Archives for posts with tag: Adult Third Culture Kids

Creative thought, one of the world’s most valuable commodities, is something that has started to become somewhat elusive as our generations have progressed. It’s a principal that is born of original thought, the need to invent, and the want to produce something that others will seek value in. It has led to the development of the wheel, to the creation of the keystone arch, the sundial, the plough, the lens, the camera, the story, the song, the car, the computer, and the hadron collider. It has developed our species, improving our state of living and the reasons for which we live. Creativity, as a force, is what brought us from hunting with sharpened sticks to flying through space.

Yet that word, creativity, one we use so frequently for so many things, holds a weight to Third Culture Kids that’s only outmatched by the word “culture.” Of course, if you were to look a little closer, to really examine the core concepts of both those words and the implications that each of them posses, you would find that not only are they connected, but they are almost inseparable.

Being creatures of culture, TCKs posses that natural ability to rapidly evolve their cultural standpoint based on the community that surrounds them. We have a way about us, one that does not allow for us to be considered the same as those we interact with, but instead allows us to be accepted by them. We can see what others cannot, can move in circles where others would be outcasts. We view culture not as a boundary, but as a gateway into the heart of the world.

As TCKs, we do it subconsciously, unaware that we are behaving this way but aware of our talents and our ability to meld into something new. We missed it as we grew up, took it for granted as children while we hopped from place to place, but since we have matured and grown and become the Adult Third Culture Kids we are now, we have seen how naturally these behaviours are to us by watching how impossible they are for our First Culture Kid friends.

The question that remains, however, is what power does creativity have in the hands of a TCK? Creativity is a mental state that’s not accessible by everyone. It’s a unique problem solving technique for an extremely unique type of problem. Humanity is hard-wired to only understand patterns. For example 1+1=2 because every time you take the number one and add another number one, you always end up with two. Why? Because it always happens, and it happens because that’s just the law of mathematics. Creatives, however, push the bounds of that human limitation. We accept the laws because they are there, but we believe in that off-chance that maybe, just maybe, by some freak possibility or coincidence, the next time I take one apple and add another apple to it, a third apple will spring into existence and I’ll have three apples. We know it’s foolish, we know that based on the laws of mathematics and the physical restrictions of our universe it’s impossible. But we hope for the alternative.

This constant longing for the middle ground between impossible and spectacular is a trait that we incorporate into our regularly occurring existence. There’s no denying the fact that we, as TCKs, do not have a cultural home, possess no country in which we can return to, and have no place on this planet that we truly fit into. We are trapped outside the realm of normal human interaction, completely incapable of returning to a community or culture that is truly our own. So instead, we have turned to creativity.

Through creativity, TCKs have built-up groups of people, from friends to colleagues, that are so strong and so interwoven into our lives that they have become our own little cultural home. We have selected them for their differences, for the ways in which they can help better our lives and the lives of those around them. We have selected them for their value, for their desire to improve upon a situation and the relentless need to always take that next great step. We have created a culture of people who will stop at nothing to change the world.

So when you are next asked what it means to be a TCK, answer in whichever way you believe best resolves an impossible question. But know that if you and I are ever fortunate enough to meet, and you ask that question to me, I will simply smile and say the following:

It means that one day, with the help of everyone else, one plus one will equal three.


I have witnessed time and time again throughout my Third Culture Kid upbringing that culture is a word that’s lost to far too many. As a TCK, I see it every single day, in every tiny little thing that every individual person does in every corner of the world, but for some reason I feel that I am often the only one that’s looking. People, many of whom are content being exactly where they are doing exactly what they do, never stepping out of that realm of security, are often the brick and mortar out of which a culture is born. They are constants, developing the world around them because it’s the only world they know.

Why, then, has the idea of culture become so broken and resistant to those that create it? I have been traveling lately, visiting family in the country in which I was born, and as I pass from town-to-town I keep witnessing the same strange phenomenon. As I sit in a pub and talk to complete strangers, I get called “Yank” or “Cowboy” or “American” because of an accent I learned years ago, one that still feels like a stranger on my lips. And I nod and smile and play along until the button is pushed one too many times about me being from America, and then I jokingly say “I’m actually not American. I was born here, raised everywhere, and have created a third culture.” And eyes flash and confusion spreads, and I smile knowing that it really doesn’t matter that they have no idea what I mean, because to them, the world outside of the town they’re in is so large that it’s as incomprehensible as the vastness of the Universe.

Then the questions come about where I’ve lived, which one was the nicest, and all those things we hear a thousand times over when we meet someone new. But when they are prompted in return with the simple question of “do you like to travel?” I find that more often than not, my conversation partner’s eyes will flash with hostility, he’ll transition to the defensive, and say something along the lines of “Why would I want to go anywhere but here?”

But it’s not a love for where they’re from that keeps them planted in the town of their youth. It’s not a sense of belonging or a lack of capital. It’s fear. Fear of that massive world, that endless line of possibilities. Fear of being out of their element, of having to make their way around something new and unique. It’s fear of a change from normality, a transition away from people they know and can predict. It’s fear that maybe, just maybe, there actually is something else out there worth seeing that, and were they to find it, it would fill them with frustration or anger at their inability to fully understand why it moved them so deeply.

That, to me, is what makes us so different. To a TCK, the world isn’t large. It isn’t scary or terrifying or something to fear. It’s just there, full of so many different faces, so many different cultures, all of which are viewing the one they’re a part of as if it’s the center of the universe, all of them with different stories and different loves, but all of them wanting one thing and one thing alone: to keep on living. It’s beautiful to see how much they differ, how much they are the same. It’s exciting to land in a country in which you cannot speak the language, in which just ordering a sandwich is a struggle.

The world is not something to fear. It’s something to love and embrace, to learn from and become better because of. With all those little twists and turns, those little cultural jumps or transitions, it’s something to dive head-first into and learn everything you can. To any TCK, I can think of only one reason and one reason alone why the world could possibly be considered a terrifying place:

What happens to us when we’ve seen it all?

The term Third Culture Kid (TCK) is one that has only recently begun to get a substantial amount of attention, despite its longstanding existence within the global community. It was coined in the 50’s by Ruth Hill Useem to describe those of us who were born in one country, or what I call “my parent’s passport country,” but have then proceeded to move in the formative years of our development to one or more “foreign” countries. The result of this transcontinental growth is something spectacular, something that can never be taught or learned or fully understood by anyone who hasn’t actually experienced it. The developing child takes the culture of their parent’s passport country, or their first culture, to a foreign land. In that land, they interact with thousands of individuals who exist within a completely different culture, this being the Second Culture. The result is that the child then adopts the qualities of the Second Culture into their preexisting First Culture, creating a unique cultural perspective known as the Third Culture.

The term TCK, though clearly using the word “kid,” does not limit the group to only children. Like everyone else, a TCK must one day grow up, and in doing so, they become one of the most globally aware individuals on the planet. They become an Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK), possessing all the skills and qualities of a cultural melting-pot, but with the ability to view the world and the people in it with an eye that’s shared by no one except other TCKs.

The largest problem for the TCK community has always been our ability to come together once we reach our adulthood. After the constant traveling of our youth, after the years of international schooling and constantly being surrounded by other TCKs with similar experiences, we are forced to enter into the global market, a world so full of people that finding another TCK is similar to hunting for life raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at night. We become stranded, unable to share the experiences and beliefs we once so openly discussed with the TCK community that surrounded us. We become, for lack of a better word, homeless.

I have been writing about the development of the Third Culture Kid community for some time now, discussing the ways in which TCKs of the 21st century have been handed tools that TCKs from just seven years ago never had the luxury of possessing. With the power of social media, global chat programs, email, and video messaging, those enormous ravines that once separated the TCK community have started to get a little easier to cross. But unless you are willing to hunt down the right groups, to post the right comments in the right places, or seek out your former networks from years passed, we still don’t posses an all-encompassing way of remaining connected to the people that share in the Third Culture.

Thanks to the work of the ThirdCultured team, however, there’s hope in bringing that illusive home of ours back together. TCKs, the most valuable assets to global business, finally have a tool that is being developed strictly for them. Thanks to the work of a few TCKs, a social networking site that’s exclusively accessible to Third Culture Kids is finally becoming available. So what does that mean for our community?

TCKs, who call themselves the global nomads or the homeless travelers, are finally able to come together in a way that has never been offered before. offers a social media platform in which TCKs from around the world can come together, get in contact, meet up in person or online, share in discussions about global topics, assist one another in dealing with transitioning into the ATCK community, finding work on a global level, or just sitting down for a casual conversation with someone who understands the world through the lens you see it.

The idea is simple: As TCKs we have been scattered across the world, seen so many things that no one else will ever understand except for the few TCKs that experienced what we experienced. With all of us littering the world, integrating back in with the First Culture and using everything we’ve learned to help better the world in whatever way we can, we end up saying goodbye to the community that truly understands the implications of our upbringing. ThirdCultured is the way to bring every Third Culture Kid back home. And frankly, I couldn’t be more happy to have stumbled into it.