Tag Archives: ATCK

European TCKs vs Global TCKs

In most of the books and articles about TCKs I miss the comparative approach between globally living TCKs and continental living TCKs.

Most of the studies focus on children who spend a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents’ culture, i.e. overseas, mainly on different continents. But what about those who, like me, did “only” live in different countries on one continent?

During gatherings among TCKs and ATCKs in the last years here in Europe, I noticed that those who did lead a global life, having experienced life on different continents and those who did “only” live in different countries but on the same continent didn’t really have that much in common. Often those who didn’t live globally were intimidated by the exuberant and exotic life of the other group. – Many expat families raising TCKs here in Europe have a completely different lifestyle than the ones described in the mainly US literature about this topic.


Let’s start with the definition Pollock and Van Reken gave about this group and which forms the base for many studies about the topic:

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background” (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009, p.13).

Pollock & Van Reken point out four main aspects which characterize Third Culture Kids:

a) their upgrowing outside of the parents’ culture

b) the fact that they build relationships to all of the cultures

c) the fact that this kind of children would “not have full ownership” in any of the cultures, “although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience” and, last but not least,

d) that “the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”.

Relationship with all the cultures

I think this is the main aspect of the definition of Third Culture Kids: that we build relationships to all the cultures we grow up in.

This also is fundamental for every Third Culture Adult (cfr. someone who did start the global or international life after age 18, i.e. left his or her passport country in adult life): wherever they end up living, they’ll pick up something from their host-countries and take it with them on their international journey. They will adopt certain values and habits that will form their “third” culture.

Full ownership…

This is the part that intrigues me in the definition. How can you measure ownership in a culture? Does this mean that you know all (?!) about values, habits, language(s) with all the dialects, regional variants, the history etc. and that you can identify with everything (?) or most of the aspects related with that country, ethnicities if you grow up in your passport country? Honestly, I don’t think that anyone can say that he has “full ownership” of his culture. This is simply impossible. Even people who grew up in one country, in the same city their parents, grandparents etc. grew up in would not consider themselves having “full ownership” in their culture (i.e. of the region they grew up in).

The sense of belonging for a TCK

I strongly agree that TCKs and ATCKs (as much as global nomads, expats etc.) discover the sense of belonging when they encounter others of a similar background. It is a huge relief, when we realize that there are others that don’t want to know where we come from, which language we like the most or what kind of cuisine we consider “the best” or where “the weather/job/healthcare system is the best”. When we don’t have to explain every step of our journey and still feel comfortable in a conversation about our life and ourselves.

All these aspects mentioned in the definition do apply to all sorts of TCKs, no matter if their international journey is global or continental.


Why do some TCKs feel different?

Many expats here in Europe don’t consider themselves or their children who grow up abroad as Third Culture Kids. Even those who know the term and the concept behind it don’t feel that they “belong” to this group. Mostly due to the literature about this topic which is mainly from an American and strongly global point of view.

This made me realize that with this term people associate exclusively globally living families. I’ve heard comments like “I think I’m a TCK but I didn’t live in Africa or Asia… I only lived in Europe”. I did hesitate myself, when I first read about TCKs, saw infographics about this or tried to do tests called “You know you’re a TCK when…”.

Here are some typical questions of this kind of tests, which I consider really inaccurate (I only chose some of the assumptions, but there is a vaste number online about this topic):

“You know you’re a TCK when…” European TCKs Global (US) TCKs
You speak two (or more) languages but can’t spell in any of them No, usually we are proficient in several languages Yes?*
You flew before you could walk Yes, but more since the last few generations. Yes?
You have a passport, but no drivers’ license No (this is for young adults going to college: In Europe the age of these young adults coincides with the age they usually leave for college: and they don’t necessarily go to study abroad) Applies for young adults  repatriating to the US (abroad, the average age to get a d.l. is 18, in US 16)
You watch National Geographic specials and recognize someone No… Sometimes (depends on where you’ve lived)
You run into someone you know at every airport Not so often Yes?
Your life story uses the phrase “Then we went to…” five times (or six, or seven times…) Yes (maybe less times?) Yes?
You speak with authority on the quality of airline travel Yes (but the same about train travel, and viability by bike or car) Yes
National Geographic makes you homesick No Yes
You read the international section before the comics Yes Yes
You live at school, work in the tropics, go home for vacation No, no, yes Yes, yes/no, yes
You don’t know where home is Yes Yes
You sort your friends by continent No, by country Yes
You feel that multiple passports would be appropriate Yes (a European one would be handy!) Yes
You watch a movie set in a foreign country, and you know what the nationals are really saying into the camera Yes Yes
You automatically take off your shoes as soon as you get home Most times, yes. It depends on the country Yes
You have the urge to move to a new country every couple of years Yes Yes
Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you Yes Yes
You have best friends in 5 different countries Yes Yes
You own personal appliances with 3 types of plugs Yes Yes
You know how to pack Yes Yes
You cruise the Internet looking for fonts that can support foreign alphabets Not necessarily Yes
You have frequent flyer accounts on multiple airlines Not necessarily Yes?
You consider a city 500 miles away very close Not always Yes
* I add a "?" when I'm not sure every globally living TCK would agree (or disagree).

Some assumptions are very country specific: “You know there is no such thing as an international language”: in most countries English is the international language. It depends very much on which countries you live in and in which context. If sent by an international company, the chances are big that you’ll stay in an international environment and English will be the main language. “Rain on a tile patio – or a corrugated metal roof – is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world”,  “You haggle with the checkout clerk for a lower price”, ” Your wardrobe can only handle two seasons: wet and dry” and “Your high school memories include those days that school was cancelled due to tear gas, riots” really only apply to very specific countries.

Many assumptions are very American: “You go to Taco Bell and have to put five packets of hot sauce on your taco”, “You go to Pizza Hut or Wendy’s and you wonder why there’s no chili sauce”, “You won’t eat Uncle Ben’s rice because it doesn’t stick together”: these are examples of food preferences from an American point of view, an European would not consider. “You know the geography of the rest of the world, but you don’t know the geography of your own country” depends from the school you’re attending abroad. If it is an International school, chances are high that you’ll know more about your own country. “You don’t know whether to write the date as day/month/year, month/day/year, or some variation thereof” is something very American. In Europe, this is much more unified. “You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted ball” this doesn’t seem strange to a European and we would never put this on this kind of list. There were also some assumptions which I don’t consider TCK specific, like “You wince when people mispronounce foreign words”, this is something every multilingual does (but you don’t necessarily need to be a TCK for this!), “You have a time zone map next to your telephone” and “Your dorm room/apartment/living room looks like a museum with all the “exotic” things you have around”. This last one can happen also to people who travel a lot.

What are the main differences between traditional TCKs and European TCKs?

First, European TCKs did not leave the continent. Their conception of the world is still “huge”, they travel a lot too, but they’re not really considering an airport their home. Why? Because European TCKs or expats often take other means of transportation: the train, the car, the boat. Of course, the plane is a great solution for fast travels (business or emergencies) from one city to another. But when travelling to a countryside, the car is often more convenient.

Also, many European TCKs are simply European citizens who change country because of relocation by a European company or because of a new job in another EU country. Their motivation to lead an international life is different from the one of traditional TCKs.

European TCKs are very aware of the differences between the European cultures, even though they mainly share the same history, Europeans have a very diverse background. Moving from Portugal to Sweden can have a similar culture-shock effect like moving from Rio de Janeiro to Montréal.

I’m writing a study about European TCKs or expats who never lived outside of Europe and am collecting data about personal experiences, therefore this is also an invitation to send me your European TCK or expat stories. I will soon publish another post about more specific characteristics of European TCKs and you’re kindly invited to let me know your thoughts about this in the comments.

English: Rectified map: Languages of Europe Fr...

English: Rectified map: Languages of Europe Français : Carte rectifiée des langues d’Europe (Anglais) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Review: “The Illusive Home” by James R. Mitchener

In The illusive home, James R. Mitchener gives us a very personal insight into the life of a real Third Culture Kid. He has first hand knowledge of what global moving and a life spent in different cultures means for TCK’s who are “cultural mixing pots, have grown up in so many vastly different worlds that the country from which we hail has no meaning beyond the fact that it’s the place that our passport says we belong” (p.1)

He talks about what “home”  means for a TCK, who “adopts fragments of every culture” and make them his own.

James R. Mitchell highlightens the important and sometimes painful aspects of transitioning for TCK’s, based on his own experiences. He describes the huge adaptability and mobility of TCK’s, their “ability to have an incredibly detailed understanding of new and unique cultures” (p.16) and why adaptation is their “most desirable quality” (p.17), that makes them into “creatures of culture” (p.18).

He also discusses why the definition of TCK should be more diversified because of many different kinds of TCK’s existing nowadays.

If you are a TCK, a parent of a TCK or an ATCK, The Illusive Home will resonate to you.

Growing up as a Third Culture Kid can be terrifying, but it is also rewarding and exciting: “In my eyes, despite how broken parts of my life have become, being raised in the places I’ve lived and having taken in so many cultures is the single greatest thing that has ever happened to me” (p.13).

Bildschirmfoto 2013-09-08 um 20.02.36

A few days ago, James R. Mitchener did publish a great post about the definition of TCK’s, called “Defining a Third Culture Kid” on his site “Third Culture Kid Life“: a must read for every TCK!


FYI: The common definition by David C. Pollock of a “Third Culture Kid”:

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. (David C. Pollock)

But please read James R. Mitcheners detailed definition of TCK’s in “Defining a Third Culture Kid” (cfr. above)

One year expatsincebirth

Bildschirmfoto 2013-08-15 um 11.28.06

Yes, today is my blogs’ first anniversary! It’s been exactly a year since I published my first post and I have to say that I really enjoyed writing every single post.

I’ve started blogging one year ago because I had written about many topics just “for me” and wanted to share them somewhere. To write a book about them seemed very appealing but then I realized that I covered so many different topics, that it would have been like a jack of all trades device. A friend gave me the idea to try to write a blog. But it was a few months later, when another friend told me the same, that I really started blogging. It was during our holiday in Switzerland that I choose the name and the main cathegories I would write about.

Selecting a name for my blog didn’t take that much time. My status as an expat-since-birth did pretty much sum up the topics. I did evaluate the different definitions of Third Culture Kids, Adult Third Culture Kids, Global Nomads etc.  in a post called “expat definition maze” but couldn’t find really a cathegory I could fit in, so I created my own one: expatsincebirth.

About multilingualism:

The knowledge I acquired during my studies about bilingualism and multilingualism brought me to write several posts about these topics in the cathegory being multilingual. As a multilingual person, my home are my languages and when I got children, I had to choose which language to speak to them in our multilingual family. With the  “secret language among (my) twins” I introduced the complex linguistic situation within our family. After pointing our the different definitions of OPOL I wrote about OPOL among multilingual siblings.

I find it pretty interesting that multilingual siblings don’t necessarily have the same language preference and that the initial language plan we usually make when our children are still babies, can change for several reasons when they get older.

There are many myths about bilingualism. I didn’t want to list them all up. There are already many posts and literature about this. But one in particular did intrigue me. It’s about multilinguals having multiple personalities. I’m still collecting answers about this in order to write a paper about it. – You’re very welcome to leave a comment on my post about this.

And then there is the myth about code switching being a sign of weakness. Well, it is not, on the contrary: Don’t worry if your child does code-switching!

Those who know me, know that I’m firmly convinced that reading is very important. And it is even more important for multilingual children to read in the different languages they grow up with. For those who don’t like to read, I wrote a post about how to make our children like poetry (and songs!).

Learning new languages for expats is not always that easy. But there are some tips that can help. I did point out the five more important ones that worked for me and added another post with tips how to encourage children to learn the local language.

There are many reasons to become multilingual at any stage. We don’t have to start at a young age to become multilingual. I shared my multilingual journey and pointed out that the most important thing is to be willing to learn new languages: “When there’s a will, there’s a way to become multilingual“.

About parenting:

In my posts about parenting I tried to give some practical advices. Some more will follow but up to now I gave some advices for when the children have the flu and I shared a first-aid experience I had this summer with one of my daughters, trying to remind other parents about refreshing their First Aid skills regularly.

In the colder period of the year Indoor activities for children become more important and role plays can be fun also for the older ones.

I’m not an over protective parent and like the  Love and Logic approach in parenting which consists also in doing lot of questioning in order to make the children take their own decisions from a very early stage. Also helping less helps our children more than we sometimes think, and it helps us too to realize how independent they can be (even as toddlers).

I’m very interested in e-safety for parents and children and the resources that are available about this topic. I published a few posts about  “How to reduce screen time for children” and about “mobile phones for children“.

The importance to spend one-on-one time with our children and how to manage if you have more than one child is very important in my daily life with my kids. “How to make children listen to us and how to listen to them” and “communicating is listening with empathy” are two posts where I point out the importance of effective communication with our children.

I got a bit annoyed by posts called “What not to say…” and decided to post some about “What to say”: “to parents of a child with a disability” and to a “mum of twins” because I prefer positive reinforcement.

I didn’t write a lot about twins yet, but I’m preparing a whole series about twins “from baby to teen”. The first post about this is called “Twins at school: once separated always separated?

When we spend holidays with our children we sometimes don’t really get to enjoy them as much as we would like. By giving them some chores we can easily get some holiday feeling too.

In order to lead a happier life, despite of all the movings, the changes and having many tasks around our kids, families and work, I wrote a post about the fact that our happiness depends on our selves: if we decide to be happy and take action we will succeed.

As I’m raising my children in a multicultural context and see many different parenting styles every day and I’m really fascinated in the different parenting styles across cultures I wanted to find some answers to the question “Do you think the cultures you’ve been in touch with did influence you in your parenting style?“. I’m still collecting feedbacks which I will publish in a paper. You’re very welcome to leave a comment on the post.

About expat life

I did publish several posts about expat life in general and some specific ones about the Netherlands and Switzerland. I will add some more about Germany and Italy, and maybe some other countries.

About ATCK’s raising TCK’s

Lately I got involved in several discussions about ATCK’s and TCK’s and joined several TCK groups online. I’m planning to write a small book about this and am preparing a questionnaire for ATCK’s (Adult Third Culture Kids) that I’ll soon publish on my blog.

I found out that TCK’s (and expats, global nomads etc.) often “tend to “start cutting bonds around 3 years into a friendship”” and that three is a magic number for TCK’s. Other topics in this cathegory are the good-byes, the ways “people call you“, the impossible question about “where is home” that TCK’s don’t like to be asked and “what kind of memories our kids will share with us“.

If you are interested to participate in my ATCK survey, please leave a message in the responses of my post “Are you an ATCK raising TCK’s” and I’ll get in touch with you.


The most satisfying aspect of running the blog in this first year has been interacting with bloggers and parents from around the world. I found many like minded persons and am having really interesting conversations with people around the globe that I’m really grateful to have found this bloggosphere.

 I’ve joined several groups on the internet and met some of them also in real life. The Multicultural Kid Blogs group on Facebook did even start a own blog that I strongly recommend. Then there are the fb groups Mum knows Mum, Third Culture Kids Netherlands, Expats in The Hague which meet regularly and Third Culture Kids Everywhere etc. that all give me very interesting ideas and inputs for posts.

I would like to thank all my followers for joining my blog and for leaving very interesting comments! The almost immediate response to my writings is amazing and all your feedbacks are very precious to me.

Van harte bedankt – Vielen herzlichen Dank – Con un grazie di cuore –

With a heartfelt thank you – Merci de tout coeur – Gracias de todo corazon!

Are you an ATCK raising TCK’s?

If you are an Adult Third Culture Kid raising Third Culture Kids, please read this post. You are probably familiar with the definition of a TCK, but here it is, just for those who are not sure if they are (or not) an ATCK:

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.

As an ATCK, we know exactly what our children are going through while growing up in a country that is not their (and our!) passport country. We have doubts about what language to teach them, as we are multilinguals, and we don’t know what kind of traditions we should teach them, show them and which aspects of our very colorful life we should pass them on.

As ATCK’s and former TCK’s (or expats-since-birth) we don’t feel the urge to have to explain where “home” is, we never questioned this. I’ve read so many articles from not-real-ATCK’s pretending that TCK’s ask themselves where they come from: this is simply not true!

I noticed that many topics about multilingualism, raising multilingual children etc. are often written by First Culture Adults or parents who never experienced a whole life as “expat” and I realize that the way to approach these topics is quite different from what I expect.

Therefore I would like to make this small attempt to ask other ATCK’s to let me know how they raise their TCK’s and what kind of experience they’ve made.

With your help, I will soon start this series on my blog because as an Expat-since-birth and ATCK myself, and raising TCK’s I’m wondering what makes the difference of being ATCK parents, raising TCK’s.