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?


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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

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