Third culture kids (TCK) are “children who accompany their parents into another culture (usually for a parent’s career choice.)” — Dr. Ruth Hill Useem, Sociologist, Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University, originator of the term. (Useem 1973).
A TCK is “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. 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’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.” (Pollock and Van Reken 2009)
TCKs include children whose parents work outside their home country. This might be in the military, at an embassy, in the diplomatic corp, in ministry, or for a business….
A cross-cultural kid (CCK) is “a person who is living or has lived in—or meaningfully interacted with—two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during childhood (up to age 18).” (Pollock and Van Reken 2009)
In addition to TCKs, there are also children who are CCKs without being TCKs, these might be the friends of your children at school.
This group includes:
Traditional TCKs — children who move into another culture with parents due to a parent’s career choice
Bi/multi-cultural and/or bi/multi-racial children — children born to parents from at least two cultures or races
Children of immigrants — children whose parents have made a permanent move to a new country where they were not originally citizens
Children of refugees — children whose parents are living outside their original country or place due to unchosen circumstances such as war, violence, famine, or other natural disasters
Children of minorities — children whose parents are from a racial or ethnic group which is not part of the majority race or ethnicity of the country in which they live
International adoptees — children adopted by parents from another country other than the one of that child’s birth
“Domestic” TCKs — children whose parents have moved in or among various subcultures within that child’s home country [This might also include national children attending an international school.]
Note: Children are often in more than one of these groups at the same time. For example, a traditional TCK whose parents are from two different countries; a TCK who was adopted in the host country but is expected to adjust to their new passport country on furloughs. This helps us understand the growing complexity of the issues we face in our changing world.
Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds (2009 revised edition) by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken
Cultural Challenges in Education: The Influences of Cultural Factors in School Learning edited by Cole S. Bremback and Walker H. Hill. From the article Third Cultural Factors in Educational Change by Ruth Useem.
Cross Cultural Kids Blog Ruth E. Van Reken’s blog
To learn more about TCKs, visit TCK Characteristics.
Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.