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Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds
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The "Third Culture Kids" Book > Chapter 2: Who are "Third Culture Kids"?

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message 1: by mkPLANET (last edited Jun 01, 2015 05:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Ruth Van Reken
Ruth Van Reken is a second-generation TCK, having been raised in Africa for thirteen years. She is also a mother and grandmother of TCKs. She explored her own TCK experience through journaling, which let to the publication of her book, Letters Never Sent. Ruth is a co-founder of the annual Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference. She travels internationally as a lecturer, consultant, and advocate for TCKs.

Many people have contacted her over the years, saying they don’t match the TCK definition, but relate to the typical TCK experience nonetheless. In response, Ruth coined the term “Cross-Cultural Kid” (CCK), a topic that is covered in the revised edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Hello everyone! And welcome, if you're just joining us! Ruth sent me comments and questions for this week's chapters (2 & 3), which I will post on her behalf. Here's the first part of her thoughts and questions for chapter 2, "Who Are 'Third Culture Kids'?" – Dana


Greetings, everyone,

Thanks for joining this book club and Dana, thanks for choosing this book. I look forward to having this discussion with you as we deal with foundational concepts for the discussions through the rest of the book.

Chapter 2

The very term, Third Culture Kid (TCK), seems to have been a problem to explain easily from the beginning. Properly understood, it makes sense, but when misunderstood, it creates even more confusion.

1. Before reading Chapter 2, what has been your "general idea" of what the "third culture" means?

2. Let's look carefully at the definition that Dave Pollock created in the mid 1980s.

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.

When you read this, can you separate what is a definition and what is a description of the TCK? How do you relate to these statements? Do you see anything here that describes the third culture itself, per se? Please explain.

message 3: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks for posting this, Dana. And thanks, Kilian for a great conversation the first week of this book club discussion. There were many great and insightful comments. I look forward to spending this week with you all...

Michael Pollock | 21 comments Hi Ruth et al,

What a hard question to start. :)

I have to say that my early understanding of TCK was that it included a blending of two cultures into a new one, the "third" culture. The poem, 'I am Green' influenced my thinking bc. it struck a chord when I struggled to fit into mainstream Vermont culture after living for three years in Kenya. What the Yellow+Blue=Green understanding did not explain was why I connected with friends in Vermont who were like yet unlike me. One grew up in Texas, Turkey, and Illinois as a military brat and two sisters grew up between the US and Brazil because their father taught University internationally. My parents had been missionaries. Their blue was not my blue and their yellow was not my yellow...How did we all get to be 'green'?

What we had in common WAS the third culture and while combining aspects of the cultures we had lived in was part of the experience, it was not the 3rd culture. The cross cultural interactions and lifestyle and mobility factors (maybe fluidity is even better because even if a person stayed put the community moved around them.)

I think the 'developmental years outside parent's culture' defines because of the deep impact on formation, 'relationships to other cultures' is essential and lack of ownership is a defining result.

It seems to me that how well, or not, a TCK builds relationships varies and is descriptive and I suppose the sense of ownership could be argued to be similar. I think, definitely the 'sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background' describes a potential outcome. These each seem to be descriptions of reaction to the experience that are generally but not always true of TCKs.

Hopefully that breaks the ice. Can't wait to see what else comes. ;)

message 5: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Great and helpful comment, Michael. Thanks so much. Look forward to hearing what others have to say. and yes, understanding this is important for all that is ahead. Even looking back on comments of chapter 1, you can see how much is shared in the emotional impact of this experience even when the details of why and where it happened. Thanks. I look forward to more comments on why having it happen in the developmental years have had long term impact and what that impact has been.

message 6: by Lori (new)

Lori Wibberly-dunajski | 1 comments One day I found a random posting on FB for a women's Bible study held at a church down the road and decided to go. I walked into a room full of strangers and left feeling like family. It turned out that the group consisted of an MK from Cuba, an MK from Africa and two home schooled ladies (I am thinking the home schooled could often also be TCK's.) What were the odds! To me this demonstrated that "sense of belonging in relationship to others of similar background."

message 7: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments I'm smiling! and I absolutely agree that home schoolers are often raised in another culture within a culture. Looking ahead to the next chapter on CCKs, I think they are at least "domestic TCKs"...those who can live in and among different cultural worlds even if they don't leave their own country. Thanks for the comment and observation Lori!

message 8: by Jared (last edited Jun 01, 2015 07:28PM) (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments Thank you for organizing and facilitating this discussion!

I didn’t really know about third culture kids until someone showed me this book. The TCK concept answers a lot of questions I didn’t know I had. :)

Based on Pollock’s TCK definition, why can’t TCKs take ownership of any culture? What are the barriers? Is it just the fact that they are exposed to more than one culture (e.g. in the home and in the country’s culture/society)?

I suppose the ‘third’ culture is the melding of the first two cultures the TCK is exposed to. But why is this a defining experience for the TCK so that our sense of belonging is more so with other TCKs than non-TCKs? Can there not be another identity factor that is greater (e.g. one’s religion)? Or is the TCK experience unavoidably the most significant in a child’s development? If so, is it because culture is not something we usually consciously think about but live within and see life through (e.g. a fish in water)?

What is the relationship between not staying in one place for a significant time period, even within the same culture, and developing as a TCK? Do these factors only heighten the developmental factors unique to TCKs?

If any of these questions get answered in upcoming chapters, please let me know and I can wait. :) I’m relatively patient. ;)


message 9: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Great questions, Jared. Since it is late right now, I will ponder them and get back to them in the morning and meanwhile, look forward to seeing what others may say here as well...I'll be back! Thanks for sending them...

message 10: by Shary (new)

Shary | 14 comments Ruth the first MK book I read was "Letters Never Sent" I identified immediately. I read Third Culture Kids when it first came out I think that was the first time I saw TCK. I like the definition. The third culture comes in when a person realizes they are different than both cultures. The identifying with neither the parent culture or the host culture. Also how immersed is the person in the host culture.

Immigrants' children can often be TCKs but often they intend to remain in the host country the rest of their lives. Those we consider TCKs go back and forth as children to their parents' country and the host country or even many different countries. Often they are expected to return and live in their parent's country. The isolation from the parent's country or even culture makes the child believe the present culture they are living in the only one. Their present culture includes parts of their parents culture and along with the parts of the host culture. This than is the third culture where the child is at home. Because of this the TCK has to become independent at a very young age as they negotiate through their experiences alone. Could part of the bond between TCKs be that their parents can not identify with the TCK?

message 11: by Sharon (new)

Sharon | 6 comments Wow! What amazing discussion! I have been slowly reading making my way through this book over the last 2 years - slowly because it brought to the surface some difficult areas that I am continuing to work through. This book was an eye-opening and life-changing experience for me even after 30 years back in my passport country.

I wanted to share some thoughts of one of Jared's questions:"Why can’t TCKs take ownership of any culture?"
Taking ownership of a culture means embracing and becoming everything that identifies you as that culture. It means distinguishing yourself as apart from other cultures and being _____. For a TCK this is impossible because you are living in the midst of several cultures. For me to fully embrace being Mexican would be to deny my British and Canadian heritage of my parents. However, to fully embrace Canadian culture would mean turning my back on everything I love about Mexican culture. I can't - even to this day - do either.

Ruth, you mentioned looking forward to comments on why having it happen in the developmental years have had long term impact and what that impact has been. Mine certainly did.
I left Canada at the age for 4 so I have little memory of life before arriving on the mission field in Mexico. We lived in Mexico City for the next 6 years with 1 year of furlough in the middle and trips to the US border every 6 months to renew our visas. I LOVED life in Mexico. I knew who I was there - I was beautiful, special, had lots of friends, had adventures, was a camp staff brat, missions kid, etc. Then, at age 10, grade 6, we came back to Canada for a year of furlough. No problem. Canada was strange and I didn't know much - bands, TV shows, boys, etc. - but I could make it for a year - I could survive this experience. Halfway through the year my parents informed us that we would not be returning to Mexico - ever. My entire world fell apart. Everything I knew myself as in Mexico wasn't true here. In Canada I was ugly, plain, weird, nobody. And nobody understood because, according to what everyone else saw and knew, I was just another Canadian kid. At an age where everyone is just starting to understand themselves as individuals I found myself completely reinventing myself in order to survive.
It was at that time that I threw myself into survival mode - or what I know call "white-knuckling my way through life". And I have lived the last 30 years this way up until about 5 years go. Only now, at the age of 41, am I beginning to process my experiences as a child and rediscover who the real Sharon is. It's been an interesting experience watching/feeling myself "grow-up" emotionally and psychologically at an adult age.
I've often wondered if and/or how would my experience of returning to Canada have been different if it had been at a later age - say after high school graduation. I was often very jealous of the few other MK's that I knew who returned when they were much older.

message 12: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Wow! Thanks to all of you for these remarks...Let me go back and address each letter above in turn.

Jared, I think Sharon answered marvelously the question of why we can't always take full ownership in any one culture. I do want to make the statement that not every single TCK will perfectly fit every statement but for many of us, the idea of "becoming just one" is hard as it means somehow we have to deny the other part of ourselves. I did, in fact, try during high school to be "fully American" and never told anyone I had grown up in Africa during that time, but that meant I also denied some of the great realities of my life experiences.

For your question about relating to shared experience...again, the third culture (TC) is not simply a mixing of the cultures we have known but a way of life that involved interacting with various cultural worlds as we move back and forth between them. For the TCK it happens because of geographical moves. In the next chapter, we will look at your question about how others might also share this.

What was interesting to me was to see a paper someone (whose name I will have to look up) wrote on how the very term "culture" is being redefined in our globalizing era and moving from strictly defined by ethnicity or race or nationality as has traditionally happened to a culture of shared experience. In her paper she used the TCK experience as a model of that. But certainly other groups with a shared experience that transcends nationality, race, ethnicity, such as religion, are definitely places of deep connection as well. For all of us, we need to remember that being a TCK is part of our experience, but it is one part. It is not my ultimate identiity for who I am includes so many things like personality, gifting, other experiences, and so on. I tell current TCKs that this is a foundational experience which has shaped us and it can't be taken away for it is in those deep places but it is a solid place to build on with the other things and experiences we encounter as we continue through life. In doing that, we can embrace all of who we are, our personal uniquesness as well as our shared experiences and it's great!

Shary, Thanks for your comments too. It is interesting that you bring up immigrant children for you are correct that traditionally immigrants are expected to stay and become part of the new culture into which they have moved. In fact, "expected repatriation" was one of the defining differences between an immigrant and TCK experience originally. As we will see in chapter 3, however, I have come to realize that part of the new happenings in today's world is that immigrants often go back and forth to visit their original country in ways that didn't happen before and many experience the "hidden immigrant" syndrome so typical of a TCK's reentry to passport culture time. So that is one of the ways we can begin to see how our TCK experience actually starts to inform other ways people are living cross-culturally in today's world.

And Sharon, thanks for your personal and poignant comments. is really really significant that you left Mexico expecting to return and never did, at least as a child. Have you been able to go back now and in some way say the goodbyes you never had a chance to say as a child? I think often parents don't fully understand how attached we are to the places we feel so incredibly "at home" in, as you say, Sharon. Like you, I felt so happy and accepted and "normal" in Nigeria as a child and then so, yes, ugly (never heard anyone say that before but I related the minute I read what you wrote!)and out of place during my eighth grade year in the US. My reaction was to decide to "be American" in high school, yet i carried this secret within that I was somehow faking it a bit and if they knew who I really was they might not like me.

But you are also right on target to wonder about those who were able to stay in the land of their childhood sensse of home or at least in the international community through high school even. I have this sense that even through reentry may still be an issue, by the age of 17 or 18 at least they have grown in a more solid sense of their identity of growing up internationally...that within that context having more opportunity to develop personal gifts and understand their basic personality as the world of the "third culture" and all it entails has stayed steady. But this is sort of a guess and I'd love to hear from those who did stay longer how that impacted their sense of development and identity too. And I am so glad, Sharon, y ou are beginning to rediscover the fuller you..I was 39 when I wrote what became Letters Never Sent in my attempt to look at the bigger picture and it changed so much for me.

Thanks everyone for these great comments and discussion. Keep it going! ruth

message 13: by Jared (last edited Jun 02, 2015 09:56AM) (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments Thank you to those continuing the conversation and those responding to my questions. It makes sense that it is not a simple merging of two cultures or a mixing of the two, but a third way of accessing and interacting with culture that develops from the TCK experience.

I too came back when I was in the middle of my childhood development, and, when back, moved around every 2-3 years on average before attending high school. I definitely didn’t have the concepts or language to talk about what was going on developmentally. I seem to have taken the opposite approach from those who tried to fully adopt/become part of one specific culture. I just didn’t care and became an island unto myself—but this was also due in part to the frequency of moving around. I didn’t take this position because I saw it as rejecting one culture or another. (But I can understand that.) I was just who I was, which was different based on my experiences. If I always felt like an outsider, even in the host culture, I didn’t see the point of trying to achieve the impossible. But I also didn’t have the tools and skills to build bridges with the people in a culture I would never be a part of. Also, having come back to my parent’s culture at a younger age made me feel that I didn’t have a lot in common with many other TCKs since I wasn’t terribly hung up on my host culture. I was too young to build that strong bond even though I still look back on it fondly.

Just some of my ramblings about my experiences, for what it’s worth. :)

message 14: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Good points and again, the uniqueness of each specific experience. What you describe as simply "opting out" perhaps of even trying to be part of the world around you (no matter where it is and if I am interpreting what you are saying correctly) is another way of coping. I see 3 common responses in cultural transitions..that some become chameleons, like i did, but then we lose a piece of ourselves that can be very important as we just try to fit in to whatever is there. Others are screamers, letting people know they are different before others tell them so and basically saying "i don't want to be part of you"and they think they are going on being "themselves" but the truth is they can be setting up an 'anti=identity'...not really know who they are, simply who they are not. Or others become "wall flowers"...there, but not particularly engaging with what is going on...more a loner on the outskirts of what is happening. And this person doesn't always engage then enough to know who he or she really is or how their giftings and personality can add to the mix there and/or how they can receive joy from being part of something new around them.

All of these behaviors are protective and can be helpful as we make our transitions, but if they persist for a lifetime, they do keep us from living out our own uniqueness within the fuller context of whatever world is around us...

But in another way, for all of us, perhaps part of our reality is that we can indeed enjoy each community we are part of even if we know that we aren't ONLY that one per se...and some do go on to identify in the end with one or another community more than others...and it is all "rule" about how it is "supposed to be." so I hope that you have found ways to feel part of the communities you are in even while accepting you can be "other" too. One TCK quoted in the book said "My life is like windows. I know all of the windows are open and I have access to them, but I have to operate in the one on the screen at the moment." I hope that is the positive experience you are having as your life is growing out of the cross-cultural mobility of your past! Thanks so much for engaging in this discussion. I really appreciate your insights.

message 15: by Sharon (new)

Sharon | 6 comments In answer to your question Ruth, no I have never been back to Mexico, but have always wanted to and know that I need to. I actually planned to go back for my 40th year, but then quit my teaching job, starting working for a missions agency, and went back to school so the $$ just isn't there anymore. Still on my radar though. I haven't given up on the idea - and already know what places are a MUST SEE when I do go back.

On a related point, I am so glad to hear that many missions agencies actually plan into the financial structure for their missionaries enough $ for their kids to return back to the field at least once after graduation. And that there are such things as "re-entry" retreats or conferences. Unfortunately, most efforts are only geared towards MK who leave after high school - very little for those who return earlier (at least here in Canada) but it's a place to start.

message 16: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Your insights are right in terms of the reentry seminars themselves. I am wondering if any non-mission TCKs reading this know of reentry programs for the other sectors? I beleive in some places a particular mission agency might have reentry days for family at their headquarters and might include some program for the kids whatever age they are at, but not sure...does anyone know of programs for helping the whole family with reentry, no matter the age of kids? I think corporate is just now beginning to look more at reentry time. I know the military have some programs where they work with both the returning military person and the family in separate programs before they meet so try to prepare them for the realities of this transition and foreign service also has family programs. any comments on these?

message 17: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments and p.s. Sharon, yes, I hope you can go back soon for your 'journey of clarification"

message 18: by Kilian (new)

Kilian Kröll | 12 comments The original Pollockian definition of TCKs is so rich. One aspect that really blew my mind when I came across it at age 30 was the phrase about having grown up "outside the parents' culture". We have three different nationalities (and last names) in my patchwork nuclear family, but I always assumed we were in the same boat, rang the same door bell with three names. I assumed we occupied the same cultures. However, the TCK definition allowed me to understand how my identity was formed so differently from that of my parents, stepparent a and even siblings. There was a reason why I felt like a unicorn in my family. Add to that my identifying as gay -- another "culture" the rest of my family didn't occupy -- and the misunderstandings were paramount. Realizing that my upbringing and my "culture" were significantly different from those of my parents allowed me to develop compassion for their viewpoints and the misunderstandings we had over the years. It also gave me language to use to describe to them how my view of the world developed, that these are valid, and that others -- including many of my friends -- share these experiences. In addition, we got to find commonality around the theme of growing up "outside the parents' culture" because my parents, too, experienced their upbringings so differently from their own parents. This didn't make them TCKs, but having different concepts of the world than our parents is one of the things my parents and I have in common. :)

message 19: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks, Kilian, for your insights...and again, the reality that some of these concepts transcend the typical TCK experience such as you describe with your parents being raised in a different way from their own parents. I suppose this has happened for many historically as traditional cultures change, but the whole point of Fiddler on the Roof (I think) is that in today's world cultures are changing so quickly that the usual time of re-adjustment over years in a slower paced world no longer exist so more and more folks, offiical TCKs or not, are likely growing up "outside the Parents' culture"..thanks for what you added and the good job of moderating you did last week.

message 20: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments AND NEXT QUESTION for chapter 2...see what you think after all the above discussion and before we proceed to chapter 3 tomorrow....

Several years ago I met a sociologist with several Ph.D's who listened to me talk about TCKs and asked, "Are you saying that no matter where the person comes from (as in nationality, race, ethnicity, etc) and where they lived out this TCK experience, there is something they share with one another?" I thought for a moment and said, "I guess maybe we are." And he said, "If you can prove that, you will change the face of sociology."

Do you agree or disagree that this "sense of belonging" we have been discussing can really transcend traditional ways of defining culture and belonging no matter where someone begins or lives out their TCK experience?

If you agree that you share this sense of connection to others of similar experience, can you name some aspect of yourself that you find difficult to explain to those who have grown up in a more rooted childhood but seems instantly understandable by someone who has also lived a cross-cultural, highly mobile lifestyle as a child?

If you disagree or might have a more qualified response to that statement of feeling your sense of belonging is to others of shared experience, please explain as well.

What shall we tell the professor?!

message 21: by Deanne (new)

Deanne | 21 comments Like Dave Pollock said, the “third culture” develops as we build relationships to the different cultures represented around us. But how we relate to those various cultures depends so much on personality, experiences, awareness, length and intensity of exposure, parental choices and influence, etc. Some kids spent most of their growing up years in the host country living in expatriate circles while others were more immersed in the host culture. So, the resulting “third culture” varies a lot from TCK to TCK.

When I finished highschool and transitioned back to the U.S. to attend Bible School and begin my adult life, it was an eye-opening experience for me to realize that there were a lot of other MK’s who had grown up very differently from me. I spent my teen years in a tribal village, speaking the language, immersed in the culture. I had “gone native” so to speak. And now I was meeting other MK’s who had never learned the national language of their host country or even had a close national friend or been out of the city. Their lives had revolved around the MK school with Western social activities and sports; all things I didn’t relate to. I had done school by correspondence, and being a visual learner and fast reader, that generally meant I spent the week before the plane came doing lessons and the rest of the time spent on studies was very casual and intermittant. I never had a prom, I didn’t play sports, was never in band. But panning for gold, winnowing rice, bathing and doing laundry at the river, walking jungle trails, helping friends in the rice-fields, butchering wild pigs, learning tribal dancing and intricate beadwork, picking wild greens for dinner, river travel, and only going out to civilization a couple of times a year … that was my life.

So what is it that we TCK’s have in common? I think it’s the processes and patterns that come with growing up in the “third culture” lifestyle that provide the commonality which allows most TCK's to so readily identify with each other: the experience of mobility – both of traveling significant distances and of moving between significantly different worlds/cultures, the acceptance of other “norms” that aren't part of the dominant culture you live in, the awareness of cross-cultural dynamics, the appreciation of trying and enjoying (or not) new things, the emotions experienced through all the goodbyes and transitions. Those are just some things that come to mind.

message 22: by Deanne (new)

Deanne | 21 comments I should have added that those TCK processes and patterns are things that are hard to explain and that people who grew up very rooted in a more mono-cultural setting can hardly comprehend. So finding another person who "gets" you, without you needing to explain, is what I think draws TCK's together.

message 23: by Laia (new)

Laia | 1 comments I think that what TCKs shares, rather than the "sense of belonging" is the "lack of belonging", something that is difficult to understand for (traditional) sociologists too used to link identities and cultures to spaces and passports.

message 24: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Wow...two great comments...thanks, Deanne, for spelling out once more and in new ways how the details of our lives can be radically different but the experience of moving between cultural worlds and the effects of mobility are a constant despite the differing details...and Laia, i love your inversion of this "sense of belonging" in terms of how it relates to where we are expected to belong.
do you have any sense of belonging when with fellow TCKs in the sense of not having to explain yourself there or is the "lack of belonging" a constant even in that community? For some TCKs, for various reasons, if they feel their details are too distinctive, I have heard some say they don't feel like "real TCKs" so even there feel out of cultural balance and belonging..thanks to all for a continued great discussion here.

message 25: by Jared (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments I'd probably raise my hand if I were asked if I don't feel like a "real TCK" even though I am one and deal with some of the issues TCKs deal with.

message 26: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks for your that because of the age in which you had your overseas experience and reentry? But since you moved around (as I read what you wrote above) quite a bit once you came home, if you move into the next chapter, you for sure are also a "domestic TCK" with high mobility in the passport country, which is often at least potentially between more subtle shades of cultural differences from region to region. We will be talking about "cultural complexity" in the next chapter and seems to me you are in at least two of the CCK circles coming up...TCK and domestic TCK? either way, your insights are great and you are surely a welcome and insightful participant to this discussion. Thanks!

message 27: by Dee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dee Miller (takecourage) | 32 comments Sharon, Your experience of not being able to go back home to Mexico really struck a chord for me. Our children were in high school and college when we announced that we would not be able to go back to Malawi. It was like a funeral, with our son suddenly wailing like I've only heard at funerals. Our daughter, the college student, grieved long and hard at this unexpected announcement. What made it harder, I think, is that it was not our decision. Having now heard from many other grieving TCK's, I believe there's something else involved. Even though it may be possible to eventually return for a visit, families usually can't pull this off together. For our daughter, it was knowing that we had also lost the identity that she used to define who she was. I remember her saying that she was no longer an MK. Fortunately, a former missionary at college, a man she really respected, told her this was not true. She would always be able to claim that identity even though we could not. MK's (and other TCK's) aren't "former MK's," no matter what happens. How a person incorporates that identity as a part of a much larger and colorful spectrum is an individual matter, though. Our son has had no desire to reconnect with most of his old friends on the mission field. He is extremely involved in international ties, same as his sister, however. She goes to every reunion possible and has many MK's in her Facebook circles along with a lot of others, by contrast. It's all about choices, as I see it, rather than being locked into boxes.

message 28: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks for sharing this very poignant story, Sharon. I don't know the circumstances of you not being able to go back but when organizations make this decision for a family after they have left without properly saying goodbye as they didn't know it was goodbye, I always wish they would at least give them that one last journey back...even if maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part! Thanks for sharing the different ways they relate to it all now as well.

message 29: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Lynne | 3 comments I feel like a "real TCK," but I feel like a member of some of the minority groups among TCKs, those whose backgrounds are not reflected in the anecdotes most commonly told or the lists, such as "you know you are a TCK when...."

I grew up (pre-high school years) having close friendships with 3 other TCKs, and I seldom saw two of them, but I knew I had a kinship with them I did not have with my French friends. I became acquainted with the TCK term and concept early, in my teens (this was the 80s), thanks to Dave Pollock's tireless travel and speaking schedule. He stopped at my boarding school. My sense of belonging was firmly with TCKs at that point, in my teens, and remained so in college until I realized I didn't belong. The experiences of the TCKs I was now mingling with (in college) were too foreign to me, and I seemed to be the only one for whom they were foreign. (The truth is, I had been around a few TCKs in boarding school whose stories would have fit in very well with the college TCK group. I hadn't been paying attention to the "minority" populations within my own boarding school, and we really didn't talk about home while at boarding school, so I knew little of their experiences.)

I have slowly accepted letting go of the TCK label as my identity...and yet.... I have made a home for myself here in the US, but I am too aware of the work it has taken and the unease I still feel about my place in this American space for it to be home the way the city of my origin/my birth (in France) is, in my memory: that world that just was, that I was born into and presented with.

I don't know how to speak of my TCK experience. Back then, as a kid, I would have said: I eat, sleep, go to school. Looking back, I would say: I ate, slept, went to school. Worse than "where is home" is "tell me about your life in _______." I do not know what to tell. It was the world as I knew it. I lost it via a plane ride. It is my worst loss to date, even though I lost my marriage a year ago and my health two years ago.

I don't feel I belong, but I feel a "sense" of belonging with other TCKs. It is something less than true belonging, but I don't feel this sense anywhere else.

I will always love the TCK community, but we are all oh so different.

message 30: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Lynne | 3 comments Regarding one of the original questions, what I see in the definition and description of TCKs above that corresponds to the "third culture" is that a culture is something held in common by people and something that in turn holds the people together so they form a community. And culture is not something fabricated, not wholly anyway: it is handed down, received.

In the definition/description, our third culture is simply that we have "similar backgrounds." These similar backgrounds come from the fact that we have grown up among worlds, outside our parents' culture or cultures. It is the experience that is similar, but only in that we exist and develop as children in the spaces between the widely recognized cultures. Beyond that, our experiences are often not so similar, and that is where I got hung up. In "relationship with" the TCK community, I find a sense of belonging. It is not absolute belonging, it is less than identity, it is intuitively grasped (a sometimes vague sense), it is relative, negotiated in the ups and downs of relationship with a group of others, and I still find it vital. Go figure.

With my geographical-community friends, i.e., local friends, insights into what makes them tick are hard-earned and are arrived at after long, patient waiting. I actively look for the bridge that can connect me to them. I see them more fully now than I did, but I still find them strange and baffling (foreign) at times.

My TCK friends are the ones I let onto my Facebook page. I can be opinionated, be transparent, fall apart, or be quirky. When we disagree, it hurts and disappoints and I react more emotionally. When I feel excluded, the isolation is greater. But things I find interesting or funny because of my childhood, I know others will too. And when I was in distress and needed some kind words, my Facebook TCK friends pulled through. Their words of comfort and love were deposited in long strings of comments, and they reaffirmed the ties we had because of our pasts. They shared their own stories privately with me, shared phone numbers and urged me to call. I desperately needed those connections that I doubted were still there, but they were.

I know better who I am now, in mid-life, and I can relate to a wider variety of people than I could as a young TCK. As I move more and more among monoculturals, the TCK community at large alienates yet comforts me, raises hopes and annoys in turn, bores me yet reels me in repeatedly, reviving my fascination. Being a TCK is not my identity, but it is an identity, and the hold the community has on me despite my sometimes bad attitude or frustration proves it is an enduring and important one. The third culture is my original culture; the others are grafted on.

message 31: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Fascinating posts, Stephanie. Thanks for again reminding us of the great diversity among us in the details and also how we respond.Is part of your not quite feeling like a TCK in some part because growing up in Europe didn't include some of the types of stories those who grew up in places like Africa or Asia might have had? And I appreciate your expresssion of your both/and/all of the above feelings towards the TCK topic and community. I think these are very normal in all communities/familes/nations and help give us space to be "real" with each other. Thanks for all your thoughts.

message 32: by Shary (new)

Shary | 14 comments The comfort in a group of TCKs is the not having to explain so many things. It doesn't matter the age of the TCK. I was a nanny for a two year old and then his Dad's company moved them to Asia. They were there until he was is fourth grade. When they moved back I remember his eyes lighting up when a made a TCK kind of statement. His mother said you understand him. I am in my 70s and yet find much in common with all TCKs I have met regardless of age. Could it have to do with our many different experiences that our imaginations are such that our different experiences don't matter, and don't need explaining when we talk about them. Yet when communicating with a non TCK because of their lack of different experiences we feel in order to identity ourselves we have to give long explanations that we often can not put into words.

Does the TCK from Asia have a close bond with the TCK from US? I have contact with TCK from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe and the bond is there but what about TCKs whose passport is from Asia, Africa, or South America. I have not had the privilege of know TCKs from these continents.

message 33: by Jared (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments Ruth wrote: "Thanks for your that because of the age in which you had your overseas experience and reentry? But since you moved around (as I read what you wrote above) quite a bit once you came hom..."

It may very well be to a large extent the combination of my age and then my post-re-entry experiences. I think you are right. I most likely fall in both the TCK and domestic TCK groups. I’m taking an intensive class this week, but hope to catch up on the readings for this group by the weekend. Thanks for the dialogue!

message 34: by Dee (last edited Jun 03, 2015 07:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dee Miller (takecourage) | 32 comments Ruth, as a matter of clarification, I think you may have confused my post with Sharon's. I was responding to her story and used her name as the first word of my posting.

You raise a very good point, though, that I wanted to follow up on. When an organization gives no choice about a family's return, decisions are often made in a "safe" place for the organization--while the family is on furlough and away from people who might otherwise give support. The intent is a brutal attempt to silence whistle-blowers. We see this in government organizations, of course. It's very common with mission boards. There's an added blow because it's all done "in the name of Jesus!" With the equalizing force of the Web, it's not as easy for organizations to succeed today at silencing folks. At least, they have to be a lot more creative.

Even if it's not a whistle-blowing situation, the parents are often seen as trouble-makers to some extent. There's no way they are going to facilitate a return, giving the "trouble-makers" a chance to reconnect and "cause more trouble," though it is certainly a terrific idea. All of this just adds to the layers of grief for a family.

Please allow me to openly refresh your memory a bit since it's been a quarter of a century of much water under both our bridges since we last connected. I am the author of How Little We Knew (1993). It's a memoir about our whistle-blowing and forced "resignation" in a case as massive as Penn State over a sexual predator-colleague.

Our family's story is just one example of how complicated stories superimposed on already complicated situations multiplies the grief. Every journey is unique. Yet each also extends the opportunities for shared insights.

While I'm the mother of two remarkable TCK's who are passing along the benefits of the international experience to their own children, I'm also here to learn and share because of my work with MK's whose families were often caught in such complicated webs. Or torn apart because the children no longer share the values and religious beliefs of their parents, partly because of the trauma, partly because of the healthy individuation process that parents may not have welcomed. That's another topic for another day!

message 35: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks, Dee, for the "problem" i have here is I see no last names so even if I know you, i might not know it here...I appreciate your remarks a lot and will get back later as I have an "errandy" day ahead with a few timed commitments...thanks again,

message 36: by Dee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dee Miller (takecourage) | 32 comments I fully understand, Ruth. Really no "problem" at all here--only an opportunity. Thrilled to be reconnecting in this venue.

message 37: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Shigo | 19 comments I think the TCK experience for me has been mostly one of feeling alienated. I am always a stranger, everywhere. I think that my connection to other TCKs is mostly tied in with how well they understand that sense of not belonging anywhere.

I remember sitting in a cafe in Budapest with my closest Hungarian friend and suddenly she said, "Quick, change places with me. A girl I knew since second grade just walked in and I don't want her to recognize me." I remember thinking how odd it must be to see someone you knew as a child walk into the restaurant.

Here in Kansas, I am in constant contact with people who have grown up in the same town, in the same house, with the same friends, all their lives. I did not know there were people who have never been east of the Mississippi River or west of the Rockies still populating the Midwest. When they treat me, as a newcomer, like someone who is culturally naive and clueless because I have never seen an episode of the Simpsons, it is almost beyond my ability to be gracious as the visitor here. I think that is one of the most defining parts of my existence. I am always the one who has to adapt to the others, the one who has to be polite no matter how much my mind is screaming, "This is just wrong."

One other idea that seems to me to fit here in our conversation. Because I have always been a good student, and because mostly the only thing I have liked about myself was my mind, the place where I probably feel most at home is in a school. Whether I am the student or the teacher, I feel I know who I am here. This is probably why when I realized we must return to the US because of my husband's health, I chose to return to the university. Even though it has been learning a new culture and even a new, academic language, I am most at home with myself here.

message 38: by Jared (last edited Jun 03, 2015 11:47AM) (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments Cynthia wrote: "I think the TCK experience for me has been mostly one of feeling alienated. I am always a stranger, everywhere. I think that my connection to other TCKs is mostly tied in with how well they underst..."

Wow, Cynthia. A lot of this hits on the very same themes in my mind with my life and experiences. I can't imagine being in one place for more than 10 years let alone having elementary school friends (or younger) I grew up with. When I stayed to myself, I also focused on academics since that is what I was good at and had control over.

message 39: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Duff | 10 comments I like Killian's comment that when he realized his parents' cultures were different from his own TCK culture, it allowed him to have compassion on his parents for not understanding his POV. I saw a powerful example of this while staffing an MK reentry seminar. A young woman's eyes got big as she exclaimed, "I just realized that my Dad and all my siblings are all TCKs, but my mom is mono-Cultural - the only one in my family. I need to ask her forgiveness for being critical of her for having trouble being flexible like the rest of us."

message 40: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Duff | 10 comments Sociologists posit that identity formation is built beginning at birth with several foundational bricks. The first is gender. That brick is fairly straight forward for most people regardless of whether they are growing up among worlds or not. The second brick is ethnicity. This is not straight forward for many TCKs. For example, I went to high school with an MK who proudly wore a bracelet that signified that he had been initiated into an Asian tribe, even though on the outside he looked Caucasian. With what ethnicity does he identify? The 3rd brick is culture which we've already discussed can be an ambiguous construct for the TCK. After these foundational bricks are laid a host of person-specific experiences round out an individual's sense of identity. TCKs deal with the ambiguities they face with bricks 2and3 by identifying with others who also face such ambiguities in their identity formation - other TCKs.

message 41: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Hi, again...sorry I didn't get back sooner, Dee, as my "errandy day" turned into two. I am also happy to reconnect and appreciate your comments. I know your leaving was traumatic and so the likelihood of a paid return unlikely and I am sorry for that as it does increase the pain. But I have also met many who had unexpected endings for all sorts of reasons...war in the land they left, sickness, simple reassignement not for negative reasons but the employee's skill sets were needed somewhere else, military kids whose parents were redeployed, etc so I was thinking more in terms of how some of these unexpected endings might end in a better way for the family, even if not the desire for the organization to particularly silence someone as you experienced. So thanks for the reminder as well of the many degrees of loss that can come in such times as you or others have known.

And Jared, always appreciate your comments here. They have been good and helpful. And Cindy, I love your pictures of the bricks and layers in identity formation and how that relates...very insightful and to me, very fresh and a lot to mull on here...thanks...

message 42: by Gill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gill | 31 comments I only stumbled on the phrase and world of TCK's this year. I am now 53 and I spent the first five years of my life in malaysia, returning to the uk at age 5. The question posed is complex. But i just wanted to share that the part of the definition "A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture" was enough for me, the rest was the icing on the cake. These few words were enough to encapsulate and describe what I had been trying to put a finger on for decades.

And Sharon I so totally identify with what you shared. The sense of belonging, the sense of home, connectedness and self. We too returned in a negative way with my father not getting his contract renewed. Although I only recently discovered that my parents told my sister and I we were returning because we had to go to school in the UK. We were already in school in malaysia and loving it so I really couldn't understand and somehow it made things worse that it was "my fault" we were returning.

The dislocation, loss of everything I knew, that was me - friends. school. almahs, climate, culture, lifestyle, routines ... i knew nothing different. i didn't understand different countries. i didn't understand full stop. The repatriation was awful. Suburban London was an unforgiving place and the children hostile and my parents dislocated. my mother tells me I cried for a year straight.

Like you Sharon this has been a lifetime of difficultly and emotional pain. Of unresolved grief. I hope things are a little better these days and there is more understanding.

And why does connecting with other TCKs help? Well its the shared experience, the nuancing of the emotional responses, the insights ... being seen and understood. What more could a child or adult want.

message 43: by Gill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gill | 31 comments Dee wrote: "Sharon, Your experience of not being able to go back home to Mexico really struck a chord for me. Our children were in high school and college when we announced that we would not be able to go back..."

Sharon i so identified, I've posted below. thank for sharing this. gill

message 44: by Gill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gill | 31 comments Cindy wrote: "I like Killian's comment that when he realized his parents' cultures were different from his own TCK culture, it allowed him to have compassion on his parents for not understanding his POV. I saw ..."

I also read the Art of Coming Home by Craig Sorti. This too gave me compassion for my parents. Theres a great bit in there where he talks about the parent struggling emotionally and that the kids might get clingy too !!

message 45: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks, Gill, for adding to our conversation. significant as well in your discussion is you spent the first five years of your life in Malaysia before returning to the UK at age 5. Many parents assure me that their children are not "real" TCKs because they did the overseas stint in these younger years and the kids "didn't really understand". But your heart and mind were already forming in this other place, as you show. My husband was in China from 2-4 with no conscious memories of it and no special hankering to go back, but when we did go to China together a few years ago, something in him transformed and he could not take enough pictures or whatever it was...I thought "he knows this place in his heart even if not in his mind." Thanks for your sharing. I trust that finding a name for your story even this late in the game will be transformative for you...and you can process the very real losses of being taken away from a place you loved that was home with no chance to say goodbye. Have you been able to go back to Malaysia?

message 46: by Gill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gill | 31 comments Hi ruth ... my parents used to say to me "you were too young to remember" and recently I've realised how painful and confusing this denial of my reality was. not only did i feel awful but i was being told i didn't and had no reason too. when i first read the tck stuff i had internalised this so much i realised i thought i didn't belong here either, so that i didn't belong in any world. but now I'm allowing myself to own it. this feels so good i could cry with relief. i have moved over 50 times, have no permanent home, and constantly get itchy and have to leave. and I've recently realised this is not about travel, but about home, trying to get home.

i made one trip back about twenty years ago but i made a real hash of it hoboing around, drinking and partying and i disappeared into a terrible depression,

this year i returned again, better prepared and equipped. and it was the most wonderful experience. unbelievably healing. i "knew" the smell, the climate, the temperature, the way things were laid out, words, food and many things i don't think i can describe. i felt my heart open and my body relax .... :-)

message 47: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments wow...I literally have goose bumps reading what you write, Gill. I am so glad you have been able to own the reality that 5 of your most formative years being spent away from "home' (as others defined it) planted these sights and smells, and even sound of the language, firmly in your soul. How glad I am that you could go back this second time and receive the gifts of your past rather than (it sounds like?) still trying to deny the losses as you did the first time by "hoboing around"...but 50 moves?! whew! that is a LOT! almost one a year? I met one TCK who finally realized she could give herself permission to stay...but above all, may you find that inside sense of home wherever your geography takes you.

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Wow, Gill, the way you talk about your transformation and experience of going back is beautiful. And Ruth, the way you put it about your husband's return to China, that he knows the place in his heart if not in his mind... that's breathtaking. Thank you both for sharing that!

message 49: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments and thanks for developing this forum!

message 50: by Sharon (new)

Sharon | 6 comments Gill wrote: "I only stumbled on the phrase and world of TCK's this year. I am now 53 and I spent the first five years of my life in malaysia, returning to the uk at age 5. The question posed is complex. But i j..."

Gill, not that I want anyone else's repatriation to be as difficult as mine has been/is I was encouraged to read your story. To know there are others who are still struggling decades later to cope with the trauma - the loss, the change.

It's interesting that your mom said you cried yourself to sleep that first year - I'm pretty sure I did too. I say "pretty sure" because no one else in my family was aware of it happening but I remember crying myself to sleep frequently, and in my memory it was for a year, but it may not have been that long.

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