A question about TCKs

Recently it seems I have had a lot of conversations about TCKs. Do you know what a TCK is? In my emotional universe, everyone should know what a TCK is, but I realise that is probably a seriously skewed vision of reality. Probably almost no one knows what a TCK is, even most TCKs.

It’s a term that has become popular over the last decade or so, an acronym for Third Culture Kids. Third Culture Kids are people who grew up in a context other than that of their parents, and as such they grew up multiculturally. Psychologists have suggested that such people feel neither at home in their parents’ culture, nor in the culture where they were raised, and instead create a “third” culture which is in some ways a combination of both and in other ways different from both. The theory goes a bit further to suggest that this “third culture” is shared somewhat universally, so I, a born American raised in Brasil, will feel an immediate affinity with someone who, for example, was born in the Phillippines and grew up in Turkey. Immigrant children are not usually considered TCKs, because they left their home culture behind entirely, but children of military personnel, missionaries or employees of multinational corporations would all be considered TCKs.

There are many online resources out there for TCKs, many discussion groups, support groups, etc etc, and lots and lots of psychoanalysis of my species. As I was recently browsing in search for a concise summary of TCKs, the website I found most helpful was this one. Check it out – it’s short but descriptive.

CulturTwining is, many would argue, a natural part of who I am, because I am a member of the esteemed ranks of the TCKs. And, to some extent, this is true. The site states, “the TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership of any.” Yup, this pretty much sums up what CulturTwined is all about. Other characteristics cited describe me very well: feel at home in airports, great debater (for better for for worse), speak more than one language, establish relationships quickly (though not always LASTING relationships – see my Adjusting to London series!), high cultural intelligence and resistant to prejudice, educational achievers (oops, yeah, I did go for the PhD), perhaps TOO observant and sensitive to other people. On the negative side: no sense of where home is, struggle with commitment and decision-making, take relationships seriously even when they’re doomed not to last, always feel like an outsider…

which feels more like home: an airport or my laptop?

These things do describe me, very very well. But here’s my question: As a humanitarian aid worker, I have many colleagues who were born and raised in one small town, who always lived relatively stable lives, until one day they decided they wanted to save the world. Then they started travelling and never looked back. I feel like all of the above describes them, as well. What made them into big grown-up TCKs?

And then I have friends who grew up as TCKs, just like me, who don’t travel all that much, have long-lasting relationships, didn’t pursue any education beyond what was required of them, etc.

So I have my doubts about the term “TCK”. It seems like it might just define a culturtwiner, and culturtwiners come in all shapes and sizes. Or perhaps, the term TCK applies to children still living with their parents, people who became global citizens before they had a choice in the matter… and the term should no longer be used to define us adults. Maybe I’m an ex-TCK, not a TCK. (I guess I’m not really a kid anymore, so that would make sense.) And if I’m an ex-TCK, what am I now? I’m a culturtwiner, but that’s my own term. Global citizen? Many of my friends like the term “nomad”, but really, that’s a bit cliche.


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