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  • Writer's pictureAnne B.

Expat Parent: Do you have a TCK?

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

Are you a parent living abroad? Do you have children who accompany you or who were born in the expat country? If yes, you have a TCK. You might wonder "A what?".

A TCK - a Third Culture Kid.

The term was coined by Ruth Useem in the 1950s. She observed that children who used to live for a longer period of time away from home have something in common - a third culture. They have a unique, yet similar view to see the world, to communicate, to socialize, to live their lives.

If you raise your child in a foreign country, your child is surrounded by another culture than you grew up in. Yet, you will also introduce him or her to parts of your culture. Here is an example: If you are from America and you live in China for a while, your children will celebrate Chinese New Year and will eat with chopsticks, but you might also celebrate Christmas and eat with a fork and a knife. Your child is exposed to two cultures, which leads to a new question: what is their cultural identity?

This is where the term third in third culture kid comes in. They adapt to both cultures. You can imagine how confusing it can become to find their own cultural identity. Where do they belong?

Keep in mind, as an adult, everything you see, you interpret through your own cultural lens. But children are not interpreting, they are making memories. They accept the status quo. This is their normal. This is how things are done. This is their reality.

One significant factor is age. If your child was born in a foreign country or was very young when you arrived at the expat country and you move back before school starts, chances are that your child, after a short period of time, adjusts to the new place just fine.

But the older they get, the more challenging moving becomes, because their roots are growing and they realize and remember what is going on and what is changing. Saying good-bye to their friends gets tougher, leaving a place they call home gets harder and realizing that they are different than their peers becomes more and more obvious to themselves and this can leave them bewildered and perplexed.

Another factor is how often you move during their upbringing and the diversity of the places you will live at. I wonder if it is actually easier for third culture kids to move from one country to the next, because they will always live among other TCKs and therefore never feel like the odd one, which happens the moment you move back to the place where you were born and everyone around them expects them to fit in. (see the blogpost: Coming Home - When Repatriation Hits You)

There are of course many advantages in being a TCK:

The obvious one would be that in most cases your child will speak at least two languages fluently and without an accent. In a more globalized world, this is definitely a plus.

Most of them have no problem to adapt to new situations, since this is what they had to learn growing up.

And living and seeing various cultures is an education that no textbook can give you.

But how can you as a parent support your child during those transitions?

Being aware that your child is a third culture kid might already help especially when you move back home and everyone around them expects them to fit back in. You know where they are coming from and you can encourage them with a lot of love and a lot of grace.

Furthermore, having a professional coach by your side who assists you as a parent and if your child is old enough, your child personally, is a huge benefit. Every teenager wants to figure out who they are and being a TCK is a whole other story, but having a coach who guides you through that transition could not be more valuable.

COACHING because every TCK deserves to find his or her place in this world.



- Ijeoma Umebinyuo -


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