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Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds
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The "Third Culture Kids" Book > Chapter 3: Who are "Cross-Cultural Kids"?

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message 1: by mkPLANET (last edited Jun 02, 2015 10:28AM) (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.

Jaimee Silva | 4 comments TCK is what best describes my experience. Previously to reading this chapter I didn't fully understand what CCK meant.

message 3: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments And this is the chapter where we will explore what, to me, is the growing fascination/wondering of how what we have learned about TCKs in the past now can be applied at least to some degree to others in our globalizing world. so here are the thoughts and questions to begin looking at the discussion of Cross-Cultural Kids in Chapter 3

1.While it is hugely important for us to have language with which to name our life story, there is also a potential danger to it as well. That danger is that in the end, we will define ourselves by our differences alone and begin to believe those who do not share our exact experience can ever understand us - or us them.This is what interculturalist Janet Bennet calls a sense of "terminal uniqueness."

What is exciting to me, however, is that instead of being "all alone" in our difference, we are now poised to take the TCK discussion to a new level...maybe we could call it TCK Phase 2? In this chapter we are challenged to consider how what we have learned from 50 years of studying the TCK experience might be helpful to the growing global conversation regarding all who have grown up cross-culturally for any reason.

Do you believe this is a valid possibility or is the TCK experience still "too different"? Are you comfortable with the model that the TCK experience is one way of being a CCK that might have points of connection with others who grew up cross-culturall for different reasons? If so, what are some of the things we might share with others named as CCKs in this model? What might still be distinctive to the traditional TCK experience per se?

message 4: by Julia (new)

Julia | 20 comments I have always liked the term 'terminal uniqueness' as I look at how very different my two children are - and yet they have had the same global lifestyle. I do believe like snowflakes are reported to be, we are multi-faceted and often fascinating. I feel the real truth is that we’re more alike than we are different. It seems like my kids have these points of connection with others who grew up cross-culturally and these are their close friends.

message 5: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks for the comment and the positive twist to the term of "terminal uniqueness"! It's such an irony that as humans we have the incredible need both to belong to a group and yet to never be someone else's clone so I"m glad your kids can feel their uniqueness and yet their connections to others...I appreciate your comments!

message 6: by Shary (new)

Shary | 14 comments Being a MK, TCK and CCK in that order is the way my identity expands. Yes I believe a lot of TCKs can understand CCKs yet others have to stay in a smaller group to feel comfortable. I seem to be able to go out farther but have trouble with a OCK one culture kid. Maybe because I can't go backwards in my imagination. I do see many OCKs like kids of MKs who have grown up in one culture able to adapt and quickly understand other cultures.

message 7: by Sharon (new)

Sharon | 6 comments Interestingly I have found that my connection does go beyond just TCK's to include other CCK's. Recently I started taking ballroom dancing classes. At my first party my instructor introduced me to a girl named Alex. It was an instant connection/friendship. Neither of us knew why. What we discovered is that we both had a difficult transition to Canada around the same age - me repatriating and her immigrating with her family. Through that little bit of sharing we immediately understood certain things about each other.

What I also realized while reading this chapter is that, when I was living in Mexico, I was operating on multiple cultural levels. I attended a British private school with Mexican kids as well as kids from other countries and had both British and American teachers. On top of this those attending the school were quite wealthy - fancy homes, big birthday parties, etc. Then there was the church culture - all Mexicans and all middle to lower class. Then there was the culture of the missions agency itself - again different. Crazy multi-layered life!

message 8: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks, Shary and Sharon for getting us started here. I have to smile at another acronym,! cute! probably there will be fewer and fewer truly OCKs in the future but I understand for sure that I have realized I don't know how it looks from the inside for an "OCK" because, like all others, I have a world view shaped among many cultural worlds and they have one shaped in a different place with different lenses...that doesn't mean one is better or worse, but I am not "culture free" or "value free" any more than anyone else...and I can take responsibility for trying to bridge that gap to try to understand how they see the world rather then simply wondering why they don't see mine in my way.

Since I live in Indianapolis now, when I first arrived I felt I had never met more folks who had been born and bred in one place. When I have tried to do some classes for local teachers, it has been hard for them to even define what something that is "indiana culture" is simply because they have not had the same opportunity to reflect on our own culture because we see how different it can be elsewhere.

But in using the CCK term, I am finding a much greater sense of connection or openness to others being able to understand my story a bit better too because the points of connection are more...

anyhow, let the conversation continue but i love how you see the increased multi=layers of your story, Sharon...yes, even in "simple" TCK stories, cultural complexity is present but I never thought of it in all the ways you mention so thanks for fresh thinking here!

message 9: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Nutting | 1 comments Hi Ruth!
I really appreciate that there is a term for non-TCKs that can still relate so much to them! I am a caucasian American adopting a Chinese daughter, who will live in the States (unless God calls us overseas.) Am I right to assume that she will grow up feeling like a CCK, regardless of how young she will be when she joins our family in the States?

message 10: by mkPLANET (last edited Jun 04, 2015 05:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
To answer one of your questions, Ruth, I don't think the TCK experience is "too different" from others who've had cross-cultural experiences. I can only base this opinion on personal experience, specifically my time at university. When I was in university (in Canada), the people I felt most natural around were exchange students. None of them were TCKs, and as far as I knew, none had crossed cultures as kids either. But here they were in their late teens and culturally they were fish out of water, which was the experience I identified with most.

My closest friend was a student in my program who was originally from Malaysia--not even close to the part of the world I grew up in, but that didn't matter to us. The cross-cultural characteristics we had in common were enough for both of us to feel understood by the other.

For several years I also volunteered as a mentor to exchange students, and one of those years I was lucky to be paired with a student from my host country (Germany). We hit it off really well, and spent a lot of time together. Besides the usual things I expected to have in common with him, like German foods, the TV shows we watched as kids and whatnot, we also shared the experience of adjusting to a new culture, homesickness, and maintaining long-distance relationships with loved ones.

So as I think about this, I'm somewhat surprised that I felt SO at home with and understood by people who had simply crossed cultures, even if they didn't do it during childhood or adolescence. Or would you still consider the late teens as being 'developmental years'?

- Dana

message 11: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Good thoughts all, and good questions.

Jessica, you ask a question I have no clear answer for yet. When I put this chapter in the book, at first the editors weren't so sure it belonged or where it belonged as I couldn't give all these kinds of answers yet. But my hope was that if we could start a discussion like even this right here, we could see what were commonalities adn what were differences in the types of CCKs.

For international adoptees, Jessica, (and I have two grandchildren in this category)I think there is a big "it depends" on how strongly they do and don't feel it. The thing I know is that even if your daughter grows up thinking like you (see the PolVan identity box in chapter 4) the fact that she will not appear physically like you means she will encounter those who make assumptions about who she is culturally based on appearance that is different from how she may perceive herself to be. And she will have no mirrors in you as her parents, even as mixed race children tell me that in their search for a clear sense of identity, they don't have a mirror in either parent as well. There is also a movement among some Korean adoptees to return to Korea to find more a sense of that part of time will tell but I definitely would call her a CCK not only because she has come from another culture to yours, but I would guess there will be a sense of having to sort out which one she is or, hopefully, how she can live well as a both/and. Let me know how it goes or others may jump in here...this topic is definitely in exploration time.

And Dana, thanks for your questions...I wrote Ruth Useem to let her know how we were describing the third culture in our book as her original work with her husband included articles like 'men of the third culture" and focused quite a bit on the business aspects of this cultural interchange. She wrote back a most lovely letter saying, 'I am a social scientist and I realize that ideas change and evolve over time. It's fine."

So it is for all that we are discussing. In the "old days", at least in the Western world, it was assumed that adolescence ended around the age of 18. Now I have seen many articles saying adolescence is now ending more like around 25. Well, "delayed adolescence' has been a TCK characteristic for a long why has it suddenly seemed to be more global? Well, maybe for many the whole issue of identity is becoming more complicated and dthe path to learning it isn't as smooth for anyone as it was in the "old days."

Also, we are human beings who can change and grow our entire lives. Certainly adults change as well when they move cross-culturally and internationally. I think the phrase about the developmental years in the TCK definition was there, Dave told me himself, becuase he wanted to make the point that what set this apart from the adult experience was simply that in the time when identities are being formed and things that go with that like language, cultural learning, traditions, mores, etc of a group are being learned as a child, tested as an adolescent, and then integrated and used as an adult, as adn when the cultural world around the child continully change, how does that process of identity formation happen? My mom lived for 34 years in Nigeria but she has always known she is "from" chicago where she was born and raised. On the other hand, my father, an ATCK who grew up in Persia, said to me once...(and to my shock a I had no language yet for him or me), "You know, Ruth Ellen, I have never felt like I quite fit in anywhere I am." I was shocked because he was well thought of, a leader, respected, etc so I pointed all of that out to him. but he said, "I know, but when I am in meetings between Nigerian and the expats, I can always see both sides and then both sides get mad as they just want me to see their side."

now, of course, I understand. But my question for your happy relationships with the foreign exchange students is was it easier for them to answer "were are you from?" and that they clearly felt wherever they came from as their idenitiies had developed there more solidly in one spot? If so, that might be a difference between a traditional TCK and someone negotiating different cultural worlds a bit later, but I love it that we can still connect with others on so many other levels of the cross-cultural experience as you point out, Dana.

So again, these are wonderings but it's how the TCK topic hear back from those who had lived it, to compare and contrast how it was for different sectors, and to keep on growing. And even for "traditional TCKs" fewer and fewer are in only the TCK box in this model as i was/am. so thanks for these thoughts and keep them coming everyone!

message 12: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Duff | 10 comments Ruth wrote: In the "old days", at least in the Western world, it was assumed that adolescence ended around the age of 18. Now I have seen many articles saying adolescence is now ending more like around 25. Well, "delayed adolescence' has been a TCK characteristic for a long why has it suddenly seemed to be more global? Well, maybe for many the whole issue of identity is becoming more complicated and dthe path to learning it isn't as smooth for anyone as it was in the "old days."

I have wondered about this phenomenon in the Western world, and perhaps even in the industrialized countries of the East, of the delayed adolescence. Could it be that the more exposure people have to cultures besides their own, even if it is only over the internet or via TV, that this gives them so many more OPTIONS for their identity, that it takes more years to settle on whom I am, what I believe, what I value, etc.... all the aspects of identity? And so, a sense of dependency and immaturity remains until they are ready to claim an identity? TCKs have always had exponentially more OPTIONS to choose from in their definition of whom they are. So perhaps the globalization of the world is just causing this phenomenon which we mostly saw in TCKs in previous generations, now becoming more ubiquitous? Just a thought. BTW, most of the research I've read about identity formation that seems relevant to the TCK has been done in biracial and ethnic minority identity formation processes.

message 13: by Shary (new)

Shary | 14 comments I sometimes wonder after over 70 years if I will ever get out of adolescence. I identify much better with teens, which my grand daughter (15) happens to love. I understand the struggle who am I. I am still changing many of my beliefs. I don't find this scary but just an on going process. If settling in to one identification is the goal then I don't want to grow up. :)

At the other end of adolescence is childhood. Many of us in going to boarding school became very independent at six. We lost our childhood freedom of exploring life without adult responsibilities. Did this give us an early push to find who I am? Not knowing how at six to find ourselves did that not knowing follow us over into adulthood? Children now often are pushed out of childhood at an early age in an effort to gain knowledge in our schools. Does that cause the age of adolescence to continue longer?

message 14: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Very interesting questions...I always assumed it was more about changing cultural rules and norms so it took us longer to figure things out but this is a very interesting hypothesis for those of us who went to boarding school. Not all TCKs or even MKs have that expereince so this might be a good opportunity for those of you with different experiences to chime in? Thanks, Shary....

message 15: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Lynne | 3 comments There's a recent National Public Radio (US) story about Korean adoptees and both cultural and racial identity formation.

message 16: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks, Stephanie..I will definitely listen to it...

message 17: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks to all of you who have written here or on Chapter 2 site this past week...Dana says each chapter site stays open but I look forward now to following your conversations with Julia on Chapter 4!

message 18: by mkPLANET (last edited Jun 14, 2015 05:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Ruth, I want to thank you for so generously giving us your time, and for facilitating a wonderful week of dialogue about TCKs and CCKs. It was a privilege to spend this time together exploring these concepts more deeply and in more personal ways. Thank you for a meaningful look at those two chapters of your book!

A quick note to everyone in the book club: If you'd like to take a closer look at Ruth's work, please check out her website at, pick up a copy of her other book, "Letters Never Sent," or follow her on Facebook at

Please note that while facilitators have been able to participate during the week of their chapter, they may not be able to continue in our discussions as we move on. However, we'll keep these threads open for continued conversation among the rest of the book club members. Thanks for all your participation, Everyone!

message 19: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks, Dana, for doing this. I was also thinking one thing we didn't explore for chapter 3 was how to help CCKs of all backgrounds understand some of the life skills they too receive from learning to negotiate cultural worlds from an early age on which can be very useful in our globalizing world...especially when so many human resource folks are looking for those who are at ease in various cultural worlds. So if anyone has thoughts on that, please add even while you go ahead. If not, consider for yourselves what are your gifts as well as your challenges...they are important as well! Thanks again...

message 20: by Joanna (new)

Joanna Hazlett | 2 comments I recently joined this group and have not yet this particular book, but am going too. The term CCK really resonates with me. I am looking toward to reading more on this subject.

message 21: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Welcome to the group, JOanna...Would be interested on what parts of your story resonate with the CCK concept...hope you win a copy of the book!

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