Sunday Morning Sermon - July 7 2013
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 of the 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 in relationship to others of similar background.
My own two girls are typical third culture kids. The grand kids have spent most of their lifetime in Saudi Arabia so they could be considered less third culture except for the little Lankan culture that Shirani and I provide for them.
Even Shirani and I have spent more than half our lives outside Sri Lanka and it is possible we could be classified as third culture adults, within the same concept.
Studies have shown that there are different characteristics that impact the typical Third Culture Kid:
- 40% earn an advanced degree (as compared to 5% of the non-TCK population.)
- 45% of TCKs attended 3 universities before earning a degree.
- 44% earned undergraduate degree after the age of 22.
- Educators, medicine, professional positions, and self employment are the most common professions for TCKs.
- TCKs are unlikely to work for big business, government, or follow their parents' career choices. "One won't find many TCKs in large corporations. Nor are there many in government ... they usually do not followed in parental footsteps".
- 90% report feeling as if they understand other cultures/peoples better than average.
- 80% believe they can get along with anybody.
- A study whose subjects were all "career military brats"—those who had a parent in the military from birth through high school—shows that brats are linguistically adept.
- Teenage TCKs are more mature than non-TCKs, but ironically take longer to "grow up" in their 20s.
- More welcoming of others into their community.
- Lack a sense of "where home is" but often nationalistic.
- Depression and suicide are more prominent among TCK's.
- Some studies show a desire to "settle down" others a "restlessness to move"
Dr. Useem coined the term third culture kid after her second year-long visit to India with her fellow sociologist/anthropologist husband and three children. In 1993 she wrote:
In summarizing that which we had observed in our cross-cultural encounters, we began to use the term "third culture" as a generic term to cover the styles of life created, shared, and learned by persons who are in the process of relating their societies, or sections thereof, to each other. The term "Third Culture Kids" or TCKs was coined to refer to the children who accompany their parents into another society.—Ruth Hill Useem, TCK World: The Official Home of Third Culture Kids
She describes the third culture as a shared, or interstitial way of life lived by those who had gone from one culture (the home or first culture) to a host culture (the second) and had developed their own shared way of life with others also living outside their passport cultures.
It is believed that parents of TCKs are often highly educated, successful in their careers, and are not likely to divorce. When a group (whether it is the military, a business, government, church, etc.) decides to send somebody to a foreign country, it is making a significant investment. The group wants to send people who will represent it the best, and provide the most value for the investment. TCKs will thus have a higher probability of coming from a family where at least one parent earned a college degree and often an advanced degree. "Almost all" TCK families are deployed to foreign countries as a result of the father's profession, and very few families live in another country primarily due to the mother's occupation.
TCKs also tend to come from families that are closer than non-TCK families. They will also have a smaller likelihood of having divorced parents (divorced parents are unlikely to allow their former spouse to take their child to another country). "Because the nuclear family is the only consistent social unit through all moves, family members are psychologically thrown back on one another in a way that is not typical in geographically stable families."
Many TCKs take years to readjust to their passport countries. They often suffer a reverse culture shock upon their return, and are often perpetually homesick for their adopted country. Many third culture kids face an identity crisis: they don't know where they come from. It would be typical for a TCK to say that he is a citizen of a country, but with nothing beyond his passport to define that identification for him. Such children usually find it difficult to answer the question, "Where are you from?". Compared to their peers who have lived their entire lives in a single culture, TCKs have a globalized culture. TCKs typically have a global perspective and are flexible both socially and intellectually, as well as able to comfortably engage with those who think and act differently than they do. It is hard for TCKs to present themselves as a single cultured person, which makes it hard for others who have not had similar experiences to accept them for who they are. They know bits and pieces of at least two cultures, yet most of them have not fully experienced any one culture making them feel incomplete or left out by other children who have not lived overseas. They often build social networks among themselves and prefer to socialize with other TCKs.
Studies have found that, although TCKs learn to build relationships to all of the cultures they've experienced, they don't quite have full ownership in any. While TCKs can assimilate elements of each culture into their own life experiences, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.  The unique experiences of TCKs among different cultures and various relationships at the formative stage of their development makes their view of the world different from others.
They tend to get along with people of any culture, and develop a chameleon-like ability to become part of other cultures. Adapting to new situations quickly and with confidence is no problem for third-culture kids. Excellent communication and diplomatic skills are what many third-culture kids get out of their experience abroad. These skills help third-culture kids thrive later on, during their academic studies as well as their career.  Some TCKs may also isolate themselves within their own sub-culture, sometimes excluding native children attending their schools, or defining themselves in relation to some "other" ethnic or religious group.
Note: Third culture kid (TCK, 3CK) is a term coined in the early 1950s by American sociologist and anthr
opologist Ruth Hill Useem "to refer to the children who accompany their parents into another society". Other terms, such as trans-culture kid or Global nomad are also used by some.