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Third culture kids

Third culture kids (TCK) or third culture individuals (TCI) are people who were raised in a culture other than their parents' or the culture of their country of nationality, and also live in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years.

They typically are exposed to a greater volume and variety of cultural influences than those who grow up in one particular cultural setting. The term applies to both adults and children, as the term "kid" refers to the individual's formative or developmental years. However, for clarification, sometimes the term adult third culture kid (ATCK) is used.

raising ex-pat kids There is a big difference between parenting ex-pat children and parenting at home or native country. While dealing with ex-pat children, you will have to ensure that they are getting used to the new way of life as expatriates.

Helping them to adjust to an entirely new environment should be your primary goal for the first six months, at least.

Initially, parenting ex-pat children can be a bit challenging as you may not have the support network of elders and extended family. In such a scenario, work-life balance goes for a toss, especially if you are a single parent.

Even the much-required emotional support may be missing for a non-working spouse. The partner may be busy fulfilling other responsibilities and is left with hardly any time at the end of the day.

Benefits of being Third culture kids

Expanded worldview: TCKs have an understanding that there is more than one way to look at situations that they are exposed to or experience.

This can also be a challenge however when TCKs return to a culture that is homogenous in their belief system, as an expanded worldview is perceived as offensive or useless.

Third-dimensional view of the world: With an increased number of hands-on experiences in multiple cultures, there is a difference in the way that the world is perceived.

Interpersonal sensitivity: Increased exposure to a variety of perceptions and lifestyles allow TCKs to monitor their emotions, and register societal norms and cues more adeptly so as to produce higher sensitivity to other cultures and ways of life.

Cross-cultural competence or cultural intelligence: the capacity to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures.

TCK has been found to have higher levels of general adjustment as opposed to monocultural children. Cultural adaptability is also a benefit, although may also come as a challenge that results from a lack of cultural balance.

The major benefit, however, is related to language exposure.

Challenges faced by Third cultural kids


Confused loyalties: Third culture kids can experience a lot of confusion with politics and values. This is especially the case when moving from collectivist to individualist cultures, or vice versa, as the values within each culture are different from the other.


This issue is also related to the identity crisis, on a cultural level, not being able to feel a sense of oneness with any one nationality or culture. Oftentimes, TCKs cannot answer the question: "Where is home?"

A painful awareness of reality: difficulty adjusting to cultures where the only culture that is discussed or focused on is itself.

Ignorance of home culture: TCKs are often lacking in knowledge about their home nation, culture, town, and/or family. With current technology leading to the globalization of information, this is becoming increasingly less of a challenge provided the TCKs use modern technology in their host cultures to connect to their home culture. 

Understanding a culture's sense of humor, however, is a commonly cited difficulty with the transition back to home culture. There are also general societal norms and practices that will not be known when a TCK is first re-introduced to his/her home culture but those are eventually learned.

Difficulties with adjusting to adult life: the mixture of influences from the various cultures that the individual has lived can create challenges in developing an identity as well as with a sense of belonging. Feelings of rootlessness and restlessness can make the transition to adulthood a challenging period for TCKs.

"American ATCKs reported significantly higher levels of prejudice than non-American ATCKs on the Cognitive subscale of the QDI and the Social Dominance Orientation scale (SDO)."

There is a need for special attention of young TCK in educational settings to make sure they are supported when and if entering a new school. This would allow for an optimal learning experience for the child.

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