The Wonderful and Unusual Life of a TCK

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Flags, lawn chairs, and people lined the streets. We heard the drums in the distance, signaling the start of the parade.

"Is the king about to come?" my 8-year-old son asked.

I giggled inwardly, but looked at him with adoring eyes.

"In Morocco, yes. But this is different. We're in America getting ready to celebrate their Independence Day. America has a president, and he won't come to this parade."

Ah, the life of a child growing up in more than one culture! He must always put together clues from familiar-to-him cultures to make sense of his current situation. Before this moment, my son's only "parade" experience was the king's ride through the city. It also had flags and crowds but no thrown candy!

Other "new" items were discovered that trip—wall-to-wall carpet, drinking fountains, public bathroom hand dryers, and free soda refills—leading to raised eyebrows and a smile.

Welcome to the world of a TCK.

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.
— David C. Pollock, American Sociologist

A "Third Culture" isn't a “third” world or country. Rather, the TCK has formed a life that is neither exclusively from their home culture (first culture) nor from their host culture (second culture). This "third culture" is a distinct way of life, incorporating elements of both cultures. It is also a feeling of belonging with those who share this same background.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

It’s the new color green that comes from mixing the yellow of the parents’ culture with the blue of the host culture.

With this in mind, it's difficult for TCKs to answer the question, “Where are you from?” They might have been born in their passport country, but they don't connect with that city they barely know. They might feel like their adopted culture is "home," but their language isn’t fluent. They also may not look like the other residents, so does that count?

Pico Iyer, a British born American essayist, sheds some light on this predicament. He uses the kind term, "global soul," for a TCK. "A person who had grown up in many cultures all at once—and so lived in the cracks between them."

How do Third culture kids view home and belonging?

Click here to watch a 3-minute video with interviews.

It's a joy to grow up in another culture, and also a challenge. There is so much good . . . also so much struggle. Being a Third Culture Kid is full of paradox. It's often both happiness and sorrow mixed together. As counselor Lois Bushong writes, "Often the reasons for their greatest gifts are also the roots of their main challenges."

TCK poem.png

Much to learn, experience, and discover as a TCK.

Much to grieve, to puzzle over, and misunderstand, too.

On our same family trip back to the US, my sister (who was lovingly housing the seven of us) calmly said to me one afternoon, "Oh by the way, your son is climbing up on our roof. I'm OK with that, but I wanted to let you know."

“WHAAAT?” I shrieked. I rushed outside. These weren't the flat roofs of Morocco, but the angled, steep roofs of the Midwestern United States.

I screeched out commands and made sure the climber descended safely. I also looked around to make sure no neighbors saw that “faux pas!”

Then I did my explaining to him. "This isn't something that kids do in America. It’s not safe. I know you enjoy climbing, but guess what? Here you can climb trees."

In Morocco, he had been shamed by some onlookers for climbing a beautiful tree on a main road. In America, you climb trees but not roofs. In Morocco, no trees, yes roofs!

Confusing for a kid, but after that, he got it! A little coaching from an insider helped.

Welcome to the wonderful world of a TCK.

Do you have a TCK story to share? Please comment below.