Are you a third culture kid or TCK? Or maybe your children are TCKs in the making? Or perhaps you can call yourself a third culture adult (TCA) or ATCK (Adult TCK)? Moving countries requires much more than simply packing boxesPuzzled about these terms and what the 'third culture' is anyway? These might mean coming to Spain from Britain, America or even India, then settling here and picking up something of another culture, say the Catalan way of living, if you have picked Barcelona as your base.
In presenting her book 'Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds', Ruth van Reken introduced the notion of TCKs.
She found more and more people fitted at least one or more of the following groups: 'traditional' TCK, children of bi/multicultural parents, children of immigrants, children of refugees, children of minorities, children of international adoptees or 'domestic' TCKs — children who have moved around within the same country, rather than internationally.
If you recognise yourself or your children in one or more of these groups, then you are joining an increasing number of cross-cultural kids (CCKs), as Van Reken calls them, who are a reflection of a rapidly globalising world.
The third culture
Van Reken says the third culture is the interstitial culture, the shared commonalities of those living international lifestyles. The 'third culture' is interwoven with the home culture or 'first culture', which is interwoven with the experience in the host or 'second' culture.
In other words, a TCK is a person who has spent a significant part of their developmental years outside the parents' culture or cultures. The sense of belonging is in relationships to others of similar background. However, Van Reken is also quick to stress that 'TCK' is an experience —not an identity.
The good and the bad
The upside of being a TCK or CCK might seem obvious to some: They get to see a lot of the world, they can understand that not everyone does something the same way and they can be bridge-builders among cultures and people — becoming great cross-culturalists and international negotiators.Additionally, TCKs — and their children — can often learn more than one language.
However, there are also hazards associated with this type of upbringing:
You, or a person you love, is always coming or going, you go through many repeated cycles of separation and loss rather than more traditional episodic cycles — life becomes a series of 'hellos' and 'goodbyes' and you or your children often feel 'off-balance' culturally.
Identity is a challenge
The questions often asked by TCKs are: "How and where do I truly fit in?" and "Am I 'normal'?"
There is no denying that identity is a challenge for TCKs. The question: "Where are you from?" is loaded for many 'travellers'.
They often find themselves selecting one appropriate response from the many possible responses they have learned to apply to this same question, asked in different situations and by people of different cultural backgrounds.
And even if the answer is simple, the question will usually touch a nerve.
Unresolved grief, due to the experiences of loss and gain experienced in the 'mobility cycle' cause symptoms such as anger, depression, withdrawal and rebellion.
The losses, which bring up these symptoms, are often hidden, Van Reken says, such as the loss of a 'world', status, relationships or even a dream because when you actually get back to the place you dream about your dream might dissolve.
To heal in the first place, people need to deal with these losses and allow themselves to experience and acknowledge the grief.
Van Reken says giving time for this process is essential: "Remember, feeling grief doesn't mean the experience or event is 'wrong'." After all, "you don't grieve for what you don't love".
Another challenge of a 'mobile' upbringing is the sense of 'rootlessness' that it can develop.
Van Reken says there can be an inability in the ATCK to settle down and even a tendency to physically leave situations and people as an option rather than dealing with them.
How you can help
So how can parents help 'normalise' the TCK experience? And what can ATCKs do for themselves?
Van Reken asks parents to remember that they are raising children in a new 'normal' which they need to learn about. She advises them to form dialogue groups with other parents of TCKs, read books and attend seminars and conferences.
Helping with repatriation is essential; you need to understand a TCK's sense of home and cultural roots, she says. For example, when a child or adult repatriates, they may have forgotten the 'rules' of the culture they left.
"Basically you learn the rules as a kid, but for TCKs this is not the case. Children start feeling stupid because they don't understand why they feel 'dumb' again in apparently 'normal' situations," Van Reken says.
The glass is half-full
Parents should maximise the 'gifts' of the mobility aspect.
Van Reken advises parents to remind their children they have friends all over the world, encourage them to develop a good system for keeping track of them by email or telephone and help them stay in contact by visiting when possible.
You should also take the time when going back and forth between countries to stop and explore other places. Keeping a journal is also useful to enable your children to record the many 'exotic' things in their travels.
"What is 'ordinary' is not ordinary to many others. It also helps them appreciate the vastness of what they have lived out," Van Reken says.
The bottom line is to take time on developing those things rather than concentrating on what you may not have.
She also advises ATCKs to learn to live with the paradox of a rich and multicultural experience. Remember, you don't have to reject either the past or the present to preserve the other.
As one global nomad said: "My life is like Windows. Each part is open and accessible, but I have to operate in the one that's on the screen".
Ruth E. van Reken is the co-author, with David C. Pollock:
'Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds'.
Other useful resources: Ruth van Reken
Ruth van Reken
NatashaGunn/ Editor Expatica
This handy guide from Expertise in Labour Mobility includes information on business hierarchy, negotiations, and etiquette.
A listing of organizations in the Paris area that cater primarily to Americans living in France. Updated April 2011.
Our handy guide to the British community in Paris, from cricket clubs to Scottish country dancing lessons to where to find a jar of Marmite.
Here's a short introduction to our Banking section for those living in France, from how to open a bank account to Islamic banking and investments.