Culture,  Identity,  Lifestyle

6 Signs You are a Third-Culture Kid

What is a Third-Culture Kid (TCK)?

TCKS are “people raised in a culture other other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport for a significant part of their early development years.”(Pollock & Van Recken)

We are typically children of diplomats, business people, missionaries, military members. and expats.

If you’ve never met a TCK before, imagine that your parents were working for a multi-national company and were assigned to work in a foreign country for a number of years. You would most likely receive a western education at an International School and would then adjust to living a life outside your passport country. If you do this for enough years in your childhood, you become a Third-Culture Kid. (Yay!)

Being a TCK has it’s incredible challenges and blessings.

Based on my experiences abroad, here are 6 signs that you are a Third-Culture Kid.

1. It is hard to answer where you are from

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So..where are you from?

I’m from the Philippines but I grew up in Taiwan. I received an American education all my life though.

“ you’re..ummm…Taiwanese..or…Filipino?”

Answering this questions has always been a conundrum for me. I proudly say that I am from the Philippines, but don’t know how to answer simple questions like “where are the best sites to visit in the country?” or “where are the best restaurants to check out?”

I haven’t been back home in eight years and at times, it does frustrate me that I don’t know the country that I am from. Interestingly, when I say that I grew up in Taiwan and people say “oh, so you’re Taiwanese,” it doesn’t feel right either.

For many of us, home is wherever family is.

While it might seem like we don’t have a true home, it really just means that we have many to choose from.

2. Your cultural identity is an ongoing evolution

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This likely applies to young adults and millennials who experience the difficulty of consistently moving from one country to another.

While many TCK’s (like my mom) moved around every two or three years, I spent twelve years growing up in Taiwan from the age of six to eighteen. Though it’s natural to assume that I would identity as a Taiwanese, I studied at an American International school and not a local Chinese school.

What made it more difficult is that as I tried to fit in as a local, I was constantly reminded (mostly indirectly) that I did not look like and sound like everyone else.

I was still a foreigner in a country that became home.

Once I moved to the U.S. for college, I went through another round of identity crisis. I looked and sounded like a Filipino-American, but was again reminded by the limitations of my student visa that I was not like everyone else.

For many TCKs, our cultural identity is an ever-evolving plant with deep roots spread throughout the world.

3. You crave for stability and adventure at the same time

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“It would be so exciting to move to a new city and meet new people. I would grow so much!”

“Oh wait..but then I have adjust again. New home, new grocery stores, new banks, and new people..”

It’s one of the many ironies that TCK’s experience. Because we move around so much, we end up getting used to feeling uncomfortable and foreign. What makes it difficult is that just when we feel that we are getting settled in one place, we may be on the move again.

Therefore, when we do get settled in one place, we start seeking the adrenaline of meeting new people and breathing in foreign air. When we get too much adventure, we seek a home that brings comfort and familiarity.

Personally, though I have grown to love San Diego, there is a part of me that wonders how much I would grow and learn in a new city or country.

4. You pick up pieces of each country you have lived in

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” As cliche as it sounds, it’s who you’re with that make the place.

Besides, why tie myself down to just one place?

In each city I have lived in thus far, I have picked up pieces of the culture and used it to build myself.”

One of my best friends put it best in his own piece about finding home. He reminded me that every place I have lived in has made me who I am. I use chopsticks to eat my dumplings, use a spoon and fork to eat rice (Filipino style), and now speak my mind more (like this blog) thanks to America’s entrepreneurial, independent spirit.

While young TCK’s may struggle with juggling the various aspects of their identity, it is also an advantage to know that we are braver, more open-minded, and accepting because of our experiences.

As a Third-Culture Kid, you pick up customs, phrases, and even the spirit of each country and place you have lived in.

Besides, it’s also neat that a variety of ethnic foods taste like home, right?

5. It feels like a double-edged sword

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“Why couldn’t I have just grown up in one place?”

“Why do I never feel that I fully belong?”

Being a Third-Culture Kid feels like a blessing and a curse.

Sometimes I feel so frustrated not having a home with neighbors I grew up with and not being able to see my parents and grandparents often. I get flustered when I simply cannot say I belong to one country, one group, or one place. It also does bug me that if I don’t make it in America, I’ll have to go home to my a country that I haven’t lived in since I was six years old.

Other days, I feel grateful for being able to call many places home. I realize that I have grown so much being away from family, and I feel lucky to have a thirst for adventure and growth.

I also know that if I were to move to another country, the adjustment would not be so bad.

That’s one of our greatest strengths.

6. You are grateful for the experience..eventually

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Third-Culture Kids have some of the most paradoxical characteristics.

We are open-minded, creative, adventurous, and have seen parts of the world that most of our peers only dream of seeing.

And yet, we also crave stability, comfort, and simplicity. Sometimes we need a long break in-between hikes; in-between adventures from zip code to zip code.

Sometimes we want to turn in the suitcase for keys to a home near family and friends. We want to wake up to a house with people who genuinely love us and care for us.

At the end of the day, we are immensely grateful and blessed for the experiences that life has and continues to give us. Third-Culture Kids get to experience the most heart-tugging, human emotions that teach us what is important in life. It’s not necessarily about the places we have been to, but the people who have made us who we are at each stop.

My grandfather says that after his long tenure of traveling as a United Nations diplomat, he wanted to retire and live peacefully in one home. He had seen the world and was ready to rest.

I hope I get to say the same one day. 🙂


Marjon is the Creator of Third-Culture Thoughts. A political nerd and basketball enthusiast at heart, he writes about everything related to culture and the international experience.