TCK – You need to know this Acronym

TCK – you have probably not heard this acronym before.  So, listen up – it’s a good one.

Third Culture Kids are defined as kids raised in a context that is neither of their parents’ cultural origin.  Perhaps a kid whose mom is Russian, dad is Japanese, but they are living in London.  Not one of these three shares the same culture with each other or their environment.  So, junior is a TCK.  Neither fully Japanese, fully British or fully Russian.  Make matters more complicated if this family decides to move to South Africa… these situations are happening all the time.  Tiger Woods attempted to explain his own term for his mixed identity- remember Caublasian?

Its safe to say that no two TCKs are alike… but they do share a commonality that they have grown up in a situation where defining their own identity is not limited to their environment nor their family culture.  They have to write their own identity.  No easy task for anyone.


With so much travel happening, intercultural marriages and multicultural families – TCKs are in all corners of the globe.  Understanding themselves and identifying others cultural habits is a daily task for them.  Adaptability and perceptiveness is a skill they have to learn early in life.

The thing with intercultural communication – is that it taps into the fact that there is no purified form of culture that can be read about in a book.  You cannot read a list of Do’s and Don’ts’s to be effective.  Creating connections and positive interactions across cultures is a lot more vague than that.  It’s situational. Contextual and complex.  Human interaction simultaneously affects culture and creates it.

Culture does not exist in a silo. It is interactive.

As much as we’d like to think we are who we are and that’s who we are.  When we interact, we change.  Cultural interaction creates culture.  There is no permanence to culture because we rely on each other to create culture.  If someone is Nigerian, how can you define that unless you juxtapose it against another culture?  You can’t.  Being Nigerian is being Nigerian because there is another culture looking to it and defining it as Nigerian.  We can’t define culture without each other.   And in doing so, we influence each others culture.  Culture is a relationship, not a thing.

Are you still with me?


Let’s say… You know how you act a certain way with your funny friend? Suddenly you are funnier, because the two of you have created a culture together.  But then, you go to a colleagues house who is quite formal, reserved and likes to discuss scholarly things.  You become quieter and more reserved, perhaps.  You have stepped into a new cultural relationship.  So, who are you? The funny person or the scholarly person?  The rules of engagement change, and bring out a different part in you.  Add cultural environments, countries, and languages into this mix and it gets a bit confusing.

TCKs have lived this experience their whole lives.  Swinging from one cultural context to the next they have a strong sense of adapting, and a slippery sense of a solid identity.  But perhaps being adaptable and situationally adept is part of their identity.  Is this a skill the world needs more of?


A new film is coming out that explores the challenges that TCKs experience. And also offers ideas of how we can learn from them.  Best of all – how we can build connections in this culturally dynamic World.  Check it out:

A friend of mine, is a TCK and she has lots of great stories. Like the hilarious cultural mishaps of a name that works in Japan, México and the US.  Read about Lisa/Risa and the Cultural Lessons in a Name and her Reflections on Being a TCK.

If you are a TCK or know one, you might want to tell them about the Families in Global Transition organization – they have an upcoming conference.  They do great work; it’s an important community, especially for those who might feel a bit lost and wondering, “Where is my community?”


So, share this information(!!!) with friends who are TCKs (and didnt know it!) or perhaps someone raising a kid in a third culture situation…


6 thoughts on “TCK – You need to know this Acronym

  1. Thanks for the referral to my posts. Keep up your great writing! FIGT conference schedule looks great by the way. Can’t wait for it.

  2. Vanessa, I understand what a TCK is and had never thought of that before. Well done and great writing.
    Love, Dad

  3. The cartoon at the beginning is the sum of my conversations when someone asks me where I’m from! especially since the African country wasn’t South Africa… but a little country called Swaziland that most people haven’t heard of. “Let’s just pretend I’m British until I actually know you well enough to care to tell you the whole story.”

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