Raising South Asian Voices

Cynthia Dettman:  Author

What is a Third Culture Kid?

The term “third culture kid”  (TCK) was first coined by researchers John and Ruth Useem in the 1950s, who used it to describe the children of American citizens working and living abroad.  Later the book Third Culture Kids was widely read.  I have found the book to be an excellent summary of the psychological and behavioral issues faced by those who grew up in their early years away from their parents’ home country.  The authors have lectured and offered services widely and helped to inspire a variety of TCK forums, websites and communities.

Here are some of the typical strengths and challenges for children who grow up at developmentally important stages outside of their parents’ home countries:

Strengths:  adaptability, cross-cultural knowledge, empathy, resourcefulness.

Challenges:  a sense of belonging nowhere and feeling as an outsider; a tendency to migrate and move a lot; difficulty with emotional bonding.

Which of these strengths and challenges resonate with you?

The TCK term has expanded to include a wide variety of “kids” who have had both multicultural and multiracial experiences, and children of refugees and immigrants.  The term is so broad, I think, that it is too general a category.  Is the experience of a privileged son of an American oil executive in Kuwait who attends a rich people’s international school the same as a poor immigrant’s child who comes from Mexico when she is 7 years old and has never attended a school?

These generic generalizations of TCK “issues” don’t really capture issues of racism, social inequity, living with servants, colonial legacies, and parental values.  Missionary kids and military kids and foreign service kids tend to be privileged, yet often blind to the role their parents play in global injustice and inequities.

More on that in future blogs!  What are your thoughts?

10 Comments

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Thanks Rona! I’m really looking forward to my upcoming trip to India to uncover and experience more of the visceral experience of gay folk, of law students, or rural farming people- so many realities in my novel that I know I am barely scratching the surface. Always learning, learning, learning! Cynthia

You and I had many of the same experiences growing up in India and especially at Kodai School. As an adult, I realize how privileged I was and how I took that lifestyle for granted. I’m looking forward to reading your work.

You and I had many of the same experiences growing up in India and especially at Kodai School. As an adult, I realize how privileged I was and how I took that lifestyle for granted. I’m looking forward to reading your work.

How sweet to get your interested and supportive comment! Rumba nundri! (Muchas gracias!) from New Mexico! Hope you’ll sign up to follow the blog! Cindy (now Cynthia

Hi Cynthia, Thanks for your hard work in putting all this together. I am a bit envious of you for all your trips to TN. It’s great to hear from you. Keep posting, please. Rumba sunthoshum, Ma! Nundree.
BobE.

Rumba Nundree back to you! I find myself babbling away in Tamil all the time- my vocabulary is still limited to about a 10 year old – but it’s so wonderful to have the accent and intonation and feeling with it. Instant connections are created as people are so joyful to hear heir beautiful, musical and expressive language flowing from a “vellakari’s” (white woman’s) mouth! I’m grateful that I came to India as a 10 month baby and learned Tamil and English at the same time in my ayah’s arms- children learn languages in such a deep, intuitive way. i was just surprised that it stayed in my aging brain this long! Bob, I forgot where you family lived in India. Was it Tamilnadu? Cynthia

Hey Bob, did you subscribe to my blog? I hope so! Would love to hear your comments as I continue my Tamilnadu adventures! Cynthia

Hi, C et al. I belong to the TCK fb page and I am led to believe that a TCK was born in one country, spent a significant part of its early life in another and settled eventually in a third.

Hi Vic, the King. A note from Anna! Yes, the definition of a TCK has changed over time- in interesting ways. Many of us are just global. We can’t help it. And it’s a good thing! Cynthia

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