How to Support Your Child Through Transitions: Part Two

This article was written by Mrs. Linda Bloemberg, Concordia's MS Counselor.

At no point in my preparation to come overseas did anyone ever mention the term Third Culture Kid or TCK. No one ever explained to me that raising my children in another culture would be exciting, confusing and frustrating all at the same time. Not once did anyone ever tell me that, due to their cross-cultural upbringing, that my children would not think or act like their US cousins or family friends. I had NO idea! 

I began this overseas parenting adventure in 1997 and eventually launched all three of my children from Hanoi to the US for university. Over the years I began to realize that my children were unique. They did not fit into my US cultural bubble nor into their father’s Dutch cultural experience. They were different, special as it were. They were TCKs.

What is a Third Culture Kid (TCK)? 

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) or Cross Cultural Kids  (CCKs) are kids who have lived a significant  portion of their developmental years in a culture different from their parents’. The official definition from David Pollock and Ruth van Reken is “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 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 [often] in relationship to others of similar background.”

Are there different types of TCK’s?

There are four possible ways TCKs can relate to their surrounding culture, whether it is at home or in a host culture. While parents may presume their children think a certain way, it can be a very powerful conversation for parents to have with their children. TCKs sense of belonging is to relationships over place. Often they do not strongly identify with their passport culture or their host culture, but they live in a “community” to which they belong but “one identified by shared experience rather than by place or nationality” (Pollock, van Reken & Pollock, 2017, pg. 68).  This community comprises others who are living life overseas or navigating international schools in their home culture with exposure to many different nationalities, cultures and language groups.

PolVan Cultural Identity Model 1

TCKs: Mobility & Repatriation

It is important to recognize the high mobility of the TCK. This is one of the joys of expat life. Many TCKs transition between continents on a very regular basis and the transition between cultures is constant. “What and how things are taught at school may be vastly different from home or the previous school as they shift from school to school while moving from one place to another” (Pollock, van Reken, & Pollock, 2017, pg. 68). It is not unusual for an international school to see a transition of one-third of its population annually. While some students are repatriating, the majority are moving on to their next international posting. “Being in transit defined their childhood, life, and identity” (Tanu, 2018, pg. 3). It is a life of high mobility and constant change.

Another important point is that, unlike many immigrant children, there is an expectation that TCKs will repatriate to their passport country at some point in their lives. This expectation and the resultant tension can impact the TCK’s identity formation. Culture impacts an individual’s identity development almost like a mirror. We are constantly looking at ourselves and our world through the lens of our culture. Yet, for TCKs those mirrors are ever changing. Their identity is constantly being redefined by whichever world they are in at the moment.

TCKs are an amazing amalgamation of cultures and experiences. The benefits of their time abroad in their formative years can transform their lives. In this day and age of globalization, our children - our global nomads - are uniquely equipped to navigate cultures and languages. They can be uniquely empathetic and supportive of others on a similar journey. As they grow in their identity as a TCK they will be able to foster unique skills and leverage their experience for the benefit of others.

Raising a TCK is a special undertaking and requires courage. They are not defined by their passport, their first language or parental expectations, but rather by the combination of all the experiences, relationships and the cultures they have enjoyed. It is not for the faint of heart, Mom & Dad, but the rewards are abundant. It will be an adventure. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Stay tuned for Part Three: Frequently Asked Questions about Transitions. If you have any questions related to the topic of transitions you would like Mrs. Bloemberg to address, please send them to:

  • ES
  • HS
  • MS