TCK(Third Culture Kid)

Dear Light Workers,

How have you been? Time flies and we are already in the month of August and some shops are starting to sell mooncakes.

I recently traveled to San Francisco (California, U.S.A.) and cannot believe the number of homeless people I saw on the streets of downtown San Francisco. Maybe I’ll write about it one day, today, I’d like to share with you my culture, one that is quite different from most of yours. But then again, maybe not, since there’s a growing number of TCKs (Third Culture Kids) in our community and globally.



Since this is an important subject for me,I just decided I will take August and September months to share with you about this unique phenomenon.


I was made in Hong Kong when she was still a British Colony and therefore English is my first language and I regarded myself more British (born by subject) than “Chinese”. Particularly when China was closed to the outside world for years and I really had not much knowledge and connection with Her whilst growing up. I left Hong Kong for good when my parents worked in Nigeria and they decided to send me to a Canadian boarding school in my most impressionable years. I guess I did not have what you would call a typical Asian upbringing. The languages used in our house-hold are English, Shanghainese (one of the Chinese dialects), Cantonese and Mandarin. My parents had me baptised when I was still a baby and I went to an all-nun Catholic school and later on,Catholic boarding school that is also managed by sisters.


Having said that my parents were very traditional, my father was the sole bread winner and my mother was the main carer for the children and the financial controller. Since I grew up in two totally different cultures, British Colony Hong Kong and Canada, and to top it all, I also grew up in a culture that was different from my parents — I have been termed a “Third Culture Kid”. The truth of the matter is, I find I have more opposing views than alike values that of my parents.



American Sociologist Dr. Ruth Hill Useem refers TCK to a child who has spent a significant part of their formative years (0-18) outside their parents’ culture. People who fit that bill have a tendency to mix and merge their birth culture with their adopted culture, creating one of their own: a third culture.


Dr. Useem depicted individuals who have undergone such an experience as having distinct standards of interpersonal behaviour, work-related norms, codes of lifestyle and perspectives,and communication. This creates a new cultural group that does not fall into their home or host culture, but rather share a culture with all other TCKs.


Despite the fact that I do not like to label or be labelled. I have to admit I do have characteristics of a “ThirdCulture Kid” — a TCK — or an Adult Third Culture Kid, to be exact. Some prefer the expression “Global Nomad,” but I prefer to call myself a “GlobalCitizen.”



There is an increasingly large group of individuals who have spent a significant portion of their formative years overseas. To many sons and daughters of business executives (expatriates), diplomats, military officials, etc., a passport is little more than a travel document, for it does not necessarily denote where “home” is. I am no exception, to me, home is where I currently reside.


Between “TCKs” there is an inexplicable link that is difficult to describe, I wouldn’t know where to begin even if I wanted to. Often I have been introduced to someone with whom I immediately bonded, only to learn later that the person had also grown up overseas. We relate to our shared “Third Culture” better than to our parents’ culture (the first) or that of our host country (the second). What is surprising for non-TCKs is that someone who grew up as an expatriate’s child in Nigeria shares the same “third culture” as a diplomat’s child who grew up in Guam.



This combination of cultures really sets apart a TCK from the children that live in the culture their own parents grew up in. We have so many different environmental aspects that play into our own development that it created a unique ethnographic group. We TCKs have our own sub-culture that separate us from the other existing cultures and that should be recognised by our parents and friends. Treating a child raised in a different culture exactly as you were raised in your culture won’t get the results you normally would, because the other culture plays a big role in our development as well. It’s important to realise this as a parent and therapist/counsellor of this demographic; and treat each sub-culture separately as each one creates a different behaviour and whole different ethnographic group.


In their ground breaking book, Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds; authors David C.Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken write that a “TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.” I could not agree with them more. I will share how being a TCK has shaped my beliefs and values next month.



If you are also a TCK/ATCk, feel free to come over to my website: www.barbarakiao.com and give me your feedback; I would love to hear from you.

Carpe Diem! Barbara’17]

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