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Third Culture Kids – Nationality as Reference Point!


Who am I? – is a question that most, if not all, Third Culture Kids find hard to answer.

Feeling unsure about one’s identity is perhaps the defining issue of the Third Culture Kid experience.

Granted, it is not one exclusive to TCKs as many people struggle with issues concerning their sexuality, religious beliefs, professional identity etc.

However, the constant wondering about one’s own national identity and allegiances can be seen as an extra burden laid on top of all the other layers of questions that we think about during our adolescence.


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Nationality is a useful tool to create understanding, not only between foreigners but also amongst ourselves.

Even within local communities, we use national identity as a quiet form of understanding. We know what is culturally appropriate and what is expected. We take comfort in the fact that the people around us follow the same “rule book”.

In conversations with foreigners, national identity is often utilized as a way of understanding the person’s values.


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In a conversation between a Danish person and a Pakistani person, they both know that the Danish person is probably more liberal leaning, whilst the Pakistani person has grown up in a society that emphasizes the importance of patriarchy and religion.

National identity can also be used as a lighthearted way of “breaking the ice” between foreigners.

People can reference pop-culture or cuisine relevant to that country and ask questions about it as a way of building a relationship (e.g. Talking to a Japanese person about sushi, Mt. Fuji, anime, kimono, samurais, ninjas etc).

This is where the problem arises for Third Culture Kids.




As someone who has a relationship with all cultures they have lived in, whilst not having ownership of any, the Third Culture Kid will feel awkward about acting as an ambassador of their passport country. They do however tend to accept this role as over having rabble off a long list of countries they have lived in. 

This forces the Third Culture Kid to answer a question that the majority of people have already answered for themselves, namely – where am I from?

Many people tend to ask it to TCKs out of curiosity, but the answer is often so complex that the Third Culture Kid feels frustrated at having to deal with it and can, at times, feel a need to hide their past in order to not deal with it.

As displayed on the graph below, Third Culture Kids will move between cultures in what is called a Cross Culture Cycle.



They are in their passport culture at home and in a different culture at school (possibly American or British) and in the transition between the two and in their daily life in general they interact with the host culture.

This cycle replaces the concept of national identity for Third Culture Kids and becomes the building blocks of their identity.

Therefore when TCKs are forced to make a decision to move somewhere, they are forced to break one of the blocks that supports the foundation of our identity.

That is why most Third Culture Kids trap themselves in a cycle of constantly relocating to a country different from their passport culture.

They do so in order to maintain the third block (host culture) of their identity.

The question of national identity is a very sensitive subject for TCKs and one that has to be faced head-on in order for them to create stability in their life and to stave off depression and other mental health issues.




Next Article: Propaganda Of The Past – Third Culture Kids, Childhood Memories & Attachment To Place

To suddenly be hit by a vivid memory as you are going through the motions of the present day, can be a wonderful thing. A respite from the seriousness of adulthood, if you will but for Third Culture Kids… READ MORE


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