A hand holding a small globe in an article about third culture kids

The Rise of Third Culture Kids in a World That Grows Smaller

Those that grew up outside of their parents' homelands are a driving force in the global village.

Third culture kids. Children borne of the growing culture of global connectedness. These people come from everywhere and nowhere and can very well be called “global citizens.” Their upbringing gives them a view of the world that propagates a global culture in all the good ways. They retain all of the cultures they are exposed to and create new ones. These third culture kids are the epitome of the so-called “global village.” And they are the very proof of the ties that connect different parts of the world together.

So, what exactly are third culture kids (TCK for short)? Simply put, the culture a third culture kid associates with is different from their parent’s birth country’s culture and/or the culture of the country their passport is tied to. Different TCK’s have different stories and have always lived in at least two countries and cultures for most of the first 20 or so years of their life. They are often bilingual or multilingual and are extremely open and perceptive to different walks of life. The term “third-culture kids” itself was coined sometime around the 1950s by Ruth Useem, who studied the children of expatriates living in India.

Third-culture kids as a term and as a group of people are easier to find now more than before. It makes sense, seeing as how far the world has come in becoming a seemingly smaller place. As more people from different corners of our planet meet each other, travel and settle in places completely different from where they were born, more people emerge whose culture doesn’t come from one specific geographical location.

The way these third culture kid’s eyes see the world is significantly different from those who have grown up in the same area their whole lives. Someone who is able to name exactly where they are from is not likely to truly understand what it is like to be a TCK, and vice versa.

Third culture kids do not have a stable location they can tie themselves to. The constant movement they faced as children lead to them to associating the concept of home with people they are close to rather than a specific place. Homesickness is tied to different locations and different aspects of the cultures they have lived in. Some even become global nomads because they are so used to moving around, they can’t understand why one would stop and stay in one place.

All this moving around when they are children does seem to provide TCKs with an attitude that is desirable in this globalized world culture. But it does lead to some negative side effects as well. TCKs often lead a troubled childhood in terms of relationships. Many ties they try to forge between themselves and the people around them are suddenly torn apart when they move again.

But these difficulties bloom to create a beautiful flower when they go out into the adult world. Third culture kids have an open-mindedness that is unmatched just because they have experienced so many different parts of the world when they were young. This aspect of their attitude has a lot of power when it comes to influencing their lives. They are able to adapt to all kinds of situations and seek out experiences that broaden their already wide horizons. And adding to the fact that openness is thought to be one of the five major parts of an individual’s personality makes this part of TCKs even more powerful.

The very identity of being a third culture kids affects another important aspect of their adulthood — job-hunting. Employers like to seek out third culture kids for their wide world view and open mindedness. Their natural bilingual abilities put them above the rest of the competition at times as well. TCKs seem to be able to forge any traumas they faced as children into beautiful shields to face the world with. And their work life is one that has benefited from this transformation.

Third culture kids seem to be able to transform the places they are in and the people they interact with. Others are able to benefit from their unique frame of mind by learning from it and figuring out how to interact with differences in others.

But the very existence of TCKs shows the world something else as well. Something very important — the rise of the global village, and the effects it can have on the people of this world. Sure, one can list all sorts of economic and sociocultural effects of globalization.  Third culture kids, however, are one of its side effects, creating smaller ripples that eventually turn into giant waves. People are what drive our world forward. And these TCKs being involved in this world is a part of why we now call it a global village.

TCKs can show people the world and can invite others to see the world with them. They have the power to create a truly global society, just by going about their business as usual.

Third culture kids are rapidly becoming a not-so-new phenomenon. They all have similarities and differences in how they identify as a third culture kid. But despite how different they can be, most can bond over a mutual hate for the seemingly innocent phrase: “Where are you from?” Because for them, the answer is not just a simple place, but their very own personal history. A history that is so complex, it shapes them into people who see beyond borders and cultures. Third culture kids and the global citizens are creating a future in which different parts of the world come even closer together. And perhaps TCKs can lead us all to calling the world our home.

Janani Mangai Srinivasan, Wake Forest University

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Janani Mangai Srinivasan

Wake Forest University
Creative Writing

I am passionate about creative writing and making stories. I enjoy all mediums in which stories are spread around the world — be they fiction novels, animation or movies.

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