In the 1960s, sociologists studying India’s expat communities came across an interesting phenomenon: although there were separate groups within these communities (such as teachers and foreign service officers), they still loved intermingling and spending time with one another. Despite coming from different cultures and nationalities, these people bonded closely over their shared experience as expats, and even created a unique, “third” culture—one that differed from both their homeland, and the culture of their host country. From this finding, a new term was coined: “third culture kids”
Who are third culture kids?
Third culture kids (TCK) grow up in a culture that’s different from their parents’ or the country of their nationality. During their formative years, their identities are shaped by a wider spectrum of cultural influences than their peers, and often even their own parents. As a result, some TCK find a greater sense of belonging among people, rather than places or a specific culture. And while the sociological term refers to this group as “kids,” their unique childhoods have ripple effects on their entire lives, and those of future generations.
The complexities of third cultures
TCK can feel a bit like fish out of water at times, as they have to navigate multiple cultures with often conflicting norms and traditions (one TCK we spoke to recalled adjusting to celebrating Christmas over a seafood meal in the scorching heat, after her family had moved from Canada to Australia). In many cases, third culture kids come to feel more ‘at home’ by eventually adopting some of the customs found in their country of residence.
But despite this push and pull of influences, there are strengths to be gained by living in between cultures. Many TCK seem to have an easier time adapting to change, and the skills they pick up in childhood, like multilingualism, can lead to more opportunities and rewarding career options. Some TCK describe being at ease in the kinds of ‘transitional’ spaces that others can find stressful, like airports, hotels, and international schools. And when life presents challenges, they can often draw from a broader range of perspectives.
Getting comfortable exploring our roots
By picking up David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken’s ground-breaking 2001 book,Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, some people read the stories of other TCKs and discovered for the first time that they were part of a global community with a common heritage. The positive impact that can come from these kinds of experiences is immeasurable, and it ties in with what we do at Root & Seed as well. Our mission is to bring together tradition-seekers who want to claim, honour, document, and celebrate their culture and let it live on in their words, thoughts, actions and experiences for generations to come. With so many third culture kids in the world, it’s important to capture your unique family heritage for safekeepingand celebration—as we move through the world and evolve.
As a child of immigrants who worked hard to assimilate our family into the local community, Jennifer is working to discover and define her own complex identity: being of mixed race, mixed-religion, and mixed-citizenship. Prior to Root & Seed, Jennifer spent 18 years in advertising, helping to build and market digital products. See more about Root & Seed here.