‘Third Culture Kids’ seeking one identity

Third Culture KidsThere is an argument abound that despite their global background, children of expatriates struggle with their own identity, whereas children of immigrants adapt better to their host country’s culture.

A notice released on the US Department of State’s website puts the question and answer of the struggle of these “Third Culture Kids” out there by saying “who is the most recent immigrant to your school? You may be surprised to find that the answer may not be Roberto who immigrated from El Salvador nor Kamini from India, but rather Bobby or Katie who were born to United States citizens and recently moved back to the U.S.”

American officials thus mean to provide assistance to these ̔Third Culture Kids,̕ also known by the abbreviation TCKs. The aim of American officials is to help TCKs step through the potential loss of their identity.

For further clarification of what a exactly a TCK is, Ruth Van Reken, co-author of Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, says they are “children who spend a significant portion of their developmental years in a culture outside their parents’ passport culture(s).”

She admits nevertheless that “TCKs can feel rootless and detached. The great challenge for maturing Third Culture Kids is to forge a sense of personal and cultural identity from the various environments to which they  [have] been exposed.” This common ground leads them to strongly relate to each other.

Anne-Sophie Bolon from the International Herald Tribune, author of the article At home abroad, says that “between ‘Third Culture Kids’ there is an inexplicable link that is difficult to describe. Often I have been introduced to someone with whom I immediately bonded, only to learn later that the person had also grow-up overseas.”

The Internet provides a new means of staying connected. Websites such as Denizen or TCKWorld specially aim at these displaced kids. Parents can share their experiences about raising a child. TCKs can muse about going through a ‘quarter-life crises’, traveling, books…and even bare advices on situations such as leaving your parents’ home.

Carol Lin, one of the Denizen editors, describes her first year of studying in Vancouver as being particularly rough.

“It was exhausting, deflating and even discouraging to have to try extra hard just to feel like I fit in somewhere,” says Lin. “What is this foreign concept of trying just to fit in?” She answers her own question.

“Continue discussions through social media and online TCK networks,” she recommends.

Gillian Creese, director of the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia, explains that rather than geographic mobility or identity, this is also a matter of social class mobility.

“Children from certain categories of expatriates such as temporary diplomats or CEOs tend to live within a sort of affluent bubble,” says Creese. “They rarely interact with the less affluent children of the society that surrounds them.” A situation that may reflect later on in their years as grown-up adults.
“Children brought at an early stage are often eager to melt into their host country’s culture, especially if their parents experience downward class mobility after immigration” says Creese.

In which case this might give Roberto from El Salvador and Kamini from India an indisputable asset over Bobbie and Katie.