Written by Barbara Homolka
for IWAP’s The Bridge Magazine
A few years ago, when I was first starting on my overseas odyssey, I had never heard of the term, “Third Culture Kids”.
And I guess there was no reason that I should have. I was happily ensconced in the country in which I was born and, except for a few weeks, spent my entire life.
Suddenly, I found myself and family surrounded by sights, sounds and smells that were completely foreign to us. My son was two years old. With the exception of one year in our home country, he has lived his life in three countries other than his home country. He is now ten, and according to the definition, is officially a “Third Culture Kid”.
That definition is basically a child(ren) who spend a significant amount of time is a country that is different from their parent´s passport country.
So, what does this mean? The more I was exposed to people who had chosen this lifestyle of living apart from their home country, the more I was curious about the effect that this would have on their children. How would it affect relationships with their extended families back home? What about experiencing the cultural opportunities that the home country provided? In what ways would my child be “different”? These and a thousand other questions were spinning around in my head. So, I decided to try and discover the pros and cons this kind of lifestyle would have on my child.
I decided to do my own research, so I talked with parents, students, read articles, went to workshops and listened to my own family. I will now try to summarize what I have learned into something meaningful. As with most things in life, there are positive and negative aspects of growing up in this lifestyle. I want to cover these together, not in ` “pro-con” style, because they are basically points on a continuum.
Third Culture Kids are usually very flexible and comfortable with a variety and number of interchangeable relationships. They are typically exposed to a wide range of religions, cultural backgrounds and languages. It seems to be easier for TCKs to be more tolerant, no, make that more accepting of persons different from themselves.
Family relationships are typically stronger, as families are “forced” to live in situations that may not have as many distractions as they encounter in their home country. There may be more limited access to television, culture specific sporting activities, and many other activities that may be available in their home country.
On the other hand, the distance from extended family may make it difficult for traditional contact with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, to occur. Many families have been able to resolve this by spending concentrated time with family during school holidays.
The most difficult part of relationships in the TCK world is the constant changing of the non-family relationships. It seems that friends and/or the child move in and out of each other´s lives at a sometimes alarming rate. This can cause a fear in forming friendships because it is so hard to lose them. One quote that has really impacted me is “Because it is so hard to say ‘Good-bye,´ kids sometimes don´t say ‘Hello´.” Children who move constantly sometimes find they have trouble with commitment as an adult.
FEELINGS OF HOME COUNTRY
Growing up in a country(ies) than one´s own has so much to offer. Becoming a “citizen of the world” is something that, in our increasingly “shrinking” world is something that can be beneficial in a number of ways. My feeling is that, if the adults in the United Nations could get along as well as our multinational students, peace would break out all over the world. Being a TCK can certainly cause one to look at the world in a more objective fashion.
It can also cause one to become either “patriotically detached” or “over the top nationalistic” about their home country. Because they are not experiencing the everyday interactions, many of the feelings of being a Czech are sometimes lacking. Kids don´t really know where they are from. A personal view. In each generation, there is usually a galvanising event that brings the country together. For my father´s generation, it was December 7th, 1941, the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and America joined World War II in the Pacific. For me, it was November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. For my son, it would have been 9/11/2001, but he was not in America at the time. Did it affect him differently than it would have had he been in the States. I´m guessing so, though I will never really know. Each country or culture has their defining moment or memorable times, and sometimes TCKs are not around to experience those. Does that cause them to be different from their peers in their home country? In what way?
I strongly believe that all children are born with certain temperments that help define their personality. Because of these differences, children respond differently to different situations. I have a good friend who raised both children out of their home country. As adults, one became involved with international business and travelled the world. The other settled in a small town and is quite content to never travel again. I think it is important to be sensitive to our children´s differences as we choose our paths.
SO, WHAT DO WE DO?
As there are books, articles, conferences, etc., dedicated to this subject, this article by no means contains answers to all the questions one may have with regards to the TCK. There are a number of specific issues related to this lifestyle and many have specific effects on children. Some of these may include: Developmental Issues, Unresolved Grief, Relational Patterns, Restlessness, and a number of others. The decision to embark or continue on such a journey is pretty much an individual one. After personally weighing all the effects of raising my child this way…I am still here.