What is a "Third Culture Kid"?

A Third Culture Kid

My One True Darling Man, Mikey and I are both third culture kids. I say that I am in my little bio on this homepage, and a bit in the “About Me” piece, but it’s worthwhile to kind of take a bite out of what that whole term, “Third Culture Kid” means – especially since Mikey and I are soon going to be raising second generation TCK’s and talking a lot about it on this blog.

So what is a Third Culture Kid?

Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term “Third Culture Kids”  to refer to children who accompany their parents into a different culture.  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”

Mikey and I are both from the San Francisco Bay Area.

While Mikey was raised in Bangladesh, the Phillipines, Ghana, New Zealand and France (with stints in the Bay Area), I was planted in the Pacific Basin: Fiji, Hawaii, Japan, Taiwan and Macau. I speak Japanese and some ASL and Mandarin Chinese (with smatterings of other languages that will be enough to get food but not much else); Mikey speaks French. Mikey picks up Spanish like a kid picks up candy from a busted pinata; I don’t. I’m not particularly linguistically inclined and I hate learning grammatical rules; Mikey loves that kind of thing. Oh, and I’m deaf! Mikey’s not.

Back to what a TCK is. Here are some “General Characteristics” , copy and pasted straight out of wikipedia:

General Characteristics

TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their passport country. TCKs are often multilingual and highly accepting of other cultures. Although moving between countries may become an easy thing for some TCKs, after a childhood spent in other cultures, adjusting to their passport country often takes years.

There are different types of TCK’s and Mikey and I again really typify it. There are military/army “brats”, non-military government kids, religious/missionary kids, business kids and “other” (read tckid.com – great descriptions on all). Mikey was a diplomatic kid (his step-dad was the French Consul); I was a religious/missionary kid (my parents were Baha’i Missionaries, called “Pioneers” in the Baha’i Faith). Mikey had a driver; we took the local bus. Mikey went to posh international schools; we didn’t. Mikey was being groomed to be a diplomat; we were being groomed to create a new world order.

So of course, Mikey rebelled by becoming a bicycle mechanic and I rebelled by doing a whole lot of stuff that I don’t want to write about here because my mother will be reading this post.


Where was I?

Right. Different kinds of TCK’s. Mikey and I were polar opposites on the TCK spectrum but that doesn’t matter a bit. We connect on every single fundamental way that two people can connect (and get your mind out of the gutter, I’m not talking about sex). (Although I want to make jokes about having three kids now. But I won’t. My mom is reading this post). Mikey and I thoroughly understand the hard parts of being a TCK. We are absolutely, without doubt, members of our own tribe.

It really is a unique culture.

We are in a good place with raising our kids to be second generation TCK’s. I am pretty sure we are going to make mistakes, but I do hope that our combined experience in navigating these new waters of trans/cross culture will make it easier for our little soon-to-be global nomads. We both know, after all, that moving in and out of cultures and a travel-heavy life sounds sexy but it can be brutal on kids.

In the meantime, here is a copy/pasted piece from TCKid.com that had me laughing out loud:

You Might be a TCK When:

  • “Where are you from?” has more than one reasonable answer.
  • 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 five…) times.
  • 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 appliances work.
  • 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….”
  • You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted ball.
  • 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 alphabets.
  • 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 new places.
  • 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.


There is a lot of really fabulous information out there about TCK’s and that information is absolutely vital to any of you who have either spent a lot of time being raised abroad or are raising your own kids abroad now.

Some good sites for more information:


TCK World


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is a deaf blogger, global nomad, tech-junkie, cat-lover, Trekkie, Celto-Teutonic-peasant-handed mom of 3 (one with Down syndrome and one gifted 2E).
She likes her coffee black and hot.
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