What is a Third Culture Kid?
Let’s put it this way…David Pollock (an American sociologist and author of the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds) defines a Third Culture Kid as “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.”
In other words, a third culture kid is someone who grew up in a culture/country differing from their own. This is typically referred to children whose parents work for the Military, Government, UN, or run their own/work for businesses outside of their native country.
Third Culture Kids are a unique breed – we are different. We did not grow up in a white-picket fenced house, in the suburbs, surrounded by the same friends and neighbors for years. No. Instead, we lived in countries that didn’t speak our native language; we packed our suitcases every few years to move to the next place, we immersed ourselves into unfamiliar cultures because we had no choice.
Many of these children are brought up in various countries as their parents get reassigned living, allowing them to be exposed to different cultures at a young age. Typically, these kids go to private, English-speaking schools with other third culture kids, as well as fairly wealthy country natives. For the most part, 3CKs know more than one language, can confidently navigate through an unknown city, and are extremely street smart 😉
We are true citizens of the world.
Why it’s so hard for third culture kids to find someone to relate to?
I believe third culture kids can relate to a lot of people. We have done that our entire lives – finding common ground with others from different cultures and upbringings.
However, most people can’t relate to us. They simply don’t understand (and that’s not a bad thing).
We are from everywhere and nowhere. We do not identify with a single place, but rather many places. Most people can’t comprehend that, because it’s something they’ve never been exposed to.
When I first came to the States at 18 years old for college after 10+ years of living and traveling the world, I was in more culture shock than ever before. Coping with this transition was difficult. People would ask, “Where are you from?” (the most dreaded question for any third culture kid) and when I tried to explain, their faces typically drew a blank. I am 25 now and I’ve completely given up on telling strangers “where I’m from”…. because I already know (from years of experience) that they just won’t understand.
When I first got to the States, it was hard to be surrounded by people who already had their friends established from home, and no (or very little) familiarity with the outside world – this is where it became difficult to relate. And it still is. Third culture kids come from a very special, international upbringing…and because of it, we think differently then most. We know what’s out there, and that there is so much more in the world to be seen and experienced. It is not their fault that they don’t know the world like we do. Third Culture Kids just have to accept that and be grateful for our extraordinary upbringing.
Simply put…we are on another level. We are true citizens of the world. Embrace it.