Something on this morning’s news made me wonder how many Chinese people (race, not nationality) live outside of China. According to Wikipedia, there are more than 50 million overseas Chinese in the world, and most of them are living in Southeast Asia.
Then, I got side-tracked by the intriguing term third culture kid …
Third culture kids (TCK) are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport (where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years. The term can refer to both adults and children, as the term “kid” points more to an individual’s formative or developmental years, but for clarification, sometimes the term adult third culture kid (ATCK) is used.
My grandmother was a TCK, having migrated from China to Singapore when she was a child. My mother was a TCK growing up in Malaysia when the family left Singapore in the 50s. Is she considered an ATCK now that she lives in the US as a PR? My two Malaysian nieces are definitely TCKs currently growing up in Seattle. I, on the other hand, do not seem to fall into any of these two categories.
Now comes the interesting part, the benefits and challenges:
- Expanded worldview: TCKs have an understanding that there is more than one way to look at situations that they are exposed to or experience.
- Third-dimensional view of the world: With an increased number of hands-on experiences in multiple cultures, there is a difference in the way that the world is perceived.
- Interpersonal sensitivity: Increased exposure to a variety of perceptions and lifestyles allow TCKs to monitor their emotions, and register societal norms and cues more adeptly so as to produce higher sensitivity to other cultures and ways of life.
- Cross-cultural competence or cultural intelligence: the capacity to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures.
- TCK have been found to have higher levels of general adjustment as opposed to mono cultural children.
- Language exposure, which opens the doors to new realms including that of new cultures. TCKs, through prolonged exposure to native language use, can thus also learn to see themselves through the eyes of others.
- Confused loyalties: Third culture kids can experience a lot confusion with politics and values. Oftentimes, TCKs cannot answer the question: “Where is home?”
- Painful awareness of reality: difficulty adjusting to cultures where the only culture that is discussed or focused on is itself.
- Ignorance of home culture: TCKs are often lacking in knowledge about their home nation, culture, town, and/or family.
- Difficulties with adjusting to adult life: the mixture of influences from the various cultures that the individual has lived can create challenges in developing an identity as well as with a sense of belonging.
- American ATCKs reported significantly higher levels of prejudice than non-American ATCKs.
- There is a need for special attention of young TCK in educational settings to make sure they are supported when and if entering a new school. This would allow for an optimal learning experience for the child.
- “Walters and Auton-Cuff (2009) found that female TCKs hesitate to develop relationships and have less emotional affect as compared to non-TCKs. Furthermore, female TCKs’ identity development was delayed because of their focus on adjusting rather than creating a sense of belonging (Walters & Auton-Cuff, 2009).”