Third Culture Kids

The following is taken from an old podcast that looked at children whose parents move to a new country and are known as third culture kids.

These children grow up in a new culture, different from the one they were born into. They have many strengths, but they also face some difficult challenges.

New Country, New Culture

One such example of a third culture kid is a boy who initially lived in Peru with his parents.

third culture kidsHowever, one day his life changed completely when his parents got divorced and his mother moved to the United States. So the boy went with her.

This move was a big change for him. He tried to fit into his new life. He had to go to a new school, learn a new language and make new friends. But he felt different from the other children.

He felt that he did not belong. He wanted to return to South America. Some years later he had his chance.

He was so happy to return to his original culture! But to his surprise he did not feel at home.

More and more young people are moving around the world with their parents. Their parents' work may cause the move.

Families may choose to move. They hope for a better life. Such families have new experiences.

They learn about other cultures. They have interesting lives. But there can also be a big problem. A lot of people do not understand how moving will affect their children.

Parents may not understand their children's struggles. And they often think it will be easy for their children to return to their home country.

They may expect their children to be the same as them, to have the same ideas, and to have the same beliefs.

There is a name for these children who grow up in more than one country, "third culture kids."

Separated from their Culture

Third culture kids are not completely part of their parents' culture. They are not completely part of the other culture they live in.

Instead, they are a mix of cultures. This mixed culture is their own culture; a third culture.

Dr. Ruth Hill Useem was the first person who used the term third culture kids or TCK's.

She was an anthropologist, a person who studies human cultures. She was interested in how people behave in social situations. She was particularly interested in children who move between cultures. She researched these children for years. And she found that they all had very similar qualities.

Many of these qualities are very good. For example these children deal with change more easily. They listen to different opinions. They welcome new ideas. And they may speak several languages.

Third Culture Kids have become citizens of the world. When these children become adults, they can build understanding between countries.


glogal nomadsBut many of these TCKs have struggles. They question who they are. They have a hard time deciding what to do with their lives.

They may not have roots in a particular place. Some of them feel that they do not belong in any place. Other TCKs love their new country very much. They may feel that this new country is their true home.

But usually they do return to their country of origin. They may return when their parents return. Or they may return to go to university.

In their country of origin, life is different for TCKs. They have changed. Their old friends have changed too.

Often their friends do not want to hear stories about other countries. They want to talk about local interests. They expect the TCKs to know the same things they know, for instance the same songs, the same television programmes, the same sports and the same games.

TCKs have to learn to fit in quickly. And they also learn not to talk about their past experiences to avoid rocking the cultural unity boat.

Norma McCaig

Norma McCaig is a TCK from the United States. When she was a child she lived in Kodaikanal, India.

She was there because of her parents' work. She grew to love the culture of India very much. When she returned to the United States, she recognized that she was different. But she discovered that there were other people like her. She used a new name to describe young people who move around the world: "global nomads."

Nomads are people with no permanent home. She wanted to help these "global nomads". So she started a group called Global Nomads International. This group and some others provide resources for TCKs. They provide country information, school guides and recent research on TCKs. They also offer conferences on important subjects that help TCKs.

Global Nomads International

Norma McCaig not only started Global Nomads International. She also wrote suggestions for parents of TCKs.

She told parents how they can support their children when they move between countries. Norma says there are four main ways parents can help their children.

  1. The first is for parents to communicate with their children. Norma tells parents to encourage children to talk about how they feel. Parents should try to listen without judging their children. Then she tells parents to let their children decide some things. The children need to know their ideas are important too.
  2. Next Norma tells parents to try to keep as many things the same as possible. They should try to keep their most important objects. And they should keep family traditions. For example every Sunday night Norma’s family would eat waffles. Waffles are just a simple food, but they represent many memories for Norma.
  3. Norma also suggests using a camera to take many pictures of the children, so they have a history of their lives.
  4. Finally Norma talks about saying goodbye. It is important to permit children to talk about their sadness about leaving places and friends. If they do not talk about their sadness, it can stay in their hearts for a long time.


Although TCKs have questions and struggles, they also have many good experiences. In fact most of them say they would not change their lives.

As they grow up and find their way in the world, it is often the case that they support themselves by working online from anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection.

The test is for parents and teachers to help prepare TCKs for changes. Support groups like Global Nomads International can help TCKs as they become adults. These groups can show TCKs the many things they have to offer the world.

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