Earlier this fall, I was given the opportunity to teach a guest lecture at an Oregon university. The lecture was titled, “What are TCKs and Why Should You Care?”
I’ve realized over the past year since beginning this blog, that I have acquired many readers who are not living overseas and not raising TCKs, but are simply interested in the concept, the information I present, and my own personal stories. I believe that the topic of Third Culture Kids has a more direct impact on them than they even realize! In many ways, these readers are ahead of the game by already beginning to learn and understand the complexities of this population. Universities are beginning to realize that raising awareness about Third Culture Kids is going to be essential for the next generation and more companies and governmental institutions are taking a deeper look at this growing people group. Why? Because this minority population will soon become the majority as our world becomes increasingly globalized.
So, what exactly is a Third Culture Kid?
A traditional Third Culture Kid is a person who spends a significant part of his or her first eighteen years of life accompanying parent(s) into a country that is different from at least one parent’s passport country(ies) due to a parent’s choice of work or advanced training (Third Culture Kids, 3rd Edition, Van Rekken & Pullock, 2017).
TCKs fall into a broader category called Cross-Cultural Kids.
A Cross-Cultural Kid is a person who has lived in-or meaningfully interacted with two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during developmental years (Third Culture Kids, 3rd Edition, Van Rekken & Pullock, 2017).
Examples of Cross-Cultural Kids include:
- Traditional TCKs
- Bi/multi-cultural and/or bi/multi-racial children
- Children of immigrants
- Children of refugees
- Children of minorities
- International adoptees
- Domestic TCKs
Chances are, you know someone (or several people!) who fall into this broader category.
Our world is growing rapidly smaller. People are moving out of their passport countries at enormous rates (more than any other time in history), thus raising their children in a new culture. According to the State Department, in 2016, there were an estimated 9 million US citizens living outside of the United States and 43.3 million immigrants living inside the USA. About 50 million Chinese citizens are living outside of China, and 5% of Australia’s population live outside of Australia. Take into account that many of these people have moved with children and are having more children during their time living outside of their passport country. Our world is truly becoming multicultural.
In 1989, Sociologist Dr. Ted Ward, predicted that “Third Culture Kids would be the prototype citizens of the future.” It’s easy to see from these few examples how his theory is coming true!
Therapist Lois Bushong said, “What Dr. Ward meant was that in today’s globalizing world, more and more people would grow up among many cultural worlds even if they didn’t move overseas with their parents. Even those who never moved very far geographically would see the world coming to them. Ultimately, a cross-cultural childhood is becoming the new normal all across the globe for virtually everyone.” (Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere, 2013)
This phenomena has a direct impact on our society and the world as a whole. Many of my posts explore the common challenges that TCKs deal with as well as the benefits. If we consider the fact that the majority of the world will soon be CCKs or TCKs, then we should also ponder the challenges and benefits of this cross-cultural lifestyle. If we start now by addressing and preventing the known challenges of this lifestyle then we are ultimately proactively helping the world to learn to navigate this new normal. By also exploring the benefits, we can see how this new normal can be a great asset to our rapidly changing world.
So, what are some of the challenges of living a cross-cultural lifestyle? Click on each to read a post that explores the issue further.
- Identity issues (Ugly Duckling syndrome)
- Higher exposure to trauma
- High mobility
- Where is “home”?
- The “need” for change
- Unresolved grief due to repeated, unacknowledged loss
Each of these challenges, if unaddressed, can lead to mental health issues, relationship issues, and many other serious challenges. If we know that most TCKs and CCKs deal with these challenges in some form, then we have to think about what will happen when the majority of the world’s children are CCKs or TCKs. How can we prevent these issues from negatively affecting the next generation? The good news…we have a prototype! As I say constantly, let’s find ways to prevent these issues from becoming debilitating in the next generation of TCKs and CCKs and thus reap the incredible benefits of a cross-cultural upbringing! I am so thankful that there are many, like me, who are beginning to focus on prevention when it comes to TCK challenges.
Despite these challenges, I am excited that this is the direction our world is heading! Take a look at some of the benefits that come with a cross-cultural upbringing.
- Cultural adaptation abilities– The ability to move easily between cultures
- Often bi or multi-lingual
- Unique perspective– They can see things from many different points of view, factoring in complex cultural considerations
- Expanded, visual worldview– They understand and acknowledge that there is more than one “right way” of living life
- Cultural bridges– They can be excellent mediators between people of different cultures
- Many friends (often around the globe)
- Early independence– They are often more mature than other youth their age
- Calculated risk-takers
- Willing to think and act “outside the box”
- Global citizens- They see everyone as being an “us” and not a “them”
Thinking about the current events in the world right now such as racism issues, immigration, war, natural disasters, political issues, etc., it is clear how TCKs and CCKs can be an incredible asset to our world. As our world becomes smaller, it will be the adult TCKs and CCKs who can truly help navigate this new globalized society. If we focus now on finding ways to raise healthy TCKs and CCKs, we are well on our way to seeing the coming generation make some incredible changes in our world because of their cross-cultural upbringing.