If you need to ask ‘what is a third culture kid’ then there’s every chance you neither have one nor are one.
Third culture kids are essentially those who have spent most of their childhoods growing up in a country and culture different from their parents’ native one. Expat kids (especially long term expat children) are third culture kids and we have three of them.
What is a third culture kid? What defines them?
TCKs are often exposed to a huge variety of different cultures and languages as well as peers from all walks of life. They are often highly educated as most international schools are fee-based and offer high levels of education and the multi-cultural focus on their life often results in a worldy view when it comes to careers – often Third culture kids have no problem attending universities across the world or accepting a job in a foreign country.
When we first moved to Thailand, kids were a long way from our mind. A move out of the rat race and a better quality of life was the draw for us. Fast forward 5 years and I found myself pregnant with our first child. Fast forward 10 years and we have three kids who were all born here in Chiang Mai.
Far from friends and family
It was hard being away from our parents and only seeing our family once a year – and there were many times I found myself questioning our life choices, but in hindsight it’s the best decision we made for our family. I have no regrets whatsoever about bringing my kids up in a different country. They are multi-cultural, non-judgmental, empathetic, great in adult and kids company alike and even at ages 9,7 and 5 all three of my kids have an international view of life with friends all across the globe.
As a general rule, third culture kids are extremely adaptive to their surroundings. Many parents find themselves on short-term contracts and have to move with their job every few years. This can obviously be hard on the children, but it’s important for parents and the schools to teach them to have a healthy closure when moving and this will help with any anxiety should it arise. The internet is a wonderful tool to keep in touch with friends and you as their parents become their roots and security. As long as you are all together in your little unit, you will find happiness together.
I know my kids are all extremely close as friends often come and go, but they know they’ll have each other forever. This is a really healthy and wonderful aspect of being an expat. The ability to adapt to new surroundings with ease will carry forward into their adult life and is an essential life skill that they have learnt from an early age.
Third culture kids often find it very easy to relate to people with diverse backgrounds whether that is race, religion, beliefs, education and financial. Once again, relating back to my kids, they have had many friendships that started out with them speaking different languages. But through play, compassion and the willingness to break barriers, strong bonds have been formed. This is a skill many adults could do with learning! Being open-minded is second nature to many third culture kids.
Their global connections and identity are often very important to them as they grow older. Learning a new language often comes easier than those who have never travelled, and an international education, career and future is in no way daunting.
On the flip side however, moving from one country to another does mean leaving precious friends behind. Those who are born and raised in their native country remain rooted in the society they were born in. Childhood friends often grow up together and grandparents, cousins and aunties/uncles are an integral part of everyday life.
Third culture kids often miss out on this and birthdays, Christmases and other important occasions are often celebrated without their extended family. Summer holidays usually mean a return back to their parents’ native countries where they can build their familial bonds.
What is a third culture kid? Where is home?
We’ve also made sure our kids understand that they are from England and even though our home is in Thailand, their family lives in the UK. They love visiting England as they get to spend real quality time with grandparents, cousins and other relativities and friends. We are often a month or two in our families’ pockets – spending all day every day with them. This intense period every year ensures that they have a very strong bond with their family back in the UK and also develop a bond with the UK itself. Just because we chose not to live there doesn’t mean they won’t want to as an adult. They don’t particularly feel very British, but they are aware that they have roots there and are very proud of these roots.
Our main aim for our kids is to ensure they are in a position to go to university should they wish, and carve out a life of their choosing – wherever in the world that may be.
My initial worry about bringing kids up here in Chiang Mai was that we were in a bubble. But given the state of the world at the moment. I’ll take my bubble any time for the alternative. The world is getting smaller and staying in one place your entire life is becoming increasingly overrated.
It’s up to us as parents to ensure that they feel secure in themselves and in the family unit. If we succeed in this, we become their roots and support. They will then have the tools needed to adapt to situations thrown their way.
It is up to us to show them how lucky they are. They get to travel, experience things as kids that some never do in a lifetime and have a unique view of the world that only a rare few enjoy.
What is a third culture kid? Pros and cons
In my opinion, the pros of being a third culture kid significantly outweigh any cons. The depth of worldly experience can only be a good thing – and will never leave them. If they are secure in their family unit and have confidence instilled in them from a very young age, the anxiety and other feelings that are often present when moving countries/schools/homes will be managed and they will adapt to whatever situation is presented to them.
It is up to us to instill this confidence and to help our kids live their best life regardless of where and how we are living. In times of such drastic change as those that we are living in, what is normal anyway? And who sets the standard?
If you’re just setting out on your journey of becoming expa parents or are living a life with your third culture kids, click here for more articles on bringing kids up abroad