Some of you may be wondering what a Third Culture Kid is. Is it akin to a Third World, as in one of those really poor countries that US helps all the time? No, a Third Culture Kid or TCK, is simply someone who has spent a significant portion of their developmental years (0-18) in two or more countries. Physically they may look like one race, but they feel, think and act like another. This can create a misunderstandings, confusion and even a sense of isolation.
TCK's feel most "at home" with others who have had a similar experience and so form a "third culture" in which they have shared experiences and stories. Chances are you know a TCK and didn't know you did, or you are one and had no idea there was such a category that defined you. Think military brat, children of government employees including NATO and embassy, missionary kid, or those whose parents worked overseas for any reason. Their children often feel like they don't belong in either world--their parents' world or the world in which they grew up.
As a child, we learn social rules, norms and expectations from our surroundings and peers. Simple things such as language acquisition, how to greet, when to arrive at a party, how to dress, what is edible, sports, humor, what jobs are available.... are all absorbed without conscious thought, they just seem to happen. These are all part of identity formation, learning who we are in the world, where we belong, how to know if someone is safe or dangerous.
On the other hand, for a TCK growing up in two (or more) countries, these things have to be consciously learned, intentionally observed and taken in. For some this is a huge challenge. Learning two or more languages is fun and even easy. For others, this can pose a significant challenge as the child tries to express him or herself, and can't find the right words. This can also create a barrier with the extended family as the children attempt to communicate with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and they can have difficulty communicating effectively.
If you don't know by now, I am very familiar with TCK struggles as well as the richness that is also part of that lifestyle. I grew up in three countries, learned two languages, and four distinct cultures. You can ask me later. Ha. It took me a long time to feel comfortable in the US. Ask my kids! There were times I had to check with them so they could tell me the social expectations of homecoming and prom.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, identity issues or talking about suicide, there is help. Many struggle with these problems, but for a TCK, they may not know that their global lifestyle contributed to these feelings. Experience healing with someone who understands.
For further help and information, please contact me at 720-201-5030