimate or neglect a person who is not flashy, loud and quick. Several cultures indicate that people have two eyes, two ears and only one mouth……. for fantastic reasons. The Japanese have a proverb that states, “Silence is golden”. Therefore, the third culture kids have to examine the situation and understand it before jumping into it (Britten, 1998).

High flexibility

Third culture kids or the global nomads are more often stretchable adapting comfortably to new situations and new surroundings. This means that they are very sharp in understating different conditions, principles and situations thus able to fit in any environment and culture. Every environment or culture or society has its own set of rules that when broken they become a taboo. Foreign people may find it difficult to adopt the culture and its principles but the TCKs are very flexible and adapt easily to these circumstances (Kay, 2006). The TCK have the tendency to run away from cultural single-mindedness and tend to be less rigid and totalitarian than their corresponding peers back at home. This makes the TCKs to be frequently good teachers and exemplariness and being in a position to generate new plans and thinking skills in their listeners.


Three-dimensional World View

The global nomads are most likely to view the world as a global unit occupied by real individuals with the same basic needs. Their achievements issue them with a much greater probability for leadership roles. It is clear that the world, as we know, is not restricted to county lines, a segment of the mid-West if even a single country (Hayden and Thompson, 2008). The remaining world is not just a twenty-minute section on fifty minutes, a national geographic editorial or an English-speaking pen pal. This means that the world is viewed as a multi-dimensional worldview and not as a small place where a person can visit all places in like 20 minutes.

When a third culture kid reads or watches news on magazines/newspapers and televisions respectively, they can most of the time picture and feel what is taking place thousands of miles away (Tyler and Mary, 2002). Since they have experienced different cultures in different countries, they easily understand what is taking place in those regions even when they are far away. For example, a third culture kid who has been in Sudan for quite sometimes can understand well the reason as to why the country had to divide into two or a nomadic person who has been in Egypt can understand well why its former president is subjected to severe consequences after practicing dictatorial leadership. Of course, this cannot happen to kids who have only grown up in one culture (Hess, 1994).


In some cases, the third culture kids behave more maturely than their “mono-culture” counterparts do. This is because most of the time they deal with adults in various situations such as at the airport, in hotels, when introduced into the new society and many other issues. Moreover, the global nomads are also portrayed dealing with foreign currency, international travel, a wide range of food choices and sometimes, international crisis and or unrest as part of their normal lifestyle. Therefore, they may in fact flourish in their ability to open and ready for change. They may be as well socially mature meaning that they have the ability to interact and mingle comfortably with individuals of all ages and cultures.

Family Closeness

Since the global nomadic family members have mutual experience of fiddling with the new culture, they more often describe themselves as having close family attachments.  Therefore, they feel comfortable to move from one culture to another with worrying about the other family members due to their strong ties (Cottrell, 2002). For example, a husband and a wife who are both global nomads may stay apart for long nut still leave a positive life of trusting each other due to the strong family attachments.

International Orientation

Third culture kids often define themselves as travel lovers and illustrate a favorite for career with an international point of reference. All these capabilities suitably identified and nurtured, can open opportunities to specific career choices that promote the peaceful overpass of cultures.

Conclusion on advantages

            In a period when the global vision is vital, where intercultural communicational skills, mediation, linguistic ability, diplomacy and the control of diversity are very sensitive and important, third culture kids are particularly better prepared than others. Note that the third culture kids may be adults despite the name though it mostly refers to the teenagers and youths who have been brought up between home and host cultures. More often, the TCKs posses high flexibility and portray high levels of maturity because they frequently deal with adults in new environments than their fellow teens. They usually portray the leadership skills and are familiar with several issues taking place in the world (Britten, 1998). They are also in a better position to understand things taking place across the world when they read news than the monoculture counterparts. Therefore, the TCKs are able to encompass all the cultural differences from host cultures and combine them into their own unique systems of value and lifestyle.




Global nomads normally feel that they fit in several cultures but they own none. Rootlessness simply means having the belief that you feel right simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. This makes majority of the adult global nomads change colleges or jobs more frequently than their corresponding monoculture counterparts. Their need for change is also depicted as part of their rootlessness. It is crucial to note that the global nomads have backgrounds in their family and not in their geographical locations. Most of them when asked where they come from, they always hesitate and determine the level of answer they have to share. This is exactly what is examined in the story of Seattle, which talks about a third culture kid who calls Seattle home of living in, Japan for ten years, Germany for two years and one year in United Kingdom. The TCK considers himself being different parts of all the places he had been and the people he met. Therefore, they strive in responding to the question “where are you from?” is an ordinary experience and they normally do not want to waste their time responding to a person who really does not care (Kay, 2006). This is why they examine the listener carefully and determine whether to respond to them or not. To rise above rootlessness is to feel at home wherever the TCKs are in spite of environment. Therefore, they include the world, which they reframe as their home.

The rootlessness and the great effort with closeness will build up all sorts of learning chances in several relationships a global nomad has. There is no doubt that the individuals who have been brought up in a single place will mostly have a tough time understanding the restlessness of their pals or partners, the aspiration to move, the need for change. In case you are with another mobile kid, who will be involved in selecting where to go next? Definitely, there are those mobile individuals who have moved to various parts of the world and they do not have the urge to move again, ever. Such global nomads are able to settle permanently but this is not much observed especially during the college transition.


Most of the global nomads view relationships as short-term, where they loosen the grips after like two years or so because of their internal clock. This means that the TCK youths have no great chance to settle in a single relationship and they have the fear of being heartbroken in case they establish an intimate relationship because they can move away anytime. Most of the time, they make strong relationships very quickly but keep an eye on its safety. Back in their minds, they know that this is going to be very sweet but may not last for long. The danger with such practice is that they can easily acquire deadly diseases like the STDs and even HIV because they keep on changing their partners every time they move from one region to the other. Moreover, they can easily spread these diseases when they acquire them because they continue to move from one place to another. Therefore, the TCKs are often at risk health wise.

Besides, mobile teens are at danger of making wrong decisions when it comes to the selection of their lifetime marriage partners because they do not have enough time to engage in a relationship that can enable them to learn the behaviors and characters of their partners thus sometimes find it hard in their marriage (Britten, 1998). This means that because they keep on changing partners wherever they move, they do not settle quickly as their monoculture counterparts thus they end up marrying at a little bit old age. Therefore, the third culture kids are always in pressure of security of relationships and marriage where they are greatly affected. 

Unresolved Grief or Sadness

The issue of relationships comes in very clearly under this factor. It is clear that frequent breaking-off of relationships caused by the relocations may most of the time cause sadness and unresolved sorrow. For example, a partner in relationship whose fiancée is to leave in the next twenty-four hours for a three-day business trip, the remaining partner starts departing from the relationship. A sense of loneliness way out of the ratio with the time he will be gone build up on the partner being left behind. The partner who is being left behind will accompany their fiancée to the airport and will definitely cry especially if it is a woman. This means that it is always hurting to be left behind particularly when an individual was in an intimate relationship. This causes a lot of sorrow and sadness that makes the partner being left behind to feel completely lonely and isolated. This may go beyond the normal sadness and grief and cause depression or heart attacks brought about by stress .

Off Balance

Sometimes the global nomads feel lost, not being aware of what exactly they need, where they have to get it, why they feel this way or whom to turn to. This happens mostly when they enter into a new culture where they are new with no friends and being unfamiliar with the new environment. They usually get off the track and lose their balance. However, this is depicted as part of integrating into a new or different culture, which may be or may not be welcoming to them .

Out of Phase

Third culture kids may not be in the same stage of development as their peers because of frequent interruption in their activities such as adaptation, experience, knowledge in institutions and many other activities. This may make them feel bored because it may contribute to their alienation when they return to their home country. One of the major things that are usually affected is the process of career decision which may come later than for the monoculture kids.

Therefore, in general, the third culture kids undergo numerous challenges that include:

  • Uncertain cultural individuality
  • Problem with commitment to places, schools, people or the school system which changes frequently
  • The indefinable concept of where is home? Have a sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere
  • Loss of relationships, loss of community or school = loss of their world
  • Having difficulties with decision-making process
  • Rootlessness and restlessness. Having the urge to often change countries and homes (Kay, 1996).
  • Powerless- a feeling that they do not have the right to control an event and that these are frequently taken out of their hands by the predictability of the move
  • A crisis of individuality “Who am I?”

Conclusion on disadvantages

            When a growing tree is transplanted too frequent, its roots never grow deep. Therefore, this is the same thing happening to these young individuals. Some of the third culture kids refuse to move to new places because they are worried that liking the new place would mean being disloyal to the pals and environments, they have known and loved before. Others do not inhabit the new surroundings, as a protection against being wounded again in a future move they are sure will definitely come. If they do not make intimate relationships and close pals, it will not be much hurting when they day goodbye next time. The problem is that it is very difficult to stay in a place without friends especially for the teenagers. Moreover, these are people who are often at the adolescent stage thus they have to develop an intimate relationships with opposite sex.

This means that these mobile kids always find themselves in dilemma of whether to make new friends and be hurt again, when they move to a different place or stay without new friends to prevent getting wounded again, when the next move comes. The latter is very difficult and very little have managed it. In fact, less than 40 percent struggle with creating close friendship or intimacy. Several of these circumstances take place before the global nomads are through with the developmental responsibility of establishing the sense of their own personal or cultural individuality. Despite of their maturity, the nomads’ new cultural environment may make them feel like children. This mostly happen before the cope with the new cultures.

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