I followed a link the other day from an expat community blog site and started reading some stuff about 'Third Culture Kids' or TCK's as they are known. I had heard/read a very little on this subject previously, but not so much that it had really grabbed my attention in any way. I had associated the term with Embassy kids, or Armed Forces kids who spend their childhoods and teenage years moving from country to country every few years, but it would appear that I am incorrect, and in actual fact it seems I have two of the little blighters myself. They don't neccessarily have to have grown up in more than one other culture.
A Third Culture Kid (TCK) can be defined as "... a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background." - David C. Pollock, (an American Sociologist)
So I read this paper, 'According To My Passport, I'm Coming Home' by Kay Branaman Eakin, which primarily looks at the issues of teenagers returning to their home country. And I found it really interesting reading. From a personal point of view she discusses all the issues that I was worried about for myself in returning home but shows that it's MUCH harder for teenagers returning home.
"In the 25+ years of working with third culture kids, I don't find cultural identity confusion to be a big issue until the TCKs return to their passport country" - Libby Stephens
For example, she talks about how when living abroad it's easy to feel like you are a Scot, or an American, or an Australian in a foreign land. You're different to those round about you. You have a different view on things, different cultural rules on how to behave, you might even look different to all the locals round about you. But then when you return home, all of a sudden it turns out that you're perhaps not quite as Scottish, American, or Australian, as the natives of your own country because you have picked up some of the practices, social skills, and customs of the land you had been staying in. For teenagers who traditionally are trying to work out who the hell they are during their teenage years anyway, unless they are saving up to 'find themselves' on a year's backpacking round the globe during their gap year, it can be a tough gig. For starters a lot about being at school is about fitting in, being normal, if not being awesomely cool. Nobody wants to stick out for odd social behaviour at high school. So this can be especially hard if you go back to your passport country and don't know what all the 'norms' are. You might have experienced a completely different way of growing up, have probably done different things, and culturally, you probably won't have seen all the tv shows that your peers have.
"Brought up in another culture or several cultures, they feel ownership in none. An American TCK may find more in common with an Italian or Indian TCK than she does with a monocultural U.S. teen."
Another interesting aspect discussed is about the unresolved grief many children and teenagers feel as Third Culture Kids. It's a common fact that for many children living abroad their friends are always leaving, or else they themselves are always leaving. I talked a little bit about the nature of expat friendships in one of my earlier posts and I think I hadn't realised how hard it can be on people to have a constant stream of temporary relationships, and friends leaving every year.
"Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime."
- Isn't that something? That's not to say that the experience of a TCK is a negative one. Of course there are massive benefits to living abroad, experiencing different things, and mixing with others from a (or many) different backgrounds. I see it with Orla even. I think there are children at her school from around 50 other countries, and she benefits from learning about their experiences. She has a greater understanding than some of her UK friends about how people come from different places and speak lots of different languages. She's learned that there are different ways of doing things, different customs, and different foods, and while this is only a small amount, I firmly believe that all of this will benefit her. Even Hamish has learned that there are people from different places at his Kita. When it's someone's birthday, they sing Happy Birthday in German, English, Turkish, and sometimes the native language of the birthday boy/girl too.
Page 59 of the report is the start of the section on the issues that younger children can face. But it's a long report and well, I'm feeling exceptionally tired, so I'll let you go ahead and read it yourself. :-) If you are interested in this topic, have a look at the links below for some more information.
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid
'According To My Passport, I'm Coming Home' by Kay Branaman Eakin (a PDF exploring the issues of TCK's)
Libby Stephens - The Evolution of the TCK - Stage 1 The Cultural Sponge
Libby Stephens - The Evolution of the TCK - Stage 2 The Cultural Chameleon
Libby Stephens - The Evolution of the TCK - Stage 3 The Hidden Immigrant
'Coping Strategies for the Hidden Immigrant' - Beginningwithi.com
US Department of State - 'Third Culture Kids: Returning to their Passport Country' (offers guidance for schools on re-integrating TCK's into US schools)
'Shut Up or Go Home' - Beginningwithi.com - I liked this as the author questions at what stage you win the right to criticise the country you are living in, which I talked about (in an earlier blog post) in relation to my life in Derby where I always felt I needed to be careful as technically I am an outsider, being Scottish.