Third-Culture Kids: Identity, Home, Discovery

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The lingering debate of nature vs. nurture was subtly addressed this weekend as Clark hosted its 2nd annual Third Culture Kid (TCK)/Global Nomads Conference. For TCKs (those who spent a large part of their developing years living outside of their parents’ culture), especially Global Nomads, identity is deeply rooted within the environment they find themselves in.

Identity and that sense of home are complex and indistinct concepts that play a huge rule in shaping a person’s future. For a TCK, it is even more multifaceted and significant, as it becomes difficult to articulate that to people. Take, for example, the question “Where are you from?” So many answers could exist. Is it where the TCK’s parents are from? Is it where they currently live? Is it the name of the country listed on his or her passport?  Is it the culture they most identify with? Or, does it have to do with their ethnicity? It is a combination of all of these – and more – that defines the TCK.

With more than 50 students and administrative figures attending from schools within the Northeast, the conference was a huge success. This type of conference is a rare event,  and is aimed to address the issues faced by TCKs in an ever-changing world.  It also celebrates the joys and advantages that come with being highly cosmopolitan.

We never realize it, but who we are as individuals depends on so many different factors. All these layers of identity are intricately integrated with our environments. This is incredibly clear when speaking with TCKs, some of who have lived in numerous locations in their lives. For them, identity is established from all of their merging cultures; they are never completely a part of just one culture but can relate to all of their adopted cultures.

Thus, the word “home” takes on an entirely different meaning. It is no longer tied to a single “where”, but numerous ones that change so easily and seamlessly. It becomes about comfort and family, as they adapt to, and incorporate bits and pieces of these new communities and customs.

As the guest speaker, Ellen Mahoney (founder and CEO of Sea Change Mentoring – a program specifically focused on TCKs) told the gathered audience, TCKs “have the skills people look for.” Their experiences, as well as their ability to understand more easily where others come from, makes them highly marketable individuals, whilst their worldly experiences make them extremely fascinating.

One of the struggles discussed, other than the differences in customs and cultures, was the effect upon their education as they moved between different schools and systems. As there is no set standard between different schooling systems and curricula, cross-cultural kids always find huge discrepancies within their schooling; either by having to catch up, or by having to revisit topics that they have already studied. Furthermore, education plays a vital part in how we shape ourselves as the majority of the friends we make come from school. Constantly making, and then leaving, friends is definitely difficult, but at the end of the day, it is amazing to see how they are able to remain close across continents (all thanks to the internet and technology).

As globalization continues to occur, and the resolute barriers that borders once placed ‘supposedly’ diminish, the rise of cross-cultural children – and adults – will only increase. As this occurs, the separation between nationality, ethnicity, religion, and culture will become more and more obvious. Then, dialogue such as this will be vital and prevalent.

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2 Comments

  1. Very insightful post. I think you are right about education that it can be so different from school to school. And as a TCK, you can spend a couple of years in one system, for example the IB system and then have to suddenly switch to the British system for example. I guess the best situation is when you can go to international schools. As they are specifically set up to be flexible and welcome expats. I was lucky enough to go to international schools in Johannesburg, Vienna, and Hamburg. It allowed me to have a standardized education.

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