Third Culture Kids (TCK) refers to children integrating aspects of their first culture and their new culture, creating a unique “third culture”.
Kate from Flight of the Wines Poured shared with me some of her experiences as a Third Culture Kid now all grown up living in southern France. I had never even heard the term before, nor thought there was others like us. By applying the term to our life I started to realize we had many similar experiences.
My kids are definitely growing up in a third culture created between our Hungarian/Canadian culture, and now living in France. Alfonz also grew up partly in Germany and Canada, but is originally from Hungary. Being the person I am, I have been researching the topic ever since.
I found a twitter forum #TCKchat I have been learning some of the classic third culture advantages and disadvantages.
Here I share the questions asked at the last online chat and answer them here on our website.
How does a Third Culture Kid experience differ from the Expat Parent experience?
Children growing up in a new country, depending on the age they start, can seem scary. No matter how much preparations you make, trying to make them understand what is coming, all children are scared of the unknown. The best we can do is reassure them that we will be with them every step of the way.
Third culture kids are being raised in their new cultures during very impressionable years, which makes suggestive changes deeper, more permanent, which affects who they will become and how they view the world. There is that possibility that TCK will have a very different understanding of the world than their parents. What I find is that our children question everything, probably searching for their own answers. Having exposure to travel and culture, they are brave in expressing their differing opinions.
Where Expat parents move to a new country out of choice, with coping mechanisms already in place and a greater understanding of who they already are. Perhaps expat experiences will have less of an effect on adults because, who they are at their core being, stays the same.
How does the concept of home differ from your parents?
My mother and my husband both moved to Canada at 18, still impressionable years, yet they both still deeply identify with Hungarian culture. My father moved to Canada at 9 years old, and still struggles with who he is, much like a classic TCK does. I would say in my family, my grandfather is the only one, who moved to Canada in his 30’s, who has a clear understanding of who he is. A true Hungarian patriot, right til the end. My grandmother had German parents and was also a TCK living in Hungary when she married my grandfather and moved to Canada. She identifies with Hungarian culture, even though she is actually German and has lived in Canada for nearly 60 years.
Being from multi-generational cross-culture families, I would say I identify with aspects of all the cultures I have experienced. Home, is not a place, but where my husband and children are. Home, after my parents broke up, was not anywhere, or anything, only where my mother was. So I am used to having unclear or different philosophies of family and home.
I think many TCK are used to change, and change is where many feel most comfortable. I feel stagnant without a clear idea of the next project or skill to learn. I always need a plan or list in place. I like being challenged, and pushed outside of my comfort zone. I think under stress I thrive. I feel alive always looking forward to something new around the next corner.
What aspects of identity are the same and different as your parents?
As my parents did, I identify home with food. Those tastes that make me remember different elements of ‘home’ life. They always remain the same. Pleasurable, and identifiable. I guess they are food memories.
I also identify with activities, and traditions that we have created for our family that include many aspects of where we come from. Hungarian Christmas traditions on the 24th of December even though we are not particularly religious, decorating the tree the same evening, eating turkey on the Canadian Thanksgiving and making cabbage rolls around Easter. Lentils for New Years is supposed to bring us luck. Perhaps it is good to start the year with a good clean-out! (just saying!) Rouladen for Alfonz’s birthday celebrating his year as a kid in Germany. It is funny how I never thought of how I identify who I am with the food we eat, until I asked myself this very question. It is the one truly consistent thing in my life. I can rely on it. Like a good old friend. I wonder if all TCKs sport a few pounds?
My identity is unique, like a fingerprint. My family is my family but they have a different fingerprint than I do. We are different because of our experiences with different cultures. We celebrate that. Sometimes I wish we had a normal family, all living in once place, visiting Grandma on the weekends, big Sunday dinners, brothers and sisters always together. I try to recreate those feelings in my everyday life, to try to give my children some normalcy, consistency and comforts. But alas, search as I may… it will always be something that is missing.
What aspects of identity have been the most difficult to discuss with your parents?
My father has tried to eliminate his Hungarian roots, and is Canadian from all objective purposes, but by doing so, he is not excepting himself. My Grandmother also put away a huge part of her first culture and assimilated to Hungarian, perhaps out of necessity after the Russians came in, and partly the reason they left during the revolution. We are who we are. No matter how we try to bury it, no matter how we try to hide it, we can change but parts remain the same.
I have learned to embrace both the Hungarian and the Canadian parts of me, and I like being both. And now in France, I assimilate here as well. There are beautiful aspects of French culture that is immensely admirable. And also, after all, my children will be French for the most part. They will identify with the traditions and culture they are experiencing today. I can only hope when they are 40, they will be able to talk to us about how we choose to live and try to make sense of who they are. Humans. Loving. Open. These are my hopes.
What is one thing that is frustrating that expat parents sometimes do not understand about expatriation as a child?
I think for my children, they are on the edge of their third culture, not quite accepted, more a novelty; interesting at first, some even feared them and their multi-languages. Will they always feel like outsiders? I grew up with some elements of this with my migrant parents, a mother that never really learned English, and of course we all experience prejudice from time to time. But for the most part, I think in our village, it goes the other way, they embrace who we are, and people seem to like what we bring to the table.
What are some tips to better help expat parents about what it means to be a TCK?
My parents were dealing with their own adjustments to culture and language when I was young, and often I felt forgotten. I remember not having help with my schoolwork, they simply didn’t know how. Also my parents coming from Hungary, academics were harsh, all downward learning and often my father came down hard on us too. I finally figured out school, but without much understanding or explanation from my parents. By middle school I was the top of the class, a classic overachieving migrant’s child.
With my own kids, I find being there for their questions, listening to their concerns and helping them find solutions. I also keep reminding them of the vast benefits of how they are being raised. Four languages before 12 is amazing, and it will open many doors to them.
My advice, keep your eye on the prize, and never falter your principles. You know they won’t appreciate what you are doing for them, until they are much older. For now, you are the expat parent to third culture kids, (or multi-third culture kids) and as such, stick to the plan and show them the world.