Third Culture Kid For Life

The first time I heard the term “third culture kid” I was in 10th or 11th grade. By that time I was living in my 6th country and attending my 5th school – I had been living as a TCK my whole life without ever knowing there was a special name for us. I remember someone came and spoke to us during an assembly. The funny part is that I don’t remember what he/she talked about specifically but I remember hearing about third culture kids for the first time and realizing that that’s what we were. It wasn’t necessarily an epiphany or and “a-ha” moment; it was more “wow, that’s us. We’re TCKs. Pretty cool.” It probably had more of an impact on me later, but it was still a moment of profound understanding…and also of pride. I thought it was pretty awesome that we were third culture kids and that our lifestyle could be understood by others. It also explained why we could all relate to each other even if we’d lived in completely different countries. It wasn’t the locations or languages that allowed us to have this unspoken understanding; it was the shared experience of growing up across continents and oceans. Each of us knew the goodbyes, the packing and unpacking, the anxiety of a first day at school, the heartbreak of leaving a home, and that ‘home’ is so much more than a fixed location. We know all that and so much more. Those are the invisible bonds that tie us TCKs together, that allow us to connect with each no matter how different our geographical paths may have been. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s a community I’m very proud to be a part of.

As I’ve gotten older, I realized how that community continues to grow every year and how lucky I am to have grown up at a time when people were talking and writing about TCKs. I know that many older TCKs didn’t have a sense of understanding of why they felt the way they did or how their life impacted them so much. Since graduating from high school 10 years ago, I’ve seen just how much my life as a third culture kid shaped me, and how much that experience will always be part of who I am. It’s only when you leave a TCK environment that you really notice the impact of the life you led and how much it sets you apart. I’ve really become aware of that over the past few years and especially since I’ve moved back to the U.S.

It seems that being away from any TCK environment unlocked something in me – I wanted to write about my experiences, and I wanted to read stories of others like me. My Christmas list included David C. Pollack and Ruth E. Van Reken’s book Third Culture Kids – Growing Up Among Worlds, my notebook is filled with stories and memories of my life as a third culture kid, and I started this blog. Suddenly I had so much I wanted to say, so many stories I wanted to share, and such a strong desire to connect with others who understood. I learned early on that writing brought me a special kind of comfort that I didn’t find elsewhere and writing about my experiences, sharing them and communicating about them has been both cathartic and enriching.

It’s only recently that I fully realized just how pivotal that moment of enlightenment was for me, all those years ago. It opened up a world of understanding and led to a lifelong fascination for this community I’m so lucky to be a part of. Those words helped explain my life to those who hadn’t lived it and strengthened the bonds with those who had. I was proud when I found out I was a third culture kid and that pride has only grown with time. You may not choose to be a third culture kid, but you can choose to embrace the experience and the adventure. It may be difficult at times, but what you gain from it and how you grow from it makes every tough moment worth it. Being a third culture kid, and what you learn from that incredible journey, is something that will stay with you for a lifetime.