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Third Culture Kids (TCKs)

What is a TCK?

Most Foreign Service kids can be classified as Third-Culture Kids (TCKs) or Global Nomads. The term   TCK was coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in the 1960s and refers to people who spent significant parts of their childhoods away from their parents’ homeland. 

Rather than identifying fully with the culture of their passport country or one or more host countries, they integrate aspects of each and create their own “third culture.” Later, the term “global nomad” was introduced as an alternate descriptor by Norma McCaig, founder of Global Nomads International.
Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere
While every third-culture kid is unique, TCKs tend to have a lot in common with each other. They often have a chameleon-like ability to fit into other cultures but find it difficult to answer the question, “Where are you from?” 

By growing up in multiple cultures they never fully experience any one culture, which can cause them to feel left out, especially in their passport country, which is supposed to feel like home. This contributes to the phenomenon of reverse culture shock and helps to explain why TCKs often build social networks among themselves. 

Frequent “goodbyes” and years spent living as relative outsiders in a kaleidoscope of cultures contributes to another commonality among many TCKs - they enjoy especially tight-knit nuclear families but struggle to form and sustain long-term, in-depth relationships throughout their lives. 

Nonetheless, most TCKs agree that the pros far outweigh the cons of an internationally mobile childhood.
TCK and Re-entry Resources

TCKs have been thoroughly studied and analyzed over the past 40 years. Some Foreign Service youth (and their parents) may find comfort in learning more about the TCK experience and recognizing that they are not alone. 

Leagues of TCKs have come before them and translated their multi-cultural childhoods into successful and happy adulthoods. 


So Where's Home? A Film About Third Culture Kid Identity
Adrian Bautista, Georgetown University, 2012.

So Where's Home? explores the unique perspectives and identities of Third Culture Kids, people who have spent a significant portion of their childhood overseas. The purpose of this short documentary project is to understand why third culture kids struggle to answer the question of “so where’s home?” and the implications this difficulty has on personal identity.

Panel discussion at the American Foreign Service Association discussing raising children in the Foreign Service.

Ema Ryan Yamazaki

Neither Here Nor There is a 35 minute documentary that explores cultural identity for people who have grown up in places other than their home, known as Third Culture Kids.

Third Culture Kids 3rd Edition: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken, and Michael V. Pollock (London/Boston: Nicholas Brealey/Intercultural Press, 2017)

A Nicholas Brealey Publishing bestseller! Third culture kids (TCK) (children of expatriates, missionaries, military personnel, and others who live outside their passport country) have unique issues with personal development and identity. David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken bring to light the emotional and psychological realities that come with the TCK journey.

by Robin Pascoe

Parenting styles in general, and of third culture kids in particular, have changed dramatically, prompting this timely and comprehensive re-examination of the challenges of parenting abroad.

In this groundbreaking collection, writers from around the world address issues of language acquisition and identity formation, childhood mobility and adaptation, memory and grief, and the artist's struggle to articulate the experience of growing up global. And, woven like a thread through the entire collection, runs the individual's search for belonging and a place called home. This book provides a major leap in understanding what it's like to grow up among worlds. It is invaluable reading for the new global age.

Over 200 million people currently live abroad; more than 50 million are temporary residents, intending to return to their country of origin. Misunderstood explores the impact international life can have on the children of such families – while they live overseas, when they return, and as they mature into adults. Similarities in their shared experiences (regardless of the different countries in which they have lived) create a safe space of comfort and understanding. Tanya Crossman introduces this space – the Third Culture – through the personal stories of hundreds of individuals. Whether you grew up overseas, are raising children overseas, or know a family living abroad, Misunderstood will equip you with insights into the international experience, along with practical suggestions for how to offer meaningful care and support.

New Kid in School by Debra Rader and Linda Harris Sittig

This book provides educators with viable and inspired ways to meet the particular needs of children in transition. This ground-breaking volume provides a model of transition education that can be used in all elementary schools  public independent, and international - and is easily integrated into an existing curriculum.  The authors have chosen quality children's literature as a springboard for learning about transitions and have developed excellent follow-up activities to use in the classroom and creative ideas for cross-curricular connections.

Footsteps Around the World offers domestic and international advice to help teens deal with their complex feelings about moving, organize their belongings, prepare for college and part-time job interviews, select new schools, tips to make new friends, maximize their experience and more.

Riding the Crosswinds by Vanessa Stepanek   

This book takes you on a journey as seen through the innocent eyes of a young girl growing up abroad, always moving and traveling, as she is exposed to the hidden messages of the world from her birth until you see her off to college at age 19.

Watch out for the Elephants! by C. Angela and C. Ann Todd

This is a fascinating account of the extraordinary life adventures enjoyed by the Todd sisters, starting in the mid-1940s. Their father was among first African Americans in the U. S. Foreign Service and his postings took the family all over the world. The theme is joyfully written that even when elephants come charging head-on, with faith and confidence, all things are possible!

These essays explore the rootlessness and grief as well as the unexpected moments of humor and joy that are a part of living between two worlds. Between Worlds charts a journey between the cultures of East and West, the comfort of being surrounded by loved ones and familiar places, and the loneliness of not belonging.

Expat Teen Talk is specifically targeted to Expatriate Teenagers and those who work with this unique population. The book addresses the needs and different challenges that Expat Teens face throughout their lives (in particular, their adolescent years), and enables them to learn more about and understand that most of what they are going thought and what they feel as a result of constant change in their lives is 'normal' and shared by many other Expat Teens worldwide.  

Author Lois Bushong, a licensed marriage and family therapist delves into this previously, unexplored world of how to effectively counsel clients raised outside of their parents home culture.  The book is filled with practical examples, interesting stories, tips, charts, resources, theories, techniques, and discussion questions for further study.  

Safe Passage maps the challenges and charts a course for individuals, schools, and accrediting bodies to navigate them.  Although primarily focusing on international schools, the hopeful message within this book reaches into any school, university, or organization where human beings come and go. 

A TCK Poem 
by Isabelle Thierrault 

 Foreign Service Youth Foundation (FSYF)

PO Box 50663   Arlington, VA   22205


 © 2014 Foreign Service Youth Foundation

Foreign Service Youth Foundation

P.O. Box 50663

Arlington, VA  22205


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