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The Third Culture Kid Experience
By Mary van der Boon
(this article first appeared in the XPat Journal)
Many of us have them, and some of us ARE them: a third culture kid. As defined by international education expert David Pollock, a Third-Culture Kid (TCK, also known as Trans-Culture Kid) is an individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than the parents' culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.
Mr. Pollock is founder and director of Interaction International (www.tckinteract.net), which offers education, counselling and consulting services to missionary, military, diplomatic and other expatriates, and their children, worldwide in the field of intercultural adjustment to international relocation.
Mr. Pollock spoke to the teachers and parents of the International School Hilversum recently on the topic of third culture kids, and offered some guidance to help in their adjustment. According to Mr. Pollock, the following characteristics apply to TCKs:
CHARACTERISTICS OF A THIRD CULTURE KID
D E V E L O P M E N T
*data bank of experience
*relationship to adults
"Out of phase"
Delayed adolescent rebellion (age 22-24)
*termination of compliance
Bargaining (negotiating loss to regain past)
*can't go back
W O R L D V I E W
Pain of reality
Confusion of loyalty
Perceived as less "patriotic"
Impatient with others
*Humility TCKs not through out own doing
M O B I L I T Y
Confidence in change
Sharpened perspective on world (3D view)
Rich memory bank
Extensive relationship banks
Recognition of importance of Now
Difficulty in planning (too many choices, doing want to be set up for disappointment)
Rootlessness (home is elsewhere, people v. places)
Migratory instinct: Impact on - academics, career, family
Too many relationships
Delusion of choice
R E L A T I O N S H I P S
Enter relationships at a deeper level (practice, content, urgency)
Sense of realism (loss comes to us all)
Guardedness (limits intimacy and vulnerability)
Distrust of adults
Insulation ("I dont need anyone"/loneliness)
Empathy for others
"Quick release" response (too fast, too soon)
Sense of being a victim
Unresolved grief (need permission to grieve): expressed as anger, depression, vicarious grief, delayed reaction
L I N G U I S T I C S
Appreciation of variations in logic/thought processes
Sensitive educators (patient with differences)
Limited in any one language
Possible confusion (too many, too young)
Two realities shape the formation of a TCKs life:
- Being raised in a genuinely cross-cultural world. Instead of simply watching, studying, or analysing other cultures, TCKs actually live in different cultural worlds as they travel back and forth between their home and host cultures. Some TCKs who have gone through multiple moves or whose parents are in an intercultural marriage have interacted closely with four or more cultures.
- Being raised in a highly mobile world. Mobility is normal for the third culture experience. Either the TCKs themselves or those around them are constantly coming or going. The people in their lives are always changing, and the backdrop of physical surroundings may often fluctuate as well.
Members of this broad third culture community usually have other characteristics in common, including:
- Distinct differences. Many TCKs are raised where being physically different from those around them is a major aspect of their identity. Even when external appearances are similar to either their host or home culture, TCKs often have a substantially different perspective on the world from their peers.
- Expected repatriation. Unlike immigrants, third culture families usually expect at some point to return permanently to live in their home country.
- Privileged lifestyle. Employees of international businesses and members of missions, the military, and the diplomatic corps have been part of an elitist community - one with special privileges bestowed on its members by either the sponsoring organization or the host culture or both. Their children often attend special schools, and they experience benefits such as worldwide travel, deluxe accommodation, adventurous vacations, etc.
- System identity. Members of specific third culture communities may be more directly conscious than peers at home of representing something greater than themselves be it their government, their company, or God.
Mr. Pollocks advice to parents: try your very best to understand your TCK children, but never think you can put yourself in their shoes if you yourself did not grow up between cultures. "I know how you must be feeling" can sound especially hollow if your child knows for a certainty that you have absolutely no idea how they feel.
Those interested in reading more about Third Culture Kids can purchase David Pollock and Ruth van Rekens excellent book from www.amazon.com or www.interculturalpress.com
Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up among Worlds
David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken
$18.95 Nicholas Brealey/Intercultural Press
ISBN 1-85788-295-4 (trade) 6 x 9, 351 pages, appendices, bibliography, 2001, paperback