Third Culture Kids, Revised Edition: Growing Up Among Worlds

Third Culture Kids, Revised Edition: Growing Up Among Worlds

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The absolute authority on Third Culture Kids for nearly two decades!

In this 3rd edition of the ground-breaking global classic, Ruth E. Van Reken and Michael V. Pollock, son of the late original co-author, David C. Pollock, have significantly updated what is widely recognized as "The TCK Bible." Emphasis is on the modern TCK and addressing the impact of technology, cultural complexity, diversity and inclusion and transitions. Includes new advice for parents and others for how to support TCKs as they navigate work, relationships, social settings and their own personal development.

New to this edition:

· A second PolVan Cultural Identity diagram to support understanding of cultural identity

· New models for identity formation

· Updated explanation of unresolved grief

· New material on "highly mobile communities" addressing the needs of people who stay put while a community around them moves rapidly

· Revamped Section III so readers can more easily find what is relevant to them as Adult TCKs, parents, counselors, employers, spouses, administrators, etc.

· New "stages and needs" tool that will help families and organizations identify and meet needs

· Greater emphasis on tools for educators as they grapple with demographic shifts in the classroom

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857884081
Publisher: Quercus
Publication date: 11/26/2010
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 547,144
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

David C. Pollock worked with TCKs and adult TCKs for more than twenty years and logged thousands of miles conducting seminars and conferences for TCKs, their parents, and sponsoring organizations.

Ruth E. Van Reken, herself an adult TCK and a parent and grandparent of TCKs, is author of one of the first books written about the TCK experience, Letters Never Sent.

Read an Excerpt

Third Culture Kids

Growing Up Among Worlds

By David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken

Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Copyright © 2009 David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85788-525-5


Where Is Home? Erika's Story

As the Boeing 747 sped down the runway, Erika sat inside with seat belt secure, her chin propped against a clenched fist, staring out the window until the final sights of her beloved Singapore disappeared from view.

How can it hurt this much to leave a country that isn't even mine? Erika closed her eyes and settled back in the seat, too numb to cry the tears that begged to be shed. Will I ever come back?

For nearly half of her twenty-three years, she had thought of Singapore as home. Now she knew it wasn't — and America hadn't felt like home since she was eight years old.

Isn't there anywhere in the world I belong? she wondered.

Couwtless people of virtually every nationality and from a great variety of backgrounds identify with Erika's feeling of not fully belonging anywhere in the world. Like her, they may be North Americans who grew up in Singapore. But they may also be Japanese children growing up in Australia, British kids raised in China, Turkish youth reared in Germany, African children living in Canada, or the child of a Norwegian father and a Thai mother growing up in Argentina. All of them have one thing in common: like Erika, they are spending, or have spent, at least part of their childhood in countries and cultures other than their own. They are third culture kids (TCKs) or, by now, adult TCKs (ATCKs).

Children are TCKs for many reasons. Some have parents with careers in international business, the diplomatic corps, the military, or religious missions. Others have parents who studied abroad. Still other families live for a period of time outside their home culture because of civil unrest and wars.

TCKs are raised in a neither/nor world. It is neither fully the world of their parents' culture (or cultures) nor fully the world of the other culture (or cultures) in which they were raised. Contrary to popular misconceptions, however, this neither/nor world is not merely a personal amalgamation of the various cultures they have known. For reasons we will explore, in the process of living first in one dominant culture and then moving to another one (and maybe even two or three more and often back and forth between them all), TCKs develop their own life patterns different from those who are basically born and bred in one place. Most TCKs learn to live comfortably in this world, whether they stop to define it or not.

TCKs are not a new phenomenon. They've been around since the beginning of time, but, until now, they have been largely invisible. This has been changing, however, for at least three reasons.

1. Their number has increased. In the last half of the twentieth century, the number of people involved in international careers of all types grew dramatically. In her book The Absentee American, Carolyn Smith says,

Since 1946, therefore, when it was unusual for Americans to live overseas unless they were missionaries or diplomats, it has become commonplace for American military and civilian employees and businesspeople to be stationed abroad, if only for a year. The 1990 Census counted 922,000 federal workers and their families living overseas, and the total number of Americans living abroad either permanently or temporarily is estimated at 3 million.

By 2007, this estimated number had grown to more than four million, with no end in sight of how high this tally might rise. That's a lot of people! But these figures only account for U.S. citizens. Australia has more than one million citizens living outside its borders on either a long- or short-term basis. In 2006, Japan also disclosed that for the first time in history, more than one million Japanese were living for longer than three months as expatriates all over the world. Add to these figures the burgeoning number of citizens from every other country working and living outside their home cultures and we can only imagine the total number of expatriates worldwide.

Of course, as more adults have international careers or live abroad for whatever reason, there are more children accompanying parents into new lands. Many things have changed since the days of early explorers, traders, colonial governors, or pioneer missionaries when children often remained in the home country to avoid the rigors of travel and disease or for educational purposes. Traveling between home and a host country rarely takes more than one day, an easy trip compared to the three months it used to take on an ocean liner. International schools exist everywhere; advanced medical care is an airlift away (and even more immediate with telemedicine). It is now normal for children to accompany their parents overseas rather than to stay home.

2. Their public voice has grown louder. As these growing numbers of TCKs become adults, they are becoming more vocal. Through alumni associations or web chat rooms such as and, TCKs and ATCKs have formed visible, identifiable groups. The proliferation of blog-spots has also brought their story forward. TCKs have become well-known politicians, newscasters, actors, actresses, sports figures, and authors. The election of President Barack Obama made the entire world aware that this type of childhood exists. Many of his first cabinet choices were also adult TCKs. Through politics, speaking out, or writing, their voices are beginning to be heard. As these TCKs and adult TCKs share their stories, they encourage others to do the same.

3. Their significance has increased. The TCK experience is a microcosm of what is fast becoming normal throughout the world. Few communities anywhere will remain culturally homogeneous in this age of easy international travel and instant global communication. Part of the discussion by TV pundits throughout the 2008 presidential campaign in the United States centered on how President Obama's background reflected a change happening around the world. Growing up among cultural differences is already, or soon will be, the rule rather than the exception — even for those who never physically leave their home country. In 1984, sociologist Ted Ward claimed that TCKs were "the prototype [citizens] of the future ..." We believe that time is now. Experts are trying to predict the outcome of this cultural juggling. Looking at the TCK world can help us prepare for the long-term consequences of this new pattern of global cultural mixing. We will look at these new trends in depth when we focus on the broader group of cross-cultural kids (CCKs) in chapter 3.

The benefits of the TCK lifestyle are enormous. Many TCKs and ATCKs are maximizing the potential of these benefits in their lives, both personally and professionally. This will become clearer in part II when we look in detail at what these benefits are. Unfortunately, for some TCKs and ATCKs, the challenges of their experience have seemingly canceled out the many benefits — a sad waste for both the TCKs and the world around them. It is our hope that a better understanding of some of these benefits and challenges will help TCKs and ATCKs everywhere use the gifts of their heritage well. That's why, throughout this book, we examine the paradoxical world of the TCK and other cross-cultural experiences during childhood from a variety of perspectives.

We begin by returning to Erika for a better look at one young woman's true story. Only the names and places have been changed.

Erika didn't notice that the captain had turned off the "Pasten your seat belt" sign until a flight attendant interrupted her reverie.

"Would you like something to drink?" he asked.

How many Cokes and miniature pretzels have I eaten on airplanes? she wondered. Far too many to count. But today her grief outweighed any thought of food or drink. She shook her head, and the attendant moved on.

Erika closed her eyes again. Unbidden memories flashed through her mind. She remembered being eight years old, when her family still lived in upstate New York, Erika's birthplace. One day her father entered the playroom as she and her younger sister, Sally, performed a puppet show for their assembled audience of stuffed animals.

"Wanna' watch, Dad?" Erika asked hopefully.

"In a few minutes, sweetie. First, I have something special to tell you."

Puppets forgotten, Sally and Erika ran to their dad, trying to guess what it could be.

"Are we gonna have a new baby?" Sally began jumping up and down in excited anticipation.

"Did you buy me a new bike?" Erika inquired.

Erika's dad shook his head and sat in the nearby rocking chair, gathering one daughter on each knee. "How would you like to take a long airplane ride?" he asked.



"I love airplanes."

"Where, Daddy?"

He explained that his company had asked him to move from the United States to Ecuador to start a new branch office. The family would be moving as soon as school ended that June.

A flurry of activity began — shopping, packing, and saying good-bye to relatives and friends. It all seemed so exciting until the day Erika asked, "Mom, how is Spotty going to get there?"

"Honey, it's not easy to take a dog. Grandma's going to take care of him 'til we get home again."

"Mom, we can't leave Spotty! He's part of our family!"

No amount of pleading worked. Spotty was sent to his new home, and finally, with a mixture of eagerness for the adventures ahead and sadness for the people and things they were leaving, Erika and her family flew off to their new world.

Wanting to stop this flood of memories, Erika opened her eyes, trying to focus on her fellow passengers. The diversion didn't work. As soon as she had adjusted her cramped legs and resettled in a more comfortable position, the flashbacks continued. It was almost as if every few seconds a virtual click inside her brain advanced her mental PowerPoint show. Pictures of Ecuador replaced those of New York. She had been so scared the first time her family flew into Quito. How would the airplane wiggle its way between the mountain ranges and find a flat place to land? Yet Erika remembered how, in time, those same Andes mountains gave her a deep sense of security each morning when she woke to see their towering peaks looming over the city, keeping watch as they had for centuries past.

But what did these memories matter now? She put on her headset, hoping that music would divert her thoughts. Unfortunately, the second channel she switched to played the haunting music of the hollow-reed flute pipes that always evoked a twinge of melancholy whenever she heard it. The sound brought instant memories of going to fiestas with her Ecuadorian friends and dancing with them while the pipers played. Certainly, listening to this music wouldn't help her now. She took the earphones off, letting them dangle around her neck.

By now the images of an in-flight movie were on the monitor in front of her, but Erika never saw them. Her own internal picture show continued with its competing images — the scene changing from towering mountains to the towering skyscrapers of Singapore. After two years in Ecuador, her father had been transferred once more, and for the thirteen years since then — including the four years she attended university in Wisconsin — Erika had considered Singapore her home. Now she knew Singapore would never truly be home. But the question continued to haunt her: Where was home?

Still refusing to dwell on that topic, her mind searched for a new show to look at. Pictures of countless scenes from other places she had visited with her family through the years appeared — the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal at the beginning of the rainy season, the monkey cup plants in the Malaysian rain forest, the Karen tribal people in the hills of northern Thailand, winter on the South Island of New Zealand, the water-derrick wells of the Hortobágy in Hungary. One after another the images flashed in her mind's eye. Even to herself, it seemed incredible how much she had done, seen, and experienced in her first twenty-three years of life. The richness and depth of the world she knew was beyond measure — but what good did that do her today?

Finally, the other pictures ran out and Erika was left with the visions of life in Singapore that kept returning, insisting on a paramount spot in the show. Now instead of places, however, she saw people — her amazing collection of friends from the International School in Singapore: Ravi, Fatu, Sam, Kim Su, Trevor, Hilary, Mustapha, Dolores, Joe. One after another they came to her memory. How many races, nationalities, styles of dress, cultures, and religions did these friends represent? With diversity as their hallmark, who could say what was "normal"?

Erika never stopped to wonder that others might be surprised to know that this diversity among her friends reflected the norm rather than the exception of her life. Instead, she reminisced on how she hated parting from them each summer when her family returned to the States for vacation. (It was never America or the United States — simply "the States.") Somehow, she always felt much more like a fish out of water with her Stateside peers than she did in Singapore.

For the first time since the airplane had lifted off, a wry smile came to Erika's face. She remembered how strange she had felt the first time her American cousins had asked her to go "cruising." She presumed they meant some type of boat ride — like when she and her friends in Singapore rented a junk and sailed to a small island for a day of sunbathing, swimming, and picnicking. She was eager to go.

To her amazement, cruising for her cousins had nothing to do with boats and water. Instead, it meant endless driving about town with no apparent purpose. Eventually, they parked at a shopping mall and simply stood around. As far as Erika could see, it seemed their purpose was to block aisles rather than purchase any goods. What was the point?

For Erika, "going home" meant something entirely different than it did for her parents. When her parents spoke of "going home," they meant returning to the States each summer. For her, "going home" meant returning to Singapore at the end of summer. But where was home now? The nagging question returned.

Temperatures dropped inside the airplane as the short night descended. Erika stood up to get a blanket and pillow from the overhead compartment, hoping for the comfort of sleep. But would sleep ever come on this journey? Not yet. Another set of pictures pushed their way into the muddle of her mind — now with scenes of the time she left Singapore to attend university in the States.

"Don't worry, darling. You'll be fine. I'm sure you'll get a wonderful roommate. You've always made friends so easily. I know you'll have no trouble at all," her parents had reassured her as she faced that transition.

But somehow it hadn't been that easy. Fellow students would ask, "Where are you from?" At first, Erika automatically answered, "Singapore." The universal reply was, "Really? You don't look like it," with the expectation of some explanation of how she was from Singapore.

Soon, Erika decided she would be from New York — where her grandparents lived. She hoped that would simplify these complicated introductions.

Eventually, as she adapted outwardly, picking up the current lingo and attire, others accepted her as one of them. By the end of her first year, however, she felt angry, confused, and depressed. How could anyone care so much about who won last week's football game and so little about the political unrest and violence in Sudan or Tibet? Didn't they know people actually died in wars? Perhaps they never read the global news that crawled across their TV screens while supposedly erudite "news" commentators went on endlessly about the latest celebrity scandal. They couldn't comprehend her world; she couldn't understand theirs.

As time went on, Erika found a way to cope. Once she realized most of her peers simply couldn't relate to what her life had been, she no longer discussed it. Her relatives were happy to tell everyone she was "doing fine."

Just before graduating from university, however, she lost the last internal vestige of home. Her father was transferred back to the States and her family settled in Dayton, Ohio. For school vacations, she no longer returned to Singapore. Erika closed that chapter of her life. The pain of longing for the past was just too much.

As she stared at the rhythmic, almost hypnotic, flashing red lights on the jet's wings, Erika continued her reflections. That chapter on Singapore didn't stay closed for very long. When did I reopen it? Why did I reopen it?

After graduation, she had decided to get a master's degree in history. Thinking about that now while flying somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, she wondered why she had chosen that particular field. Was I subconsciously trying to escape to a world that paralleled my own — a world that was once exciting but is now gone forever?

Who could know? All Erika knew was that her restlessness increased in graduate school, and she finally dropped out. At that point, Erika decided only a return to Singapore would stop this chronic unsettledness, this sense of always looking for something that might be just around the corner but never was. But also, she couldn't define what she wanted. Was it to belong somewhere? Anywhere?


Excerpted from Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken. Copyright © 2009 David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. Excerpted by permission of Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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