My friend Alice came back to Madrid for a visit the other day. She was telling me about how hard it had been for her to adjust to living and working in the UK (where her parents are from, where she was born, but where she hasn’t lived since she was 2 years old). After a nice walk through Retiro Park, she realized her wallet was missing. We went to the nearest police station to report it and I stood there listening to her describe the contents of the wallet: bank card from the UK, bus-pass from Madrid, metro card from Paris (where her parents now live), Illinois driver’s license, San Diego library card… The police officer taking down her statement finally blurted out “Wow!, You are a real globe-trotter!”, and Alice answered, “Nah… I’m just a third culture kid”.





Nowadays, because of globalization, the term is becoming more and more familiar. Still, there are some people unaware of this whole “cultural group” that is living undetected (for the most part) in practically every country around the World.


Third culture kid (also known as TCK, third culture individual, invisible immigrant...) is a term that tries to group together people who grew up, or spent an important part of their formative years, in a country other than where their parents are from (1). Some include in this group the people that grew up with parents from different cultures; kids that grew up moving from country to country, never quite settling anywhere; or those that studied abroad while growing up. So, among others, we are talking about expats, missionary kids, children of diplomats or traveling professionals, etc.


Their first culture is the parents’ culture or the one they have made the base of the family house-hold life.  The second culture is the one they grew up in (or that of the host country), and the third culture is the one resulting from living and managing the other two, a cultural identity stemming from being both and neither of the others. It’s not just having been exposed to multiple cultures, it’s creating a mixture of the two (and adding a little extra).


Of course, no two TCKs are the same, because they will not have lived the same life-events or shared the same background, but they can definitely identify with other TCKs (2) and develop a feeling of comradery, a shared identity and understanding. An American teenager that grew up in China may have more in common and feel more connected to a French diplomat´s teenager that grew up in Cameroon, than to other teenage Americans or Chinese.



Here are just a few of the amazing strengths most TCKs share:








As mentioned before, not all TCKs are the same, but many find they struggle with some of the following:






No, of course not. But just like any collective, some may be having a harder time of it, needing help at one point or another, and can benefit from working with a therapist familiar with TCKs and their common struggles. Along with identity and stress management, a lot of the work I do as a clinician with this community is in reference to unresolved grief. Many have to move every couple of years and are forced to experience so many losses! Not just friends, family, etc., but cultural aspects they’ve grown to identify with and won’t have available in their new “home”. Also, parents don’t feel the same way and don’t understand the grief or don’t identify it as such.  Sometimes, there is just no time to grieve with all the changes (packing up, traveling, unpacking, new school, making new friends…).







Do you still have doubts after reading this article? Let us know and we will set up an appointment with one of our professionals!



(1) (2): Pollock, D. C., & E., V. R. (2009). Third culture kids: Growing up among worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Pub.




Even more resources below!:



Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken.

Misunderstood: The Impact Of Growing Up Overseas In The 21st Century
by Tania Crossman.

A Ball, A Book and the Butterflies. A Story About International Transition
by Anna Barratt and Sally McWilliam.

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition
by Tina L. Quick.

Home Keeps Moving. A Glimpse into the Extraordinary Life of a “Third Culture Kid
” by Heidi Sand-Hart.