Here on Curacao we often meet expats and other people who have moved to this island with their whole family. Parents, as well as teachers, peers and counselors, often don't realize the long term effects of such a move on the children. This is why I thought it might be important to share this information with you.
A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships 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.
TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their passport country. TCKs are often multilingual and highly accepting of other cultures. Although moving between countries may become an easy thing for some TCKs, after a childhood spent in other cultures, adjusting to their passport country often takes years.
They often suffer a reverse culture shock upon their return, and are often perpetually homesick for their adopted country. Many third culture kids face an identity crisis: they don't know where they come from. It would be typical for a TCK to say that he is a citizen of a country, but with nothing beyond his passport to define that identification for him. Such children usually find it difficult to answer the question, "Where are you from?" Compared to their peers who have lived their entire lives in a single culture, TCKs have a globalized culture. Others can have difficulty relating to them. It is hard for TCKs to present themselves as a single cultured person, which makes it hard for others who have not had similar experiences to accept them for who they are. Many choose to enter careers that allow them to travel frequently or live overseas, which may make it seem difficult for TCKs to build long-term, in-depth relationships.
As third culture kids mature they become adult third culture kids (ATCKs). Some ATCKs come to terms with issues such as culture shock and a sense of not belonging while others struggle with these for their entire lives.
Research has been done on American TCKs to identify various characteristics:
- 90% feel "out of sync" with their peers.
- 90% report feeling as if they understand other people and cultural groups better than the average American.
- 80% believe they can get along with anybody, and they often do, due to their sociocultural adaptability.
- Divorce rates among TCKs are lower than the general population, but TCKs marry at an older age (25+).
- More welcoming of others into their community.
- Lack a sense of "where home is", but are often nationalistic.
Cognitive and emotional development
- Teenage TCKs are more mature than non-TCKs, but in their twenties take longer than their peers to focus their aims.
- Depression is comparatively prevalent among TCKs.
- TCKs' sense of identity and well-being is directly and negatively affected by repatriation.
- TCKs are highly linguistically adept (not as true for military TCKs).
- A study whose subjects were all "career military brats" those who had a parent in the military from birth through high school shows that brats are linguistically adept.
- Like all children, TCKs may experience stress and even grief from the relocation experience.
Education and career
- TCKs are 4 times as likely as non-TCKs to earn a bachelor's degree (81% vs 21%).
- 40% earn an advanced degree (as compared to 5% of the non-TCK population).
- 45% of TCKs attended three universities before attaining a degree.
- 44% earned undergraduate degree after the age of 22.
- Education, medicine, business management, self-employment, and highly-skilled positions are the most common professions for TCKs.
- TCKs are unlikely to work for big business, government, or follow their parents' career choices. "One won't find many TCKs in large corporations. Nor are there many in government ... they have not followed in parental footsteps".
References and further reading:
- Third Culture Kids - Pollock DC and Van Reken R (2001).