Third Culture Kids, meet the global citizens that belong everywhere and nowhere

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As globalization grows, diverse cultures and traditions mix and blend, creating global communities all over the world. As a result of families working and living abroad, children are exposed to a new environment that differs from their own backgrounds, leading to a group of individuals identifying as Third Culture Kids (TCKs). Ruth Hill Useem, an American sociologist, first coined the term in the 1950s to describe individuals that spent their formative years in a country different from their parent’s homeland, usually due to employment or training opportunities. They are usually children of expatriate workers, diplomats, or come from transnational marriages.

TKCs have a distinct upbringing, as they often spend a significant portion of their developmental years outside their parents’ culture. They often develop a unique cultural identity that combines aspects of their own cultural background and the places they have lived in. Due to their frequently changing living situations, TCKs are very adaptable to new environments and are fluent in at least two or more languages, making them very attractive to employers. As they acquire a broader perspective about global issues and have a deeper understanding of other cultures and religions, TKCs excel in communicating and connecting with people from all corners of the world. However, it is important to acknowledge that there are some drawbacks to growing up in a constantly changing environment. American sociologist Ruth Van Reken describes that many TKCs experience a sense of rootlessness and restlessness, belonging “everywhere and nowhere”, which often contributes to an inner identity struggle.

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When they expand their horizons and explore new worlds, TKCs often experience cultural disconnection with their own heritage. An online survey conducted by Denizen in 2011 found that most of the 200 participants made their first move before 9 years old. A common struggle for TKCs when they go back or visit home is the inability to relate to their peers. Their lifestyle often leads to many goodbyes. Unlike children with a traditional upbringing, they struggle to cultivate a stable community, a challenge inherent to being a global nomad. Because of their unique cultural identity, interactions with people from monocultural backgrounds can lead to misunderstandings, particularly as they have grown up in places with different societal norms. It can be challenging to find a sense of belongingness, as TKCs often feel they don’t fully belong to their home culture or their current environment, leading to a perpetual sense of not being “enough”.

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, the stories and outlook of TKCs serve as a reminder of the rich and diverse human experience. Although they face challenges navigating a cross-cultural environment, it proves that diversity shapes global minds with a better understanding of the world around them.

Roselle Torres

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