Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs)
When Third Culture Kids grow up, they are called "adult Third Culture Kids." For instance, the current U.S. President Obama is an adult Third Culture Kid.
The term is often used interchangeably with Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and/or adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs). Norma McCaig, who coined the term in 1984, defines a global nomad as "a person of any age or nationality who has lived a significant part of his or her developmental years in one or more countries outside his or her passport country because of a parent's occupation." In the essay, I use the term TCKs and ATCKs as opposed to Global Nomads, since I find quite a few people use the term Global Nomads colloquially to refer to any expatriates who move from one country to another, even though their global mobility started in adulthood. My husband, for instance, would fall under the latter loose category of Global Nomads; despite his highly mobile international lifestyle once in adulthood, I find that his identity is firmly rooted in Japan.
If you’re a third culture kid yourself, someone who grew up in a culture different than their own, I highly advise you to read the book by David Pollock and Ruth van Reken. It opened my eyes and made me feel a lot less alone.
Most of my close friends are third culture kids too, and we’ve experienced very similar things. We make friends easily, but have learned to say goodbye to many of them. Expats get relocated frequently, so we’d have friends for a while and then they would leave. Every year new kids would come, and others would move away.
You live, you learn, you adjust.
I did promise my new post would be more upbeat.
This topic is one I figured was pretty obvious if you’ve read a couple of my posts, but not everyone knows what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. Up until a few years ago, I had no clue I was one myself.
So let’s go back to a few years ago when I was browsing for new books online and came across one that sparked my interest immediately;
The annual Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) Charity Bazaar was held on Saturday, November 26th, 2011 from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Co-authors Ulrike Gemmer and Kathryn Tonges hired a table to promote and sell Slurping Soup to third culture kid families.
A third-culture kid realizes that there is a wide world around them, one rich with ethnic foods, unique languages, multiple ways of doing things, and different ways of seeing things. That appreciation helps them develop deep and lasting friendships with people from all over the world, but most closely with those who have had similar childhood experiences. Things like race and ethnicity are not an issue for them; they just don’t see it. Steve, a team-leader who has served in Mozambique for many years, mentions that his son is more likely to say, “This friend is great at rugby, and this friend likes to eat hamburgers,” than to reveal that these two friends are of two completely different nationalities.
Human Sciences TOK Real Life Situation: Me being a TCK (third culture kid) and a CCK (cross cultural kid).
Knowledge Claim: Perception varies based on you cultural background.
Third Culture Kids (TCKs)
Pollock and Van Reken, the co-authors of the groundbreaking book, "Third Culture Kids - Growing up Among Worlds," developed the following definition: "A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her 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." The book also explains that the term doesn't refer to the children who have been raised in what is often called the "Third World." Instead, "Third Culture" was first used by two social scientists, Ruth Hill Useem and John Useem, during the 1950s to refer to the shared lifestyle of the expatriate community as an interstitial culture, as opposed to the first culture, their home culture, and the second culture, their host culture, respectively.
Concurrently, I am grateful to have a place where I can go back and call "my home country" as I put an end to my global nomadic lifestyle which can be restless and exhausting. Now in my mid-40s, I reach the point where I want to "live/settle locally and work globally." Furthermore, despite various issues that the country faces and the challenges that I must accept as an ATCK in my own culture, I love Japan and I miss my people.Thanks to IT advancement, even in Japan, both my son and I can continue to stay in touch with our friends scattered all over the world. Having been fortunate enough to be a part of the amazing TCKs/ATCKs community, it's about time for my son to immerse himself into his own culture, and for me to start making a home where my son can always count on coming back and feeling at home.
*1 I call myself "an ATCK in a broader sense," because two out of my three living abroad experiences before college happened not because of my parents' job, but because of my own decision to study abroad during my high school years: one year in Australia and another year in the U.S. *2 The first edition of the book is published as "The Third Culture Kid Experience" by Intercultural Press in 1999. The revised edition, "Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds" is published in 2009. The book is the most comprehensive book on the topic that I know as of now and a great read for TCKs/ATCKs. The revised edition of the book is also available in Japanese.
*3 For further discussion of Kaigai/Kikoku-Shijyo, you can refer to Appendix B by Prof. Momo Kano Podolosky, "Comparing Third Culture Kids and Kaigai/Kikoku-Shijyos" in the revised version of "Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds" which is published in 2009.*4 According to the book by Pollock and Van Reken, Norma McCain and David Pollock began using the term, "hidden immigrants" in the mid-1980s to describe the experience of TCKs returning to their passport culture.
In this essay, I explore the realities that my son, a Third Culture Kid, might face as he goes back to his home country. First, I introduce the definition of the terms followed by my son's profile as a Third Culture Kid. Next, I write about our decision on repatriation and speculate on my son's immediate transition, common challenges for Third Culture Kids in a longer adjustment process as well as my role as a Third Culture Kid's parent. I conclude the article by sharing my sentiments on our repatriation as a parent of a Third Culture Kid and an adult Third Culture Kid in my mid-40s.
Although I have my own adjustment anxiety, my pivotal concerns rest on my son. Could we make the repatriation further enrich his path to adulthood? How can I assure that my son retains his positive attributes as a Third Culture Kid while fostering his sense of who he is and adequacy as Japanese citizen at the same time? I anticipate it will be a challenge, as I, an adult Third Culture Kid, struggled with these issues in the past.