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Third Culture Kids: growing up in different cultures. Dr. Elisabeth Stern emPower 2012. Who are Third-Culture Kids. The term originated about 40 years ago with Dr. Ruth Useem, a sociologist at Michigan State University/USA.

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Third Culture Kids: growing up in different cultures

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Third culture kids growing up in different cultures

Third Culture Kids: growing up in different cultures

Dr. Elisabeth Stern

emPower 2012

Who are third culture kids

Who are Third-Culture Kids

  • The term originated about 40 years ago with Dr. Ruth Useem, a sociologist at Michigan State University/USA.

  • She and her husband were doing work with US families on overseas assignments.

  • While working with the adults, she also had an opportunity to observe the kids. She said: «There is something different about these kids. They function at a whole different level. They think differently. They have a different base, and a different point of reference.»

  • She coined the term Third-Culture Kid.

Alternative terms

….alternative terms

  • Other terms that have been used for these children are Global Nomads, Transnationals, Transculturals, internationally mobile children and missionary kids.

Who are third culture kids1

Who are Third Culture Kids?

  • A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person

    • who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture(s), or

    • whose parents have each a different cultural background and/or the child grows up in a country different from any of his/her parent’s homecountry.

What is unique about tcks

What is unique about TCKs?

  • Theyintegrateelementsofthosecultureswherethey live withtheirownbirthcultureinto a third, different anddistinctculture (Useem, 1999).

Third c ulture k ids

Culture B

Culture A

Third Culture Kids

Bi -Culturality

Internal culture shock



Cultural Marginality



Cultural marginality 1

Cultural Marginality(1)

  • Cultural Marginalitydescribes an experience in whichpeople do not tendto fit perfectlyintoanyoneoftheculturestowhichtheyhavebeenexposedtoorwithwhichtheyhaveinteracted,

  • but theymay fit comfortably on theedge, in themargins, oftwoormoresocieties,

  • with an identitythatmovesbeyondanysingleculture.

  • Source: Janet Bennett, 1993)

Cultural marginality 2

Cultural Marginality (2)

  • Encapsulated marginality results when an individual (TCK) feels overwhelmed by identity conflict, unable to control personal boundaries, and alienated from all reference groups. Such a person never feels at home.

  • Constructive marginality results when an individual (TKC) can construct his or her own identity, control personal boundaries, and achieve authentic relationships. This person is never not at home.

Common personal characteristics of tcks

Common Personal Characteristics of TCKs

  • Bi- oder multi-lingual

  • Large world view

  • Cross-cultural lifestyle

  • «Home» is everywhere and nowhere

  • Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is often in relationship to others of similar background rather than shared race or ethnicity. (David C Pollock, developer of the TCK Profile)

Characteristics and skills of tcks

Characteristics and skills of TCKs

  • Can shiftcodes in nonverbal patterns: canadaptbodylanguage, eyecontact, touchingbehaviour

  • Can shiftcodes in communication style, fromcircularto linear, indirecttodirect, emotionally expressive toemotionally restraint orviceversa.

  • Can anticipatevalueclashesamongthevariousculturalframeswithwhich he orsheisfamiliar.

  • Usesculturallyappropriateconversationritualsandproblemsolvingstrategies.

  • Isabletoverbalizeculturalcontrasts in termsofstrengthsandlimitsofeachculturalpattern.

  • Is a bridgebuilder!

Multicultural identity

Multicultural Identity

  • In 2000, for the first time ever, the US Census allows individuals to identify as multiracial

  • Before, being born biracial or multiracial was considered «pathological».

  • It is possible to have a multiracial and multicultural identity and feel whole and complete (=constructive marginality)

  • See earlier model by Larke Huang, presented by Véronique Schoeffel.



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