Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids
Cheering for the United States at a Ski Race in Garmisch, Germany
Third Culture Kids

Cheering for the United States at a Ski Race in Garmisch, Germany

Recently I came across an expression “Third Culture Kids” (TCK) and found it very relevant to our life situation. After digging deeper, I was excited to see that there is a book devoted to this phenomena: “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds”, by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. The German version of the book can be found here.

What is a Third Culture Kid? According to the authors, “a third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” As an example, our daughter, who is now five years old, was born in the United States and lived there until she was two. We mostly spoke Russian to her but she understands English as well. After that we spent almost a year in Moscow, and then moved to Austria, where we now lived for almost two years. She can now speak fluent German and a local Tyrolean dialect, watches cartoons in English, and speaks Russian to us and her grandparents.

Why “third” culture? According to Wikipedia, the first culture refers to the culture of the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the culture in which the family currently resides, and the third culture refers to the consolidation of these two cultures. Although I didn’t entirely spend my developmental years outside of my parents’ culture (I moved to the United Stated when I was 18 years old), I can also relate to many aspects of the Third Culture Kid concept. Moreover, I developed as an adult and learned everything I know about life in the United States, thus, “outside of my parents’ culture”.

In addition, I found a very funny post titled “31 signs that you are a Third Culture Kid” on Buzzfeed (see the full post here). I twisted it around and made Maia’s 13 Third Culture Kids symptoms:

  1. You can curse convincingly in at least five different languages.
  2. To everyone’s confusion, your accent changes depending on who you’re talking to.
  3. You’re really good at calculating time differences, because you have to do it every time you call your parents.
  4. You start getting birthday wishes several hours before your birthday, from your friends farther east than you.
  5. Your passport looks like it’s been through hell and back.
  6. You have a love-hate relationship with the question “Where are you from?”
  7. And you definitely know your way around jet-lag recovery.
  8. And your circle of best friends is as politically, racially, and religiously diverse as the United Nations.
  9. You get nervous whenever a form needs you to enter a “permanent address.”
  10. You’re a food snob because you’ve sampled the best and most authentic of every possible cuisine.
  11. Now you feel incredibly lucky to have loved ones and memories scattered all over the globe.
  12. You know better than anyone else that “home” isn’t a place, it’s the people in it.
  13. And you can’t wait to see where your life adventure takes you next.

There are some characteristics that are common to the majority of Third Culture Kids. They better understand other cultures, have eaten different types of food, speak more than one language fluently, and have friends in many places. Hopefully, our daughter will grow up reap all those benefits!

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