This post was proofread by Sarah Doelby and pictures were gently provided by her as well. OBRIGADO!
What are those? Third culture? How many cultures can a kid have? They are only kids, right? You only have one culture, isn’t it? Maybe two, but three? Come on…
US sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term Third Culture Kids (or TCKs), in the 1950s, for children who spend their formative years in places that are not their parents’ homeland.
“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.”
So yes, they are kids, but they have lived abroad, away from their parents’ hometown or the rest of their family circle. Thank God for technology!
Mostly, they are children of expatriate workers, but they can come from transnational marriages, or — as is increasingly all over the world — attend an international school in their home country. TCKs often develop an identity that’s rooted in people and traditions rather than places.
Being a TCK may look very “exotic” for some. In most cases, a lot of travelling is involved, learning a new language or several, a major capacity of resilience and tolerance to diversity and a wider general culture compared to children that spend most of their life without international exposure.
So, where is home for TCKs? Home is where your heart is.
I believe that in families with TCKs, parents/children connection can grow stronger and deeper. Every time a family arrives in a new environment, city or country, they begin to form their new social network. Find a tribe, a group of friends, acquaintances and be included in parties, celebrations and group events.
Having parents from different countries, make unique combinations of backgrounds and adding a third cultural ingredient, the country where you are growing, can create unimaginable mixes that result in very authentic children and future adults.
TCK´s families spend more time together, share more common experiences and usually talk more at home of the new things they are learning and new experiences they are going through. At the end, who can better understand you than the ones with the same background as you?
How we handle it at home?
I am Venezuelan, studied in Argentina, worked in Angola for several years, spent one year in Italy, another one in Madrid and since 2016 I am living in Portugal with my Portuguese husband, that also live in Angola. Our son was born in Madrid, and in less that a year lived between Portugal and Angola.
We celebrate Mothers and Parents day twice a year EACH and try to add Venezuelan music and dishes at family gatherings, we celebrate Chinese New Year (due to my husband former job), Halloween at the Porto Playgroup, Advent in December and São João in June, for example.
Experiencing different cultures opens and expands your knowledge of the world and also makes you more prone to live new experiences and open to diversity. You try new food, listen to different music, languages and sometimes makes you realise that you are more familiar with another countries way of living that your own, as it happened to me.
A Brit and a Dane, 2 kids, Portugal and Singapore
My dear friend Sarah Doelby could not help herself for writing her experience s a TCK Mom after proofreading this text. YAY for that, that means she loved it!
Take a look at their TCK experience, that summarises in the first person what this expat life with children is all about and I have nothing else to add!:
“Erika, It was interesting to read your article and really got me thinking about my little TCK’s. Both born in Singapore to a Brit and Dane and now living in Portugal. They have never lived (except for a brief three month period in Denmark) in either of their parents home countries.
When asked, Lauren will say she is Danish (even though she doesn’t currently speak the language), although I’m pretty sure Lucas thinks he’s Portuguese. Lauren has some strong memories of Singapore, helped by the copious amount of video and photo footage we have, but Lucas doesn’t remember much about that period, having spent most of his life in Portugal.
Top: The kids wearing their red and white Singapore t – shirts “Our People Our Home” for Singapore National Day in 2015 and 2016. Bottom: Lauren in Singapore celebrating Chinese New Year and Lauren decorating an Airbnb when they were traveling around Australia in 2013.
I think the fact that I have video footage of Lauren singing in both Chinese and Portuguese at different points in her life, is proof of her TCK status whilst the memory boxes in our guest room are full of mothers day and fathers day cards in at least three if not four languages (English, Danish, Chinese and Portuguese). As a family we are a fairly mixed bag and mark many of the cultural events of each place we have lived or feel rooted to. Each year we decorate the house for Chinese New Year in February and in August celebrate Singapore National Day by wearing red, eating chicken rice and watching the parade on YouTube. For each family members birthday the house is decorated with Danish flags and banners and the happy birthday song is sung in English and Danish (and then Portuguese currently 🙂 At Christmas we celebrate the Danish Christmas on the 24th and the British Christmas on the 25th and now added to the mix, at the children’s request, is an annual celebration of Portugal (on the day of the Carnation Revolution) where they have chosen to eat fresh fish for lunch and visit the beach (I can see us doing that for years to come even when we have long moved on from this country).
Each place we live (and our expat journey is very limited to compared to many) we leave a little piece of ourselves and our hearts but take away so much more. We have friends scattered around the world as our expat friends move on themselves. Both children insist on taking their shoes off on entering a house as is customary in Singapore (even if told to leave them on) whilst neither of them like potatoes (a British and Danish food staple) but could happily eat nothing but rice for weeks!!”
Lucas eating chicken rice which he chose as his birthday celebration meal in April this year, oh! and Pastel da Nata as his birthday cake (they’re his favourite and he will have them for every birthday from now on!)
Sarah, MASSIVE thank you for this BONUS testimonial!! I am so glad this post inspired you to make a deeper review on your own TCKs! You are certainly doing an amazing job keeping all those international traditions alive and adding new ones as time passes by! Lucas and Lauren and some lucky kids!
Do you have any similar experiences as a family? Are your children TCKs? Share it with me below and follow my next post soon about Top10 Musts for a TCK Family!