What is a Third Culture Individual?

Growing up in different a lot of countries has both its benefits and issues. Here, we explore what it means to be a third culture individual.

Growing up in a foreign country surrounded by other foreigners from all over the world was an amazing experience.

However, it had a strange effect on the cultural identities of me and my classmates. Instead of preaching that home is where the heart is, my school had a presentation on the concept of third culture individuals.

A third culture kids or TCK refers to children who grow up to be third culture individuals or TCIs. The definition is simply people who were raised in a culture other than their parents or the culture of their country of nationality.

Additionally, they also live in a different environment during a significant part of their childhood development years.

TCIs typically speak multiple languages and tend to have neutral accents rather than regional dialects.

When asked where home is, we hesitate or sigh before diving into a complicated story. These consist of the places we’ve lived and that sometimes multiple nationalities that we hold.


The Pros and Cons of Being a TCI

What makes third culture individuals so unique is that we develop a connection to all of the cultures while not having full ownership of any.

This makes it easy for us to travel, move around and make multicultural friends. It is part of our second nature to be flexible and adjust to various cultures no matter how strange they seem.

At the same time, we struggle to put down roots and have no single place to call home. We have a strange sense of patriotism for the places we’ve lived.

Then again, locals from our birth country will likely say that we act foreign and don’t quite belong. This is what makes being a TCI both a blessing and a curse.

The presentation on TCIs helped me identify myself, which made it instrumental to my childhood.

It was researchers John and Ruth Useem who coined the term “third culture kid” in the 1950s.

They used it to describe the children of American citizens working and living abroad. Today, this term is more relevant than ever with the spread of globalization.


The Psychological Effect of Being a TCI

Since the term has grown in popularity, research was done on third culture individuals. Leaving our birthplace during our developmental years before we can develop a cultural identity has a big effect on TCIs.

Many develop what is referred to as cultural homelessness, which basically means confusion over identity.

At the same time, traits such as authoritarianism are significantly lower in TCIs. Most research on this was done on children of US diplomats who moved regularly during their childhoods.

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Flagging: Many people don;t fit into usual nationalities

They turned out to be less intolerant, are less prone to stereotypes, and possess a higher level of creative intelligence as well as originality. The results of the study didn’t show any differences between male or female third culture individuals.

Growing up in this unique way made me aware that I was different. Although I embraced it, it also made me feel alone at times. It wasn’t until the presentation that I found a label for myself.

As an adult who has lived on three continents, I still struggle when asked about my ‘home.’

As globalization spreads, there will be more and more people who don’t quite seem to belong.

This is why it is so important to spread awareness about the existence of third culture individuals and kids.


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