In the 21st century, assessing someone’s background from outward appearance isn’t enough, as hidden, rather than outwardly visible, diversity means people increasingly bring more to the table than meets the eye. Whether through travel, nationality or ethnicity, many people straddle cultures in myriad ways.
From cultural fluidity to third culture kid, expat, third culture adult, cross-cultural kid and more, the language to describe our in-between community is of utmost importance. Knowing the vocabulary creates understanding and deepens our sense of belonging and connections to others with similar experiences.
Here’s a quick overview, so you can follow along with any of our articles easily:
As described by author Ruth Van Reken in the book “Third Culture Kids,” borderlanders are citizens of one country who live close to another. Often, the norms, customs and traits of each country’s culture seeps into the other, creating a cultural experience separate from either original culture, while allowing inhabitants keen knowledge and insight into their own culture, as well as the other.
Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK)
A term coined by author Ruth Van Reken in 2002, a cross-cultural kid is a person who is living, has lived or has meaningfully interacted with two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during their first 18 years of life. This includes minoritized individuals living within a majority culture.
Adult Cross-Cultural Kid (ACCK)
An adult who grew up as a cross-cultural kid.
Cultural Fluidity/Cultural Mobility
A term coined by Culturs founder Donnyale Ambrosine to describe the hidden diversity created by people who don’t or didn’t grow up in a homogeneous cultural environment. Culturally fluid individuals may straddle nationalities, ethnicities or cultures. The fluidity created allows understanding between or among their foundational areas of meaningful experience. It also may hinder a sense of belonging to any one area.
Children whose parents are members of the home country’s political framework but are living on foreign soil.
Domestic Third Culture Kid (DTCK)
A child who moved to various regions within the same country while growing up, often having to relearn ways of being, especially as regional differences in dress, speech and action are heightened in formative years when it’s important to be accepted.
As defined by Merriam-Webster: to leave one’s native country to live elsewhere; also [sometimes]: to renounce allegiance to one’s native country
People who, for varied reasons, move to a country different from their homeland to stay permanently. Many immigrants return to their home countries to visit, though some do not.
International Business Kids
Children whose parents work with multinational corporations that take them to faraway lands. This work is often in professional fields surrounding oil, construction and pharmaceuticals.
A child whose parent (or parents) serve in any branch of the military, which causes them to move to different places within or outside of their home country every few years. Military brats often experience other cultures within the confines of a military base that possesses traits of the home country.
Children of missionaries who travel to missions, particularly religious ones, domestically or abroad.
People whose family consists of two or more ethnicities (sometimes referred to as “races”) or cultures to which the individual identifies. Even when belonging to the same ethnicity, differences in culture may exist. With ethnicity, often comes cultural norms, slang language and attitudes that can greatly differ. Many multiethnic children, though not all, have the unique opportunity to learn norms of all the ethnicities and cultures they comprise.
Nonmilitary Foreign Service Kids
Children traveling with their parents to various countries in nonmilitary government roles, diplomatic corps, civil service contracts, foreign service jobs, etc.
An internationally nomadic group not characterized by a parent’s occupation. Displaced from their homeland forcibly or by choice, often having fled for varied reasons — violence, politics, religion, environment, etc. Refugees typically do not return to their country of origin.
Third Culture Adult (TCA)
Coined in 2002 by psychotherapist Paulette Bethel to signify individuals who travel extensively and are immersed in or live in global locations after the age of 18 (after identity has been solidified).
Third Culture Kids (TCKs)
Coined by sociologist Ruth Useem in the 1950s to describe people who have spent a significant part of their developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The first culture is considered an individual’s passport culture, while the second culture consists of the culture(s) in which the individuals have lived. The third culture is a result of the person’s life experience — this is the culture in which they feel they most belong. The third culture is often where individuals feel community with others of similar experience.
Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK)
An adult who grew up as a TCK.
A person who travels expecting differences among intra-international or international cultures; however, this person is not immersed in these cultures for extended periods of time — not long enough to integrate local cultural norms as their own.