When Emily asked me to write about TCKs for her blog, I was excited for two reasons: I love TCKs, and I was happy to know that she appreciated my point of view and that she wanted others to learn as well.
What’s a TCK?
If you’ve never heard of the term before, don’t worry: most people haven’t. TCK stands for third culture kid, and here is it’s definition:
“A third culture kid (TCK) is a person who spends a significant part of his or her first eighteen years of life accompanying parent(s) into a country or countries that are different from at least one parent’s passport country(ies) due to a parent’s choice of work or advanced training.”
I was born in the USA to parents who were ethnically American. However my dad had grown up in a different country all his life (he was a TCK as well), and thus doesn’t feel very American. I lived in various states until I was 7, and then my dad got a job transfer to a country in Eurasia. I have lived there ever since. I have gone to local schools, become fluent in the language, and have lived side by side with people who have a totally different culture than the one I was born in.
This lifestyle is becoming more and more common. In fact, most TCKs actually move three to four times internationally before they hit 18. That means not only have they lived in a place different from their parents’ “passport country”, they have lived in multiple cultures, languages, and perhaps even continents. They are accustomed to friendships that come and go, crazy cuisines, and speaking several languages on a daily basis.
Beyond the Definition
You’d be mad to grow up this way and not have it affect every aspect of your life. This childhood literally shapes people’s worldview.
My friend Clarissa Choo has grown up in multiple countries in East Asia. She has struggled with her lack of roots, and losing friends, and grief and goodbyes. Most TCKs go through goodbyes and loss at an earlier age than most people. She says the Lord has used this upbringing to draw her closer to Him.
And about belonging, she says this:
“Although my passport shows my birth country, I don’t have a sense of identity with the citizens of that country. The reason is that I picked up parts of various cultures in other countries so I always felt like I’m too “foreign” for anywhere. However, my TCK identity is not primary because Jesus taught me that my identity is in Him, and that He’s changing me to be more like Him.
I don’t have any country where I can call home, including my birth country. But this lack of belonging pushed me to look upwards. Heaven. Heaven is my true Home because it’s where Jesus is. And it is where my citizenship is.”
Clarissa also talks about how often TCKs go through grief, and how her faith in Jesus Christ has enabled her to deal with it positively unlike many people with this third culture experience:
“Goodbyes and leaving friends and a country are painful. And the grieving process changes depending on each individual. I’ve been experiencing multiple griefs throughout my life because I’ve moved many times and have several relatives and a friend who died. Because there are so many and I didn’t know how to deal with my grief when I was younger, I have many unresolved griefs. My last move triggered many bouts of intense sorrow and physical pain in my chest and head. Due to having heaps of unresolved griefs, it seems that it’ll take me years or perhaps, my lifetime for them to be completely resolved. But Jesus reminded me that He is “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and through my thorn my grief, His grace is sufficient and He promises He’ll comfort me. My “life of grief” has shaped my view of true joy. Jesus is my joy, and I look forward to the day of eternity in the place where there are no sorrows nor sufferings, where I will be with my Savior forever.”
I have had similar experiences as Clarissa. My TCK upbringing has given me a unique view on Christianity. Often in different parts of the world , Christianity becomes confused with patriotism and western culture. As someone who has seen Christianity in different cultural settings, I can see what is a culturally biased view or what is actually biblical. (I’m not saying I’ve perfected this, but I do see it more than some.)
A TCK Sophia says
“Americans also tend to think of things in terms of their “rights” and “freedoms.” But, instead of using this for good, they use it to enhance personal pride. “Rights” and “freedoms” become more important values than love—in order to love in many situations, we must sacrificially put others first, and when personal political rights are a value upheld as high as love, it’s hard to do that.”
She then adds :
“I think another thing is [that Americans can struggle with is] just thinking that all things in other cultures are “bad.” And the reason I list that is because the Bible encompasses ancient Jewish and Greek cultures. Oftentimes, I’ll hear Americans criticize positive cultural customs in the Middle East, when they are customs used in all Semitic cultures—including those of Biblical times.”
Why do TCKs have these opinions? My TCK friend Savannah says this:
“I think that our cultural backgrounds tend to push us towards assumptions when we interpret what the Bible says. Seeing two approaches (so two sets of assumptions) can sometimes be revealing.”
Another way the TCK life can affect people, including me, is that we can act as a bridge for people on both sides of the culture barrier, helping them communicate and do life.
The most basic daily thing we can and do do is translating. Most TCKs know several languages and that enables them to help those on both sides of a language divide. They also can explain cultural differences to people. This does a great good for people because instead of getting frustrated with the person, they now understand them, and can befriend them or do business with them, or whatever.
TCKs, like every other kind of people group, have a unique role to play in God’s great story. They have their challenges, but overall, they are gifted people with a love for all nations and languages.