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What’s a Third Culture Kid?

The terms Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Cross Culture Kid (CCK) are commonly used among expats and expat coaches. I have collected some resources and definitions to clarify what I mean when I use the terms. This is a broad brush overview of the terms and their common use. Please see links at the end if you wish to dive deeper, for further reading and research into more complex meanings. I will be sharing some of my research in future posts.

Third Culture Kid - TCK

“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”

This is the most recognized definition, from Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds. David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

I think key to using this term is understanding that it’s not about the exact number of cultures the child has come in contact with. The third culture is the lifestyle lead, the experience of merging the experiences of all cultures into the child’s own identity. This lifestyle of growing up amongst different cultures is what binds TCKs together – regardless of the specifics of their contributing cultures. 

TCKs are citizens of the world, they can be bridge builders and will be key to the future acceptance of diversity and appreciation for the beauty and richness of humanity. 

Cross Culture Kids - CCK

Due to changes in mobility, our societies and cultures, more and more children are experiencing a life influenced by multiple cultures but perhaps without the aspect of mobility.   

“A Cross-Cultural Kid ( CCK) is a person who has lived in—or meaningfully interacted with—two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during developmental years.” Ruth E. Van Reken, co-author, Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, 2002

CCKs are a much broader group that includes TCKs but also others, such as children of immigrants and migrants, and international adoptees, to name but a few. 

Content about TCKs on Global Mobility Trainer

Find a collection of my writings on the TCK experience and how we can support our children through this lifestyle here.

Resources & Links to other sites

FIGT Research on the term TCKs.

Ruth E. Van Reken’s website with concise definitions and data. 

TCKid Now, resources and community for TCKs, including this funny checklist of “you know you’re a TCK if…” questions.

Lecture by fellow coach Ann Wöste on TCKs.


Books on TCKs

Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds. David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken.

Raising up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids. Lauren Wells.

Third Culture Kids, a Gift to Care for. Ulrika Ernvik

Raising Global Teens. Dr. Anisha Abraham

Raising Global Nomads. Robin Pascoe

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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