Third Culture Kids


IMG_9270I’d like to begin by quoting Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.

I believe that Mark Twain was definitely on to something. What would happen if people began traveling and seeing the world and it’s different cultures and customs from a young age? Would the human race be more empathetic, open-minded and accepting of others and their differences?

Did you know that an estimated 232 million people are living abroad as ex-pats? That is enough people to equal ten Australia’s! This number may sound high, but it only accounts for 3% of the world’s population. That means only a small, lucky few ever get to experience life in this way. Could you imagine what it’s like for kids, kids having the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture, live in a foreign country with new people, foods and sports, have friends from all over the world, to receive a real life education, following the road less travelled? My family and I have done just that. I speak from experience when I tell you that the benefits are vast, and that the education is rich. I am what is coined a Third Culture Kid or TCK.

My name is Fiona and today I would like to talk about what is a TCK and the priceless benefits of living abroad.

Firstly, have you ever heard of a TCK? The term TCK was first coined in the 1950s by Ruth Unseem. We are called “Third” culture kids because the first culture is the one in which our parents come from, the second culture refers to the culture that the family currently resides in and that is where TCKs take their spot. We are an amalgamation of these cultures intertwining like two rivers feeding into one. A little of the first river, some of the second and thirdly a new river. Third culture kids often don’t have roots in a traditional sense. They travel around the world exploring, living abroad and meeting new people. TCKs come from all sorts of families and move for many different reasons such as: their parents may have a new job in a foreign country, or are refugees migrating somewhere safe, maybe they are just a family eager to break tradition and live somewhere else where they can learn lots of new and exciting things. I am a Third Culture Kid – I have lived on 3 different continents and have been travelling basically since I was born. It’s funny because, say, for example, you just met someone new and the first question is what is your name? Easy: Fiona. Then comes what do you like doing? Easy again: Rock Climbing. Then the last question is, Where are you from? Tricky: Lots of places.

Just because my passport says I was born in a certain country does not mean it is my home. Would I say Seattle?- the place of my birth, no, I left Seattle at the age of four and haven’t been back since. So it couldn’t be there. London? Well I was living there for 6 years but would it still feel like home if I went back? Maybe. Sydney? I have only been in Australia for 3 years – so does that even count? Asking where do you come from is a hard question for a TCK to answer!

Secondly, there are so many benefits to living abroad such as:

  • Expanded worldview: People living abroad in a host country are more accepting that there is more than one way to look at a situation. They gradually develop a better sense of the world in a way that will help them to understand how global issues and events are impacting the planet and how they can help. It is fun to explore a new culture and fire up a child’s sense of wonder: New smells, sights, tastes and experiences – and this will make kids want to learn. They will have lots of fun when immersing themselves in their new country.
  •  Adaptability: Being able to easily adjust to culture or country. Lots of people growing up don’t move often. Just imagine the emotional impact of leaving the only home you have ever known along with all of your friends, your house, your neighbourhood! Lots of people would find it emotionally difficult. A TCK, however, is used to leaving and changing environments. It becomes old hat to pick up and move on. We develop friends all over the world. We learn that once we move it takes about 6 months to settle in to our new home. It can be trying and frustrating in the beginning but it will pass. Knowing this and that we will make new friends and community makes us a resilient bunch.
  • Social life skills: We have been moving about and living among strangers most of our lives. By the time we are adults, we are able to effortlessly and comfortably talk and socialise with people we do not know very well. This skill may help people fit in to situations more easily. We are more likely to pick up a new language: learning different languages will help understand more about a culture and aid in communication.
  • A greater education and superior problem solving skills – these are created when facing problems as we travel and move, how TCKs overcome these and learn from mistakes and rough times. TCKs are also reported to receive higher marks than the rest of their classmates in tests because of their experience and real world life lessons throughout their ex-pat adventure!
  • They will grow closer to their parents and family – Many parents choose to relocate so that they can spend more time with their children. Families taking gap years (or longer duration) together is becoming more popular worldwide. People are choosing life experience over traditional schooling methods and as a means to reconnect with one another. In addition, because kids have fewer friends when in a foreign country, they rely more on their family for support, entertainment and in a social aspect.

In conclusion, living abroad can be priceless for children and families who dare to adventure – Look at me: I’m living proof that this is true. I have had many amazing experiences and wouldn’t sacrifice one minute of them!


3 thoughts on “Third Culture Kids

  1. Bravo Fiona! Superbly written and perfectly expressed thoughts on the effects of being raised as a TCK. I too spent my childhood, 20’s and 30’s travelling and living in many different countries and so can attest 100% to all the positive influences you listed. To this day, when asked “Where are you from?”, I stumble over my answer as no one place feels like an honest reply. Reading your words here in this post was like you had reached into my mind and soul and shared what was there. You are going to grow into an amazing adult because of the childhood you have been blessed to experience due to your wonderful parents.
    P.S. That quote of Mark Twain’s has always been on of my favourites.
    Keep up the writing Miss Fiona as you have a way with words. I look forward to reading your next piece. xo

  2. Fiona! This is great. I suppose in a way I am also a TCK. When people ask me where I am from I don’t know what to say because my dad was in the military until I was 11. We moved every 2 years. Even though 11 is still young, I have never felt I am from anywhere ( and I’ve lived in Seattle for 28 years ). You’ll be from your family and experience more than a place.. fascinating. I’ve never thought about it that way before. Love the essay.

  3. Fiona – I finally made time to read through this!! I have been wanting to because, of course, I wanted to read your take on moving around. You took almost an outsider’s perspective which is so great, because when you are in it, it is sometimes difficult to see the benefits and stumbling blocks. You are too busy in it – doing it. I loved the part where you wrote “We are an amalgamation of these cultures intertwining like two rivers feeding into one.” Such beautiful prose and imagery. ❤️

    We are so fortunate and happy that we’ve been able to spend so much of your life with you and your siblings as we’ve all moved around and crossed paths again and again. Hopefully, we will get to do it again. We are so proud of you and how you’ve matured.

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