What is a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?

Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who spends a significant part of his or her first eighteen years of life accompanying parents into a country or countries that are different from at least one parent’s passport country or countries due to a parent’s choice of work or advanced training. (Pollock, Van Reken and Pollock, 2017).

The following short video may aid your understanding of the types of unspoken questions so many TCKs wrestle with.

At Club4th, we exist to help carry the burden, grief and confusion that so many TCKs carry. We desire to minister, especially to these dear ones, who are asking profound questions about self, life and God; to walk with them and show them the Fourth Culture that is open and permanent, because of Christ’s work on the cross. 

What are the main struggles for a TCK?

TCKs struggle in three main categories: belonging, connection and recognition .  For TCKs, these basic needs are torn away with each move.  Powerless in the decision to relocate, their many losses are often not recognized and the grief is unspoken and pushed aside.

Sense of Belonging: Because elements from each culture are incorporated into their life experience, they have a unique challenge of not really belonging in any culture. 

Although he may have been “born here,” he hasn’t lived here for most of his life. As such, he may feel like his isn’t “from” anywhere. People may say things like, “Welcome home!” but is he really home? He has only lived here a few months of his life.

So TCKs may feel like they simply don’t belong … except perhaps with others who have had similar life experiences.

Lack of Connection/Attachment Struggles:Transition always involves loss, no matter how good the next place will be. Loss engenders grief and the more you have loved a situation or people, the greater the grief will be. Thus he may feel that it is useless or even dangerous to cultivate friendships, because, for him, friendships are transient and, if cultivated, carry with them tremendous grief when the family moves to another city/country/culture.

Struggles with Recognition: Recognition seeks to answer a couple critical questions: What/Who am I and What/Who can I Trust? TCKs are, at the same time, profoundly connected, yet very disconnected. They belong, but not really. The questions abound: Do I fit anywhere? Why is my experience of God so different <here> than <there>? 

TCKs grapple with the vaguely familiar, but totally unfamiliar every day. Routines, familiarity, stability are foreign to many TCKs, which can leave them recognition-less: unable to identify the stability of people and situations from previous encounters.
And where does that leave God…? God may seem distant and unstable, prone to whims of circumstance.

You Know You’re a TCK When...
  • “Where are you from?” has more than one reasonable answer and the answer you give depends on who’s asking.
  • You flew before you could walk.
  • You speak two languages, but can’t spell in either.
  • You know that McDonalds tastes drastically different from country to country.
  • You have a passport but no driver’s license.
  • You go into culture shock upon returning to your “home” country.
  • Your life story uses the phrase “Then we moved to…” three (or four, or five…) times.
  • You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
  • You get confused in the States because US money isn’t colour-coded.
  • You think VISA is a document that’s stamped in your passport, not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
  • You get homesick reading National Geographic.
  • You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel.
  • You have frequent flyer accounts on multiple airlines.
  • You know how to pack.
  • You sort your friends by continent/time zone.
  • You know that home isn’t a place, it’s the people in it.
  • You realize what a small world it is, after all.

At Club 4th, our desire is to introduce these precious children to the 4th Culture – God’s Kingdom Culture:
The only Stable Place, when instability reigns
The only One ready, willing and able to connect, no matter the time, location or circumstance
The place of true belonging