The concept of third culture kids is on the rise.
Talk of multi-cultural families and "third culture kids" is more prevalent than ever largely due to U.S. President Barack Obama’s mixed heritage – his family background includes English, Caucasian, African-American, Indonesian and Kenyan.
What is a third culture kid (TCK)? According to the TCKid blog, "a third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture." TCKs are sometimes called cross-cultural kids or global nomads.
TCKs can take many forms, including:
· Couples (Culture 1) who emigrate to a new country, have children (Culture 2) and therefore create a third culture within the family;
· Families who travel the world for business or pleasure and don’t call any particular country "home";
· Children who attend international schools
· Families where one or more parents works for the military and must move frequently
Bettina Byrd-Giles may encompass yet another form of TCK. A self-described "cross-cultural kid, military brat and, inter-culturalist" who was born in Japan to American Black parents, she now runs her own business producing cultural diversity programs for corporations and organizations.
Challenges exist in all relationships and parents raising third culture kids often face their own set of conflicts. "Parents have the pressure of their peers to make sure they are raising their children with the appropriate norms and values of their community," says Bettina Byrd-Giles. She adds, "[These parents] may or may not agree with the values of the surrounding community."
What other specific challenges exist in the TCK dynamic? Obvious conflicts like language differences, food preferences and basic rules may arise. Byrd-Giles uses the film "Double Happiness" as an example of how a third culture child may feel conflicted: "Sandra Oh’s character is trying to make herself happy while trying to make her traditional Chinese parents happy. Her parents would like her to maintain traditional family values and traditions. Her experiences have led her down a different path. She is Chinese, but she is also influenced by the surrounding community."
Of course, there are benefits of being a TCK. World-wide travel, acquiring new languages, having empathy and understanding of different cultures and religions are all useful skills gleaned by many third culture kids and their families. "TCKs who embrace their identities are often great mediators across cultures," says Byrd-Giles. "In a global society, it is easy for them to navigate within several cultural contexts. The chameleon aspect of the TCK or the ability to adapt to different situations is considered a positive skill as long as the person is rooted and secure in her identity."
So, for those third culture kids who possess a strong sense of self and have support from parents and siblings, change can be embraced. Take Debra Carlson, a writer who considers herself a global nomad: "I can truthfully say that looking back from where I am today I wouldn't choose a different childhood."