Third Culture Kids (TCK) is a term used in reference to children who grow up in a culture different to the culture of their parents. An example of a Third Culture Kid (TCK) could be anything from a Swiss boy spending his formative years in Singapore to a South African girl growing up in Canada.
Third Culture Kids (TCK) may live a very privileged lifestyle. More often than not they attend international school, have access to private members clubs and sometimes they even live in gated communities with other families with Third Culture Kids (TCK). The term ‘Third Culture’ refers to the amalgamation of the home culture (the culture of the parents birth country) and the culture of the country they are currently living in.
The first known examples of Third Culture Kids (TCK) were children of missionaries. Other typical examples are military ‘brats’ who follow their parents from one allied army base to the next (E.g. Germany to Japan) or the children of bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen posted overseas.
Over the years there have been multiple definitions of the term published in academic literature. Perhaps the most illustrative definition was provided by David Pollock in his 1989 lecture.
A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parent’s culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership of any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is often in relationship to others of a similar background. (2009, p. 15)
The originator of the term Third Culture Kids (TCK) was Ruth Hill Useem. She spent several years in India during the late 1950’s studying the families of American missionaries. She was interested in how the American culture of the missionaries and the local Indian culture interacted with one another. Her study naturally directed itself to the children of the missionaries as they displayed tendencies that were prevalent and unique to the two cultures. Useem used the word culture to describe a group of people who have things in common. In her conceptualisation of the term Third Culture Kids (TCK), the first culture refers to the passport culture of the individual, the second culture refers to the host culture, and the third culture refers to a way of life, the existence in a neither-nor world and the shared culture of an experience unique only to the persons who have lived it.
Pollock, D., 2009. Third Culture Kids, Revised Edition: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds. Brealey, Nicholas Publishing.