Third Culture Kids and Cross-Cultural Kids – Who am I and where do I belong?

David C Pollock and Ruth E Van Reken, in their book “Third Culture Kids. Growing up among worlds” define a Third Culture Kid as :

“… a person who has spent a significant part of his/her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationship to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

In the same book, co-author Ruth V Reken defined a Cross-Cultural Kid as :

“…a person who is living or has lived in – or meaningfully interacted with – two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during childhood (up to age 18).

While TCKs traditionally come from families who are involved in the Foreign Service, expatriate assignments, the military or missionary service, CCKs include children from a wider range of backgrounds including those born to parents from at least 2 cultures, children of immigrants, refugees, international adoptees, etc.

Our family has lived and worked in various countries and on board an international ship and raising our own TCKs within our family where we as parents are adult CCKs present many challenges.  As my own kids struggle to define who they are (1/4 Chinese,  1/4 Indian, 1/4 Scottish, 1/4 Australian), they also struggle with figuring out where they belong (born in Australia, lived on a ship which travelled to more than 70 ports, and now living in the UK).

With the media coverage on President Barak Obama’s race and ethnicity during his campaign (he is both an adult TCK and an adult CCK) the world has become more aware of this growing community of people who have grown up with a global mindset and cross-cultural experience as part of their developmental years.

Living with high mobility and mixed ethinicity can cause confusion in identity and a sense of rootlessness, and homesickness for all the other places one has lived in the past.  Some TCKs and CCKs struggle with unresolved grief over the many changes and goodbyes they’ve had to go through in their lives.

While living with these factors, there can still be ways to use these unique experiences to make a difference in the world.  While we may not be understood by those who have never lived with the same issues of high mobility and mixed ethnicity, we can perhaps more easily understand others who are different – the foreigner, the newcomer.  The ability to understand and adapt to differences from an early age will give TCKs and CCKs many advantages and the adult TCKs andCCKs who have learned to leverage the benefits of this way of life are able to use their knowledge and skills to provide excellent leadership and creative solutions to the complex issues and problems that globalisation has brought about.

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