The Study Abroad VS TCK Travel Experience

Life unfolds before us in small bits and pieces.

Our lives become more defined depending on the environment, the people, the economic status and many more variables that are around us. One area that can have a large impact on an individual in both positive and negative ways is travel. Travel is seen by many as one of the most valuable ways a person can relax, recharge, or define who they are through learning a new language, mentality, culture and more.


So how does the type of travel impact an individual? Is there a difference between a study abroad experience compared to a Third Culture Kid (TCK) experience? We decided to send out a few surveys to start thinking about the answers to these questions.

First, let’s define what a study abroad experience is compared to a TCK travel experience.

According to Top Universities, a study abroad trip usually consists of the student, aged 15-24, who decides where to travel abroad and for how long in order to earn credits for their schooling. Students may travel alone and end up in a sister school with individuals from all over the world; or they may travel with students from their current university. The length of stay typically ranges anywhere from a few weeks long to 1 year long.

According to Pollock and Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, a TCK has spent a significant part of his/her developmental years (18 and under) outside the parents’ culture. They moved one or more times between countries, depending on the parents’ position, and they do not have a say on when or where they go. Some TCKs are military brats, from a multicultural family, have international business parents, are refugees, and the list goes on.

Our surveys were sent to individuals who fit each category:

  • Chand is a 22-year-old study abroad student. Her program was called “Semester at Sea” and she traveled to 14 countries including the UK, Russia, Poland, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Brazil, Barbados, and Cuba. Her experience lasted 2 ½ months over the summer semester.
  • Jake is a 20-year-old domestic TCK as all of his movement occured in the same country – the United States. He moved 8 times between ages 6 and 20: back and forth from Utah to Arizona, then Montana and now resides in Colorado.
  • Mandy is a 21-year-old multi-ethnic TCK with parents from the United States and Puerto Rico. A “global nomad,” she was born in Puerto Rico, then moved to Alaska, Chicago, the Dominican Republic, back to Puerto Rico, and now resides in Colorado.

Home is anywhere I feel safe and where my mind can stop thinking. I can carry home with me through physical belongings or in certain places with a high level of emotional investment

We talked to them about how types of travel can impact an individual:

What was significant about your travel experiences?travel-1233762_960_720

Study Abroad: As much as I was learning from the locals, I was also learning from my fellow students about how to be a respectful traveler (not a tourist) and essentially what NOT to do.

Domestic TCK: Mentally it sort of messed with me as a kid because I would finally get comfortable in a school – just to move away and start all over. If anything, I would say this is why I am reserved around new people and very collected in general: I don’t like to branch out and create connections only to have to move the next year.

Global Nomad TCK: I was born into the culture of traveling because of my parents – I basically flew before I could walk. I know my way around airports like the back of my hand and actually enjoy being there and feeling the energy and anticipation of everyone. I’ve seen more places than most adults have in their lifetime and been exposed to both poverty and extreme wealth, which has helped me learn to appreciate what I have.

Where do you consider home?

Study Abroad: Home is anywhere I feel safe and where my mind can stop thinking. I can carry home with me through physical belongings or in certain places with a high level of emotional investment. For instance, my cabin on my “Semester at Sea” was home, but also hostels that I stayed at every few nights were home; I left a “piece of myself” at both of them. My emotional investment was through interacting with my surroundings and others who were staying in the same areas.

globe-460437_960_720.jpgDomestic TCK: The house I’m currently living in. Growing up, I couldn’t really get too attached to places, but I still have fond memories of homes I’ve lived in. But there isn’t one place I call “my home” that I can go back to any time I want.

Global Nomad TCK: I consider Puerto Rico home. This is where I was born, feel most connected [to others] and it’s where my parents are currently living. Being asked where you’re from is actually something that I dread because sometimes I don’t know how to respond or it takes too long to explain. Sometimes I feel that people see me as arrogant or bragging [about the places I’ve lived] when I really don’t mean to; I’m just honestly answering the question. At times I feel that I lack a true “home.” It’s a weird experience to not have a permanent address and feel as if you’re an international student in your own country; like you belong both everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Do you feel that this experience has impacted the way you see yourself?

Study Abroad: If I hadn’t traveled, I would not further understand my drive for independence. Being a woman and knowing the risks involved [with traveling] -especially with a language barrier- I learned how to fake it until I made it. For instance, I did not know that I would need extra confidence abroad for doing daily activities like walking around a mall. These countries taught me about what types of people I want to surround myself with and the types of people who will push me to be my best.

Domestic TCK: I am a more reserved person because of this experiencemaxresdefault-2. I’ve noticed I have drifted away from the typical “bad or rebel attitude” this generation (millennials) tend to represent.  

Global Nomad TCK: A lot of significant memories of mine have come from when I traveled with both my family and friends. Without having travel in my life, I think my view of the world would be drastically different.

The type of travel does have a large impact on an individual. One aspect of this is seen in the duration of the trip: studying abroad has set perimeters and a clear end to the experience; TCK traveling can be indefinite. Another aspect of how the type of travel impact an individual can be seen in the wordage used by these three individuals. For instance, our d TCKs both used words such as “moved” while our study abroad student used “traveler.”  A third concept proving our point is that all three described realizations about how travel impacted their identities: “I found my independence,” “I am a more reserved person,”  “without traveling… my world view would be drastically different.”

Every individual is doing his or her best to piece themselves together through internal and external concepts. While some stories are more drastic than others, travel does leave an impact on everyone.

So whats your story, how has your traveling experience impacted you?


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