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You are here: Third Culture Kids > TCK Profile

Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds

Review by Mark Ruch

Note: Mark and Tammie Ruch work as counselors with SIL. Mark grew up in the Philippines and attended Faith Academy, where he is now serving as family counselor. Mark and Tammie have two daughters.

Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, 3rd Edition.1

David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken and Michael V. Pollock. ISBN 978-1473657663; Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 1999, 2001, 2009, 2017.

The review below is on the 2nd edition of the book. What is new in the 3rd addition can be found at the end.

"Sometimes the third culture experience is unfairly blamed for problems it didn't generate. At other times it is viewed as a pathology for which therapy is needed and from which one must recover. It is my [David Pollock's] conviction that being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) is not a disease, something from which to recover. It is also not simply okay — it is more than okay. It is a life healthily enriched by this very TCK experience and blessed with significant opportunities for further enrichment." (Introduction)

This book is a highly distilled body of knowledge that is both anthropological and psychological in nature. Through this knowledge the authors give voice to what many TCKs have felt deep in their souls but often cannot articulate. The book is divided into three main parts. The many points made throughout it are frequently illustrated by true TCK vignettes, a powerful method of driving these points home.

Part I — Understanding the World of TCKs

Chapters 1-5 introduce us to the TCK through the story of a TCK (chapter 1), the definition of a TCK (chapter 2), why a cross-cultural childhood matters to the TCK (chapter 4), and why high mobility is an important and common theme in a TCK's life (chapter 5).  

Part II — The TCK Profile

Chapters 6 and 7 cover the many benefits and challenges of growing up as a TCK:

  • Expanded worldview vs. confused loyalties
  • Three-dimensional view of the world vs. painful view of reality
  • Cross-cultural enrichment vs. ignorance of the home (parental) culture
  • Cultural chameleon: adaptability vs. lack of true cultural balance
  • Hidden immigrants: blending in vs. defining the differences
  • Prejudice: less vs. more
  • Decisiveness: the importance of now vs. the delusion of choice
  • Relation to authority: appreciative vs. distrustful
  • Arrogance: real vs. perceived

Chapter 8 spells out the various skills and abilities most TCKs have: cross-cultural skills, observational skills, social skills, and linguistic skills.

Chapter 9 talks about the rootlessness and restlessness of TCKs and the problem with trying to define or even talk about where "home" is.

Chapter 10 describes how some of the relational patterns are uniquely different for TCKs and why that is so.

Chapter 11 delves into the developmental issues that confront TCKs, including early maturity and delayed adolescence, as well as delayed adolescent rebellion and the whole issue of having an identity in a "system."

Chapter 12 deals with unresolved grief. One of the reasons why this is such a big issue for TCKs is because of the many hidden losses that TCKs experience that may not be obvious or recognized. Dealing with these losses can then be compounded by the lack of permission to grieve, lack of time to process this grief, and by the additional non-hidden multiple and intense losses involved in leaving the field. The authors do an excellent job of delineating what these hidden and non-hidden losses frequently are. In the latter part of this chapter the authors describe the whole process of grieving as it relates to TCKs.

Part III — Maximizing the Benefits

Chapters 13-19 give good advice and suggestions as to how one can maximize the benefits of being a TCK:

  • building strong foundations for TCKs
  • dealing with transitions
  • meeting educational needs
  • managing re-entry to the "Homeland"
  • the role of sponsoring agencies.

This section concludes on the positive note that it is never too late for TCKs to deal with their issues.

The book ends with appendices that include the results of a survey on Adult TCKs, two selected writings of TCKs, as well as a great list of worldwide resources for TCKs. The final note is a bibliography of other books on TCKs.

Personal Reaction and Evaluation

I really appreciate the authors' balanced perspective on the benefits and challenges of growing up as a TCK, and how, for most of us, this is both incredibly wonderful and incredibly painful. One of the challenges we TCKs have in trying to describe our heritage and tell our own story is to do so in a way that accurately reflects both of these truths. ~ Mark Ruch

New Information in the 3rd Edition

Third Culture Kids, 3e, includes new advice for parents and others for how to support TCKs as they navigate work, relationships, social settings, and their own personal development. Specific updates include:

  • A second PolVan Cultural Identity diagram to support understanding of cultural identity
  • New models for identity formation
  • Updated explanation of unresolved grief
  • New material on 'highly mobile communities' addressing the needs of people who stay put while a community around them moves rapidly
  • Revamped Section III so readers can more easily find what is relevant to them as Adult TCKs, parents, counselors, employers, spouses, administrators, etc.
  • New "stages and needs" tool that will help families and organizations identify and meet needs
  • Greater emphasis on tools for educators as they grapple with demographic shifts in the classroom

Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial use.


1 formerly titled:The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds


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