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How To Get The Most Out Of Life As A Third Culture Kid




I was reviewing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs the other day for a separate project and came to think about how it could be applied to Adult Third Culture Kids.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham H. Maslow was a psychologist from New York who studied and theorised about self-fulfilment within humans.

His seminal work was the Hierarchy of Needs, a pyramid shaped diagram illustrating the needs that had to be met in order to achieve self-fulfilment. Since its conception in 1943, it has been widely used in sociology classes and social work professions to explain the needs of a client.

When looking at the different levels of the hierarchy, I realized that many Adult Third Culture Kids can find it difficult to achieve them. Here are my thoughts for each level.



Step 1 – Physiological Needs (Food, Water, Warmth, Rest)

The first and broadest step on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the physiological needs. This includes the need for food and water as well as shelter, warmth, the ability to rest etc.

Fortunately, for the majority of people living in the Western world, these essential needs are met.

In less developed countries, people still live not knowing where they next meal will come from.

Third Culture Kids often come from financially stable families and therefore this part of the hierarchy would not be an issue.



Step 2 – Safety Needs (Security, Safety, Stability)

It is when we get to the second step of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that we begin to see some difficulties for Third Culture Kids.

The second step pertains to security, safety and stability and although most of these needs are met due to the financial stability that Third Culture Kids typically experience, the stability part of this step is harder for the Third Culture Kid to fulfil. 




Getting accustomed to moving around as a child will often lead to having “itchy feet” as an adult.

In other words, Adult Third Culture Kids are more likely to feel displaced in any given country and therefore feel an innate urge move countries every so often.

This lack of rootedness would make it difficult for the Third Culture Kid to experience a stable lifestyle.


Step 3 – Belongingness & Love Needs (Intimate Relationships, Friends)

The third step in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the need to belong and feel loved. This is a step that most people find difficult to fulfil.

The need to belong and feel loved is to some extent fulfilled by the relationship we have to our parents and siblings but even so we may not feel satisfied with this connection if we are living in a different country to them, as so many Third Culture Kids choose to do as adults. 



Constantly moving country as an adult will also make it hard to establish strong bonds to potential friends and people we are romantically interested in. Adult Third Culture Kids are usually friends with many but good friends with few and are not rooted enough to form a romantic connection.


Step 4 – Esteem Needs (Prestige and Feelings of Accomplishment)

Ironically, the fourth step in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which pertains to the feeling of prestige and accomplishment, may be easier for the Third Culture Kid to fulfil than the previous step.

This, in part, due to the Third Culture Kid’s unique upbringing. The feeling of “being special” is instilled in the Third Culture Kid from a young age and their childhood can often be used as a talking point in conversations as an adult.

This basic feeling of prestige and accomplishment can sustain the TCK whilst they look for additional ways of attaining the same feeling in the future.  



Step 5 – Self-Actualization (Achieving One’s Full Potential, Including Creative Activities)

Step five in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the one all of us find hard to fulfil.

Entrepreneurs, artists, politicians and the like may achieve this by the nature of their work and many others may do so through their hobbies and extracurricular activities but Third Culture Kids find it difficult.

The reason for this is (again) the “itchy feet” syndrome.

Non-TCKs will allow their ambition and life goals to lead the way.

If they want to be a banker, they move to Frankfurt, London or New York. If they want to be a fashion designer, they move to Milan or Paris. If they want to act, they move to Hollywood or Mumbai and so on.

Many Adult Third Culture Kids tend to lack the patience needed to live in one place for an extended period of time and therefore choose to move even though it goes against their goals of self-actualization.

Third Culture Kids let the location lead the way rather than their life goals.

They may like the culture in a certain city and therefore choose to move there despite there not being any jobs available in their industry.



Final Thoughts

The goal of this article was to act as some food of thought for Adult Third Culture Kids who are currently in a life-planning phase.

The ideas discussed in this article may not be relevant to your situation exactly but for those of you wondering about the next couple of years in your life it may be good to look over Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and take each level into account as you plan your next step in life.


Next Article: Third Culture Kids, Uprooting Your Tree

Since long before the conception of the term Third Culture Kid there have been many metaphors for the cross-cultural lifestyle, especially pertaining to the way in which it moulds a young child’s identity. In my opinion, no metaphor is more poetic… READ MORE


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