TCK: Third Culture Kid

Where am I from?

Seems like a simple answer for most, but it is a little more complicated for me.

I am half Thai and half Filipino, born in Ventura, CA but moved to Asia when I was six.  So, I am Asian American, but spent my entire childhood living in foreign countries, attending International schools and moving all over the place.  I can’t speak any single language fluently but know words in so many.  I finally repatriated back to the United States once I graduated high school which was definitely a challenge.

So where’s do I consider home?

I guess California, or maybe Thailand, or Malaysia, or… actually I don’t know?  Home for me, is in a way, the world…

The only thing that I know for sure that I can identify with is that I am a Third Culture Kid or a TCK for short.  Surprisingly, there are a lot of people who have had similar experiences growing up.  TCK is a term coined by the US sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in 1950’s, which is for children who spend their formative years in places that are not their parents’ homeland.  These are usually a result of being Expats.  In 2013 there were over 230 Million expats worldwide, from military, to teachers, and global business leaders.  This has become increasingly common especially with the onset of globalization.  Most TCK’s made their first move with their parents before the age of nine.  The average number of countries lived in by a TCK is four. We develop our identity abroad thus blending “home” cultures with the culture of the world around them.  We have relationships to all cultures, while having not full ownership in any.   We are really citizens of the world.  This has created so many new blends of cultures and innovations that make the world an incredibly diverse place.

A few years back, I remember when Buzzfeed made a post called “31 signs you’re a third culture kid”.  It lends a lot of insight into childhood as a TCK.

You know your a TCK when:

  • To everyone’s confusion, your accent changes depending on who you’re talking to.
  • You often slip foreign slang into your English by mistake, which makes you unintelligble to most people
  • You start getting birthday wishes several hours before your birthday from friends farther east than you
  • Your passport looks like it has been through hell and back
  • You have a love-hate relationship with the question “Where are you from?”
  • You run into your elementary school friends in unlikely countries at unlikely times
  • You get nervous when a form needs your permanent address
  • You are a food snob, because you have had the best and most authentic of every possible cuisine
  • You convert any price to two different currrencies before making significant purchases

These are just a few that really identify what it’s like growing up as a TCK.

Although it was a tough upbringing having to say goodbye to so many friends, making new ones all the time, and changing locations often, it has been an eye opening experience that has helped understand so many cultures.  Even though so many Asian Americans grow up here in the United States, in a way, they have very similar experiences to TCKs.  They find the challenges with assimilating to American culture, with their own “home” culture being so different, but they find a way to blend them in a way that makes sense.  That is what makes this group of minorities so unique and communicating with them so challenging.  The best way to reach this population is to understand that they are not just made up of one culture, but in fact a blend of many which is why being culturally attuned is so important.

Interested in learning more? Check out this TED talk on Navigating life as a TCK or shoot me a message and ask away!

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