How Barack Obama and His Life as a TCK Assisted His Presidency

Official portrait of President-elect Barack Obama. Digital photograph by photographer Pete Souza, 2009. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. https://www.loc.gov/item/2010647151/

We all know the United States’ 45th president, Barack Obama. However, a lot of people are unaware of his lifestyle as a boy. He spent his early childhood moving from country to country with his mother and never fully settled down in one place.

Obama's life as a TCK
Barack Obama campaign headshot. Photo by Tyler Driscoll via Flickr.

Island hopping

As many people know, Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He spent six years here before he relocated to Indonesia with his mother who had recently remarried.

According to Ryu Spaeth in the “New Republic,” Obama enjoyed “running around with the children of servants” and practicing Indonesian culture. Although he enjoyed this time, he returned back to Hawaii at the age of 10. His mother believed he would benefit educationally from school in Hawaii. Therefore, he attended Punahou School up until graduation in 1979.

Obama and his education

Obama spent time reflecting on his childhood and discovering what being biracial and a Third Culture Kid (TCK) meant to him. His interests and passion to try and understand himself as a black man in the United States led to his educational choices and future career path.

After completing undergrad at Occidental College and Columbia University with a degree in political science, Obama went on to work as a community organizer in Chicago’s black South Side. This gave him his “first deep immersion into the African American community he had longed to both understand and belong to,” as David Mendell points out in his book “Obama: Promise to Power.”

After spending some time working this job, Obama enrolled in Harvard Law School where he excelled socially and academically. The recognition he received increased as he progressed through Harvard. Countless doors opened for him, which eventually led to his role as president of the United States.

Into the White House

Obama's life as a TCK
Famous portrait of Obama while in office. Photo via Pixels.

After furthering his education and working numerous jobs, including winning a U.S. Senate seat, Obama ran for and won the presidential election in 2008. As the Democratic candidate, his diverse background and experiences as a biracial Third Culture Kid (TCK) appealed to people from different backgrounds. His diversity helped pull in voters from underrepresented communities and in turn, he secured more votes.

Obama states he “was raised as an Indonesian child and a Hawaiian child and as a black child and as a white child, and so what [he] benefited from is a multiplicity of cultures that all fed me.”

This diverse way of life significantly impacted the success of his candidacy. In addition, it helped him tackle the measures he took as president.

The White House archives denote that once in the oval office, he “signed an executive order announcing a government-wide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce.”

From the beginning, Obama has been taking the experiences from his life as a TCK and applying them to benefiting others in a concrete way. We can see this through the efforts and actions he made as president. The aforementioned executive order is just one example of the many acts Obama put forward to try and make society more equal.

Obama and his impact

If not for his time living in Hawaii and Indonesia as a biracial man, Obama may not have been this successful. His ability to use his experiences as a way to benefit others and understand the world more clearly led to the eight successful years he spent in the White House.


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