No, I’m not talking about blood types; I’m talking about TCK types. The reason it’s so difficult to explain what it is to be a TCK is that there is no single definition. There are no rules, there are hardly any guidelines. There is no determined number of countries you have to have lived in; there isn’t a required number of languages to speak; there’s no maximum or minimum limit to how many passports you should hold…I could go on.
So, how do you define a TCK, and how many types are there? Your guess is as good as mine.
Even in my family, we have different types of TCKs. Take me and my sister for example. By the time we had turned 18 and we were graduating from high school, we had lived in 6 and 7 countries each, respectively. We spoke 3 languages fluently at that time, could understand a 4th and had gone to 5 different schools in 5 different countries. We were old enough in most of the countries we lived in to have clear memories from our time there. We also know what it’s like to be the new kid at school – being in a new country, a new school, how lost and strange you feel those first days. That feeling made a huge impact on me, and whenever we had new kids at school I would always see if I could help them out, if they needed anything. I know all too well how it feels, how scary and lonely it can be starting someplace new. We’re definitely third culture kids, through and through.
My brother, on the other hand, who is about 10 years younger than me, had a very different path. By the time he was 6, he had already lived in 4 countries, but most likely only has memories from the last 2, if not just the last one. But after that 4th country, he didn’t move again. He is graduating from high school this year, and he’s the only one of us three siblings to have done ALL of his schooling in the same country, same school. He speaks 2 languages perfectly fluently, has working knowledge of a 3rd, and somewhat understands a 4th. My brother has no idea what it’s like to be the new kid. He’s always been the ‘old’ kid. He never had to learn new hallways, new classrooms, new buildings. He never had to find his way around totally alien territory, surrounded by
unfamiliar faces. Is he still a third culture kid? Or is part of being a third culture kid experiencing that feeling of total desorientation in a place that ultimately becomes home?
We immersed ourselves into the culture of every country we lived in; we embraced everything we could learn and take from it. And we certainly took away so much from every country. Traditions, decorations, food, celebrations, and something much less tangible, but all the more powerful – all those places became part of who we are today. Other TCKs I have met stay much more on the surface of the places they live. They often stay within groups and locations where they will find people from their native country, without mingling with the locals. They avoid local traditions, local stores, neighborhoods…they consider their time there as a transition before they head back home, wherever home may be. They are still third culture kids, are they not? Or does being a third culture kid mean truly experiencing every country you’ve lived in?
Who decides what a third culture kid is or what it means to be one? Can we define what makes a third culture kid?
So, what type are you?