Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Third Culture Kids

What is fascinating about Third Culture Kids, is the challenge that they go through in their identity construction. By definition, a TCK is a person who
"has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. (Pollock and Van Reken, 2001:19).
While adults may experience culture shock when they move to a foreign country, their background consisting of friends, language, and traditions has already been established. They thus already have one culture appointed as the framework which can influence the development of their identity as a whole. TCKs, however, interact intimately with two or more cultures, and their identity is in this way constructed by way of differing, often opposite cultural cues.

The definition continues:
"The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background." (Pollock and Van Reken, 2001:19).
The sense of belonging is therefore not anchored in a place, but in relationships. We might understand the last part of the above definition in terms of the othering process of TCKs as a form of "multi-cultural" versus "mono-cultural" individuals.

TCKs differ from immigrants in that they are expected to return to the home country - the country of the parents. Often this is done after high school graduation and it is this phase which I find the most interesting. While the TCK would find herself explaining her differences as being related to coming from a different country, when she re-enters her country of origin she is usually met with an unexpected sensation of her home country not feeling like home after all. It is often upon re-entry that she realises that she might belong somewhere in between the home country, and the host country(ies) in which she was brought up. It is also at this point, that the label "Third Culture Kid" is most useful to the adult TCK:
What ATCKs Can Do: Name Themselves and Their Experience
For many TCKs putting a name to their past - "I grew up as a third culture kid" - opens a new perspective on life. Discovering there are legitimate reasons for their life experiences and the resulting feelings not only helps them understand themselves better, it also normalizes the experience. Some, who have spent a lifetime thinking they're alone in their differentness, discover they have lived a normal life after all - at least normal for a TCK.
(Pollock and Van Reken, 2001:271)
The need to find a label that suits oneself can thus be very liberating for a TCK, helping to overcome then the dilemma of deciding on one's home country, and thereby acknowledging and naming their Placeless Identity.

Most studies have been done on TCKs as children, however Ruth Useem did study what happened to TCKs when they became adults - i.e. ATCKs.

Past research on ATCKs indicates that although TCKs do eventually settle down in a community, "once one is a TCK, they are always a TCK" - they still have problems relating to their own ethnic group. They maintain that an international element in their lives is very important to them,
they work toward that goal by keeping international touches in their homes, welcoming opportunities to meet foreigners, and keeping informed on the places they lived abroad.(Useem, 1993)
In what ways does the Internet help ATCKs keep in touch with the international environment?


(See also the earlier post entitled "Children of Globalisation")

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