Third Culture Kids

My presentations in Seoul, South Korea, gave me insight into Third Culture Kids (TCK).

The presentations were to English speaking teachers and parents at international schools. A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. TCKs build relationships to other cultures while not having full ownership in any. For example, the parents are Korean but the students have lived in different countries, usually because of a parent's corporate or embassy job. There are thousands of Korean youth who are TCKs. They have lived in a foreign country; when they return to Korea, they are not accepted by native Koreans—hence, the label, "Third Culture Kids."

Their "home" is defined by relationships.

To illustrate the concept, here is an interview from the book, "Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds" by David Pollack and Ruth Van Reken. (Yarmouth, Maine: Intercontinental Press, copyright 2001, pp. 123-124.)

"When Dave Pollack asked Ben, a TCK from the diplomatic community, "Where's home?" Ben replied, "Egypt." Dave was  somewhat surprised as he had not previously heard Ben  talk about Egypt, so Dave asked how long he had been there.

"Well," Ben replied, "I actually haven't been to Egypt yet, but that's where my parents are posted now. They moved there from Mozambique right after I left for  university, so when I go home for Christmas vacation that's where I'll go."

Because TCKs have moved out from their primary culture and are no longer so readily accepted by it, they associate with others like themselves.

Having worked in urban districts (Los Angeles and New York City) and in a number of suburban districts in Southern California (Westminster, Norwalk, and Baldwin Park), my mind made an immediate psychological comparison of some of the students I have worked with in these communities to TCKs.

People in poverty value relationships more than anything else, and there is a tendency to disparage those who want to be different from the group. Perhaps this is most visible when the "home group" refers to others attempting to do well in school as being "White," "Whitey," or as "Uncle Toms." A prime reason is that those who leave often do not return with the same values as the home group, and, therefore, the relationship is diminished.

We see an increasing number of TCKs in America. One can live in many communities in the USA and live a life without speaking English. The youngsters who strive to speak Standard American English and strive to learn and improve their conditions are, in a sense, Third Culture Kids. They resist the pressure from their peers to "keep them from moving up and out."

Sometimes it takes going outside a culture and looking in to understand the pressure that so many current youth feel.

For those interested specifically in the Korean culture, an excellent book is "Confucius Meets Piaget: An Educational Perspective on Ethnic Korean Students and Their parents" by Jonathan F. Borden. Available from the author for USD $10.00 plus postage from Korea. Contact <> or