"What is a
“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his
or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture."
"TCKs are the prototype citizens of the future."
-Ted Ward, sociologist, 1984
You know you’re a TCK when ...
are you from?” has more than one reasonable
- You’ve said that you’re from foreign country X,
and (if you live in America) your audience has asked you which US state
X is in.
- You flew before you could walk.
- You speak two languages, but can’t spell in either.
- You feel odd being in the ethnic majority.
- You have three passports.
- You have a passport but no driver’s license.
- You go into culture shock upon returning to your
“home” country.- Your life story uses the phrase
“Then we moved to…” three (or four, or
- You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
- You don’t know whether to write the date as day/month/year,
month/day/year, or some variation thereof.
- The best word for something is the word you learned first, regardless
of the language.
- You get confused because US money isn’t colour-coded.
- You think VISA is a document that’s stamped in your
passport, not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
- You own personal appliances with 3 types of plugs, know the
difference between 110 and 220 volts, 50 and 60 cycle current, and
realize that a trasnsformer isn’t always enough to make your
- You fried a number of appliances during the learning process.
- You think the Pledge of Allegiance might possibly begin with
“Four-score and seven years ago….”- Half of your phone calls are
unintelligible to those around you.
- You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted
- You consider a city 500 miles away “very close.”
- You get homesick reading National Geographic.
- You cruise the Internet looking for fonts that can support foreign
- You think in the metric system and Celsius.
- You may have learned to think in feet and miles as well, after a few
years of living (and driving) in the US. (But not Fahrenheit. You will
*never* learn to think in Fahrenheit).
- You haggle with the checkout clerk for a lower price.
- Your minor is a foreign language you already speak.- When asked a question in a certain
language, you’ve absentmindedly respond in a different one.
- You miss the subtitles when you see the latest movie.
- You’ve gotten out of school because of monsoons, bomb
threats, and/or popular demonstrations.
- You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel.
- You have frequent flyer accounts on multiple airlines.
- You constantly want to use said frequent flyer accounts to travel to
- You know how to pack.
- You have the urge to move to a new country every couple of years.
- The thought of sending your (hypothetical) kids to public school
scares you, while the thought of letting them fly alone
doesn’t at all.
- You think that high school reunions are all but impossible.
- You have friends from 29 different countries.
- You sort your friends by continent.
- You have a time zone map next to your telephone.
- You realize what a small world it is, after all.
What is the Origin of term "Third Culture Kid"?
Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem
coined the term "Third Culture Kids" after spending a year on two
separate occasions in India with her three children, in the early
fifties. Initially they used the term "third culture" to refer to the
process of learning how to relate to another culture; in time
they started to refer to children who accompany their parents into a
different culture as "Third Culture Kids."
Useem used the term "Third Culture Kids" because TCKs integrate aspects
of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new culture (the
second culture), creating a unique "third culture"
What are the different types of TCKs?
primarily from the United States, are the most mobile of TCKs but
generally spend only a few years abroad, and sometimes none at all.
Approximately 41% of military brats spend less than 5 years in foreign
countries. They are the least likely TCKs to develop connections with
the locals. Because
military bases aim for self-sufficiency, military brats tend to be
exposed the least to the local culture. Also, because of the
self-sufficiency of military bases and the
distinctiveness of military culture, even those military brats who
never lived abroad can be isolated to some degree from the civilian
culture of their "home" country.
parents of military brats had the lowest level of education of
the five categories, approximately 36% of USA military brat TCK
families have at least one parent with an advanced degree. This is
significantly higher than the general population.
government TCKs are the most likely to have extended
experiences in foreign countries for extended periods. 44% have lived
in at least four countries. 44% will also have spent at least 10 years
outside of their passport country. Their involvement with locals and
others from their passport country depends on the role of the parent.
Some may grow up moving from country to country in the diplomatic
corps while others may live their lives near military bases.
Religious / Missionary Kids
(MKs) typically spend the most time overseas in one country. 85% of MKs
spend more than 10 years in foreign countries and 72% lived in only one
foreign country. MKs generally have the most interaction with the local
populace and the least interaction with people from their passport
country. They are the most likely to integrate themselves into the
local culture. 83%
of missionary kids have at least one parent with an advanced degree.
families also spend a great deal of time in foreign
countries. 63% of business TCK's have lived in foreign countries at
least 10 years but are more likely than MKs to live in multiple
countries. Business TCKs will have a fairly high interaction with their
host nationals and with others from their passport country.
"Other" category includes anybody who does not fit one the above
descriptions. They include: intergovernmental agencies, educators,
international non-governmental organizations, media, etc. This
group typically has spent the least amount of time in foreign
countries (42% are abroad for 1-2 years and 70% for less than 5.) Again
their involvement with local people and culture can vary greatly.
The parents of "Others" are the most likely of TCKs to have
with an advanced degree (89% of families have an advanced degree.)
are the Characteristics of TCKs?
There are different characteristics that impact the typical Third
- 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 3
universities before earning a degree.
- 44% earned undergraduate degree
after the age of 22.
- Educators, medicine, professional
positions, and self employment 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".
- 90% feel "out of sync" with their
- 90% report feeling as if they
understand other cultures/peoples better than the average American.
- 80% believe they can get along
- Divorce rates among TCKs are lower
than the general population, but they marry older (25+).
- Military brats, however, tend
to marry earlier.
- Linguistically adept (not as true
for military ATCKs.)
- A study whose subjects were
all "career military brats"—those who
had a parent in the military from birth through high
brats are linguistically adept.
- Teenage TCKs are more mature than
non-TCKs, but ironically take longer to "grow up" in their 20s.
- More welcoming of others into
- Lack a sense of "where home is"
but often nationalistic.
- Depression and suicide are more
prominent among TCK's.
- Some studies show a desire to
"settle down" others a "restlessness to move".
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