Do you know anyone who has grown up moving from country to country? Are you that someone? People who have had a life full of changes in scenery will say many great things about it. Although seeing different countries, learning about other cultures, and meeting diverse people sounds incredible, it can leave people feeling like they do not have a home. Individuals who have grown up moving from place to place, constantly submerged in various cultures, can feel they belong everywhere and nowhere.
An unpopular term that comes to mind with this argument is third culture kids (TCK). Ruth Useem, a US sociologist, first introduced this term in the 1950s. Her research and studies focus on this term. According to tckworld.com, this term defines children who have “spent a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures while not having full ownership in any.” Ruth Van Reken and David Pollock put together this definition in 2009, which people refer to now when using the term. TCK is unlike anyone else. These kids grow up in a sea of diversity whose identities become a web of multiculturalism.
No matter how many different cultures or languages make up who they are, at their core, they feel as if they belong to all of them and none of them. There are numerous advantages to being a part of this label. Reken says, “TCKs are more likely to speak more than one language, have a broader worldview, and be more culturally aware.” The downfall is that TCK tends to feel “a sense of rootlessness and restlessness, where home is everywhere and nowhere.” Some research has even linked these consequences to anxiety and stress. Lois Bushong, an American family therapist, explains this in the same article.
The advantages outway the disadvantages. Another advantage is that TCK is very adaptive. With ease, they can “accept and understand many of the core values that drive the behavior in the culture,” as Vicky Schdeva explained in a TEDx Talk. In the video, Schdeva explains that TCK has proficient interpersonal and intercultural skills and is open-minded. Another advantage Schdeva pointed out is that TCK lives in the moment. She illustrates that since TCK are constantly moving, they understand that their time in a place is limited. Hence, living in the moment and being present is vital.
Imagine the irony of being able to relate to a vast group of people while no one can relate to you. This is a daily struggle for TCK. As they learn to adapt quickly and embrace their surroundings, but no one seems to adapt to them. They feel part of a culture but fail to find one culture that can completely represent them.
All of this emphasizes the diversity in the world. Societies everywhere try to group people and label them creating strict categorization where no overlapping is allowed. Tcks are the exceptions and the colors in a black-and-white world.
Many people are a part of this colorful lifestyle. From Freddie Mercury to Uma Thurman, both these individuals are TCK. Uma Thurman was born in Mexico but had a German father and a Swedish mother. Each individual who grows up this way has a unique story. No one story is alike, although the emotions and thoughts of TCK can be similar.
I have met many people who fit the TCK label, and I do as well. For my early education, I went to seven different schools. I have moved 12 times and have lived on two different continents. I could not be more grateful to my parents for the life they have given me. It has made me who I am and ignited a curiosity about the world and a desire to learn more about it.
Moving from place to place also made me feel like stability was a bad thing. At age 14, after living in the same country for three years, I felt like something was missing. I needed a change. I did not like staying in a different place with the same people, and I had the urge to leave and surround myself with a new environment. So, I left home and lived in Canada for a year to learn French. To this day, I am 22, and I can say that it was one of the best years of my life.
I have always loved going somewhere where no one knows me. Having a clean slate and becoming a different person with each adventure is exciting. I also find it fascinating watching how each person I meet has a different perspective on me and how they teach me new things about myself.
The love for change that I have will never stop. One thing that I have realized with age is the feeling of belonging. Many cultures are a part of me, but none can claim me. I am homeless even though I have keys to many homes. Growing up as this isolated me while including me at the same time. I was able to learn and “be a part of” many groups. But overall, it is hard to feel included when no one understands how you feel. Only people with similar experiences can understand all these complex emotions and thoughts. So, it can be harder to have meaningful connections with people.
In my personal life, I have also noticed that this is a big reason why I avoid making deep connections with people. I know where I am is only temporary, so I do not want to develop a serious relationship when I know I will eventually have to leave it. Doing this has caused some complications, but it has been worth it.
The world is a prominent place. Moving to different countries and growing up in different cultures can be astonishing. The disadvantages could not outweigh the advantages; it is not even close. Belonging everywhere and nowhere simultaneously is fun, so I encourage you to immerse yourself in different cultures and transform an ordinary life into one of a TCK.
TCK are nomads, wandering the world, adding puzzle pieces to a puzzle that can never be put into one culture, one category, or one “box.”And although this puzzle cannot be labeled into one category, it contains elements of numerous other ones, creating solidarity within differences.
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