What is a Third Culture Kid?

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) refers to someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own. Therefore, they learn to integrate elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture. TCKs may also be Global Nomads, military kids who move state to state, kids living between cultures with multicultural parents.

When kids grow up, they become Adult Third Culture Kids. As kids, TCKs spend their developmental years maneuvering through cultures; as adults, their personalities, lifestyles, and world view continue to be reflected from their highly mobile childhoods. “Parents may become former diplomats or missionaries or school staff members, but there is no such thing as a former TCK.” ~ M.C. Tegenfeldt

The TCK definition has recently been expanded and the term has been updated to Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK). The latest edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, details the shift in perspective to include subgroups of people who develop between worlds. CCKs include people who have lived in many places within their home or passport country as a child, refugees, children of mixed ethnic heritage, and any of those who travel between cultures daily. For example, Native American children who travel off the reservation to attend a school in the mainstream culture nearby, or Asian-American children who interact with the mainstream culture during the day, but return home to very different, even other-worldly cultural expectations at night.

A TCK/CCK builds relationships to all the cultures, yet never has full “ownership” or a feeling of belonging to any. Our sense of belonging is with others who managed intense cultural changes during their formative years. Needless to say, we who learn early to straddle cultures have unique perspectives to apply to the problems of this world. Therein often lies the heart and soul of many of our TCK students.