Archives for posts with tag: Growing up TCK

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?


We are pioneers. The world is constantly getting smaller, and with every passing day it becomes cheaper and easier to travel from place to place without much hinderance or frustration. Europeans can now pass freely into any EU nation as though they were citizens of the country they are visiting, America has an open visa allowing many countries that are part of the EU and several others to spend up to half a year in the country just by getting online and requesting a form, and we can hop on a plane and arrive in almost any country across the planet with an easily acquired international visa. Every element of our rapidly shrinking world has pushed us towards a global-culture of cross-national-blending.

As Third Culture Kids, ones that spent the past 20+ years of our lives traveling the world and coming to the sudden realization of just how impacting our development has been, we are in the unique position to be the leaders of an era. There are hundreds of thousands of us on this Earth, TCKs scattered absolutely everywhere. Many of them are young, being developed right now as you read these words, because of the massive push for companies to be more globalized. Families are moving everywhere, taking their children with them and creating a wave of TCKs that is so massive and so powerful that the influx of upcoming TCKs is starting to look like the wave of Baby Boomers that flooded the world after the Second World War.

This wave puts every single one of us in a unique position, one that we should be extremely proud to be a part of. Being a TCK is hard. It’s complicated and confusing, it makes growing up in this world strange and almost surreal. At the same time, it’s rewarding, exciting, and beautiful. We get to see the world unlike any other culture, through a lens that doesn’t see race or creed or social structure. We see people, in their entirety, on a level that no one else can imagine. And though we may have grown and developed in a way that stole our home, our heritage, or ability to sit still, and our need to have permanent and long-lasting relationships, we were given the gift of being able to shape the world.

Our gifts make us the pioneers of this generation. Companies are pushing to globalize, to find ways to blend their products and services into locations that are completely foreign to where they’ve been operating before. To any First Culture Kid, the ability to view the details of that new culture are extremely difficult, if not impossible. To TCKs like us, it’s just a natural ability, one that we can use to guide, to give advice, to assist in development, to mix with the public, and to learn how to push a company’s public image.

But what’s really important, what really brings everything together, is our ability to help the massive influx of TCKs that are being created right now. One day, these TCKs are going to grow up and enter into the world just like us. They are going to leave their respective international schools, travel somewhere different, and lose that sense of belonging from wherever it was that they lived. They are going to be just like us, wandering the surface of the world looking for something meaningful and world-altering to do. They are going to seek meaning in using their TCK upbringing by using their cross-cultural blending to change the world.

But they don’t have to do any of it alone. Unlike us, who entered into our TCK life without the power of the internet that exists today, these TCKs can hear from people just like them about how beautiful growing up a TCK can be. And that gift of helping all those new TCKs is just one of the many things that makes our lives so beautiful. After all:

We are pioneers.