The unique life story of a TCK – Part 1 of 2

Many TCKs witness this type of view when moving around a child.
The Color Purple 2023

If you think about your friend group there is likely someone that fills the title Third Culture Kid (TCK) or at least cross-cultured.

As the world becomes more globalized, people are beginning to experience different cultures for extended periods. Millennials and Generation Z are some of the first generations to leave their passport country as a child. They are growing up with a different culture encompassing every corner of their formative years. 

“The number of people living in countries not their own now comes to 220 million,” said Pico Iyer in his TED Talk, “Where is home?”  

Iyer expressed the common differences a TCK shares with the new culture. For example, the looks and, in very early childhood, the behaviors. The mental impact on the child during the mobile stages is far more significant and hidden from sight that one might think.

A TCK experience

“Growing up was an interesting experience for me,” said James Douglas, a friend from Massey University in New Zealand. “Moving from the United Kingdom to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was a massive shift as you can imagine.” 

Aerial shot of Dubai where TCK James Douglas first moved to as child from the United Kingdom.
A shot of the famed Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates where James Douglas moved as child to start his TCK journey. December 5, 2017 (Photo by David Rodrigo) – via Unsplash

Douglas moved to the UAE at the age of 5 due to his father’s job. This experience was a complete shift as Arab culture is far different from English culture. Even though he attended an international school, the ability to completely ignore the culture was impossible. Daily interactions threw Douglas into an adult life at a very young age.

“I definitely think switching cultures as a kid made me grow up faster and view the world differently at a young age,” Douglas says. 

Additionally, Douglas’ household was even more unique with his father being English and his mother being from New Zealand.

“My life really has been a bit of a mixture looking back at it now,” he says. 

The complexity of a third culture life

Douglas is not alone: A lot of children around the world grow up with cross-cultural households and live a life different from the children in their local school and communities.  

“It wasn’t too different as I went to an international school,” he says. “When I went out into the town for whatever reason, though, that’s when I began to notice the difference.” 

For a TCK, the consistent movement between countries also plays a big role in their development. 

As Iyer said, more than 220 million people live in countries that are not considered their passport countries. This number continues to rise and along with it the number of countries/cultures those people experience. With Douglas’ upbringing consisting of regular movement, it brought about challenges developing friendships and relationships.

I definitely think switching cultures as a kid made me grow up faster and view the world differently at a young age

“It was difficult growing up and moving around because of Dad’s job,” said Douglas. “It made it difficult in the sense of making friends but to be honest it developed my general social skills faster.” 

And this is something that a lot of people classified as a TCK feel and experience; the idea of being thrown into a life with more responsibility is what makes a TCK different from the rest when they reach adulthood. 

This will be touched on in the next part of this series as we look at the impact a TCK upbringing has on them at adulthood. 

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