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Becoming Your Diagnosis – The Negative Aspects Of The Term, Third Culture Kid

Here at Cross Culture Therapy, not only do we strive to help people who feel out of place in society, but we also work hard to provide content that may challenge people’s perceptions of themselves. In today’s article we will be discussing the negative aspects of the term, Third Culture Kid. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, Third Culture Kids or TCKs for short, are people who are being raised in a culture different to that of their parent’s birth culture. This term has gained great popularity in recent decades and allowed a lot of people to have an identity when they otherwise considered themselves unidentifiable, so I understand if the following will rub some people the wrong way.

Before I start arguing for the negative aspects of the term, it would be pertinent to explore the history of it. The term, Third Culture Kid, was coined by famed sociologist, Ruth Hill Useem, who spent several years in India studying the families of American missionaries. It gained widespread popularity from the book Third Culture Kids, Growing Up Amongst Worlds by David Pollock, Ruth Van Reken and Michael Pollock and has since been used by many people as a replacement for their national identities. The term has helped to group people together who have had a similar experience of growing up globally. Now, as we see in many forums online, there are people sharing memes about the awkwardness of being asked the question where are you from? Or asking if there are any TCKs in Texas or Madrid as if they would rather go and have a beer with them than with any of the locals.  

There are many positive aspects to the term. It has given us an understanding as to who we are, in the same manner as defining what an introvert is has helped them understand who they are. But a lot of people cling to it as if it is the only thing that defines us. Honestly, would you ever see someone who is not a TCK post on plan a trip to Paris and then immediately post on Facebook asking for people from their home country to grab a drink with them there? And the constantly regurgitate about being misunderstood because of their national identity the same way we do when we like a funny picture with the caption, me when I have to explain where I am from? This is of course okay to do the first few times but we also have to face the fact that we are getting increasingly comfortable with being different and misunderstood. It seems like we would rather have it that way than try to appreciate life. And this is where I come to my main point.

Now we seem all too willing to submit to our diagnosis rather than finding some way to assimilate. Rather than sticking it out in one place and risk losing the TCK identity that makes us feel special, we give in to it and move because of our “itchy feet” which we can do nothing about. Rather than finding similarities with the people around us, we stubbornly tell ourselves that we are different and that people can’t understand us no matter how hard they try. Rather than making life decisions based on a profession, a family, or a hobby, we let our experience of growing up globally motivate us to keep changing jobs, delay having a family and do whatever it takes to move somewhere else because we don’t want to try living in one place.

Before you react to this, remember, I am a Third Culture Kid myself and yes, the term has helped me to understand who I am and has allowed me some clarity on the issues that affect us. But there is an element of self-indulgence to it as well. For me, the term TCK will be a part, not the part of what defines me. I will never use as a motivating factor as to why I am moving somewhere or let it steer me in any means. I will however use it to look back at my experiences and to examine my insecurities but I will not use it as a scapegoat to explain my unwillingness to assimilate or as an excuse to explain why I am unable to get along with someone who is not like me. Don’t get me wrong, the term Third Culture Kid has done a lot of good and I encourage people to hang onto the good, but it has also hindered a lot of people from achieving true happiness because they have been unwilling to let go of it.

What We Do!

Cross Culture Therapy offers 1-on-1 online therapy sessions. Although our therapy services are specifically tailored to Third Culture Kids (people who have grown up in a culture different to their parent’s passport culture) and Cross Culture Kids, we welcome all people who seek our help. Our sessions are conducted via Skype for a duration of 50-minutes and can be purchased in packs of 1-session, 5-sessions or 10-sessions. If you are interested in purchasing a session, click on the Book A Session tab on our menu or click here.

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