“Third Culture Kids” or TCKs is a term coined by U.S. sociologist Ruth Hill during the 1950s to describe children who spend their years in places that are not their parent’s homeland. TCKs often develop an identity that’s rooted in multiple cultures. Due to the rise of globalization, TCKs have become more prominent in our society today. For the most part, TCKs are children of expatriate workers, but they can arise from international marriages, or attending an international school in their home country.
Take me for an example, when people ask where I am from they are usually surprised by my answer, “the Philippines”. Most people assume I am from the United States or Northeast Asia due to my physical appearance and American accent. I often have to explain to people that although my mother is South Korean and my father is Chinese, I have never lived in either of my parent’s home countries. Rather, I lived all my life in the Philippines while attending an American international school.
With so many other TCKs out there like me, here are nine things we all can relate to.
1. A simple, “Where are you from?” turns into a life story.
You have a short and long answer ready. More often then not the short answer is followed up with curious questions.
2.Your accent changes depending on location.
Whether you are aware of it or not, studies have shown that we subconsciously alter the way we talk depending on who we are talking to!
3. You’re a food snob.
From having homemade Pho at your Vietnamese friend’s house to eating local street food in Korea, you’ve had it all and nothing will ever compare to the real thing.
4. You don’t have a hometown, rather you have a “passport country”.
It’s hard to choose a hometown when you’ve lived in at least three different countries other than your passport country.
5. You have to constantly keep track of various messaging apps.
You strategically use WeChat for your Chinese friends, Kakao for your Korean friends, and Whatsapp for your American friends, etc.
6. Cultural awareness is never an issue for you.
You always remember to take off your shoes when entering an Asian household but keep them on for Western households.
7. You know how to say random words or phrases in at least five different languages.
By interacting with a diverse group of friends and living in multiple countries you are able to say “Hello!” in at least five different languages.
8. You can easily calculate time differences or convert currency in your head.
You’re an expert at doing quick math while looking at price tags when shopping.
9. You have struggled with your identity once in your life.
We’ve all been there, it’s hard being a TCK sometimes. Being rootless can give you a lot of freedom, and it can also weigh you down. But being a TCK makes you all the more special– the experiences you had, the people you’ve met, and the places you’ve lived have made you the person you are today.
I believe identity is fluid. As we grow up, within whatever country or environment, we change and adapt by absorbing the things around us. Growing up as a TCK has made me appreciate my ability to absorb different aspects of the cultures and countries where I have lived. They are integrated into my personality and into my identity. I welcome new adventures and travels.