Tag Archives: third culture kid

A guide to embracing the positive aspects of being a TCK (by Tayo Rockson)

When I found this infographic about TCKs on fb a few weeks ago, I was really glad and thankful to find so many positive aspects of a TCK in one picture in a great guide “from A to Z” about how to embrace the positive facets of being a TCK.

© Positive aspects of being a TCK by Tayo Rockson
© Positive aspects of being a TCK by Tayo Rockson

You may notice that in the alphabet the letters K, Q, U, X and Y are missing. I was tempted to fill the gap and the first things that came into my mind were keen, qualified, unique and youthful (I’m still looking for an appropriate “x” word, unless you accept “x-cultural” for “cross-cultural”…).

TCKs are keen to discover new cultures, languages, habits and qualified for an international life. TCKs know what it is like to move cultures and countries, what to expect and how to navigate an international life. All the TCKs and ATCKs I know are very youthful. They’re usually flexible in many ways, very adaptable and all in all unique. Of course, we are all “unique”, but for people growing up in the same place, sharing the same experiences (and memories) is easier than for people who move frequently around the globe. TCKs share the experience of an international life, but they usually move to different places: it’s more likely that they share only a part of their experience abroad with other TCKs.


qualified to know what it is like to move cultures and countries – See more at: http://www.relocationafrica.com/articles/understanding-third-culture-kids-tcks#sthash.fGoGih9p.dpuf

qualified to know what it is like to move cultures and countries – See more at: http://www.relocationafrica.com/articles/understanding-third-culture-kids-tcks#sthash.fGoGih9p.dpuf

qualified to know what it is like to move cultures and countries – See more at: http://www.relocationafrica.com/articles/understanding-third-culture-kids-tcks#sthash.fGoGih9p.dpuf

This infographic is made by Tayo Rockson, author, podcaster, and digital marketing expert.

Tayo Rockson has long focused on helping people better themselves. As a Third Culture Kid, or a child who grew up in a different culture from both parents, he learned how to cope with many issues that other Third Culture Kids struggle with. As a global nomad, Rockson has lived in Vietnam, Sweden, and Nigeria, and now he resides in New York. He is working to make a difference in the world by sharing his experiences and wisdom with others. His vivacious personality and uplifting positive outlook set the stage for Tayo Rockson to be an international motivational figure. He is the author of “The Ultimate Guide To TCK Living. Understanding the World around you”, a free book you can download here. In this book TCKs and Global Nomads can learn about their areas of strenghs, fitting in, how they can thrive in the workplace, become global leaders etc.

Today he launches a very exciting new podcast series, As Told By Nomads, which features discussions about growing up in multicultural environments, getting jobs outside the country of origin, global leadership, and much more. In these podcasts he focuses on inspiring others to overcome the challenges that come with experiencing different cultures. He discusses ways to turn even the most difficult situations into positive life experiences while growing up in a new culture, as well as cover more challenging aspects of living in a new cultural environment.

As Told By Nomads includes stories, advice, and inspiration for dating as a global nomad and Third Culture Kid, as well as how to succeed in school, careers, and even entrepreneurship. – You may subscribe, rate, and review on iTunes here at http://bit.ly/1vmD3Fu; Stitcher here at http://bit.ly/1q5ldFm; or tunein here at http://bit.ly/1ohPzQZ

Tayo just released a brilliant video about this infographic!


Born in Nigeria and raised throughout Africa, Europe, North America and Asia, Tayo’s upbringing as a global nomad and Third Culture Kid gave him a unique perspective on life and he has remained committed to building the next set of global leaders. To read more about Tayo and find out about his podcast and books, visit his blog at www.tayorockson.com, like his page on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.


How are your children coping?

Many of us are enjoying their holidays on a beach, with family and friends, ignoring (or deciding to ignore?) what is going on in other countries. Being on social media was quite irritating for me in the last weeks: pictures of relaxed children playing in the sand appeared next to news about children shot playing on the beach. Pictures of friends saying goodbye at the airport appeared next to pictures of families who took a fatal flight, the last one in their lives…

With all those wars going on right now and those terrible things happening – I know, they always happen, but sometimes it seems that it happens all at once – I wonder: How do the families who come from those places and live abroad, cope with this?

Living far away from family is already challenging, but when the country you come from is at war, things get much worse. You worry about your loved ones. You won’t probably be able to visit them – and they won’t be able to join you…

Parents will be incredibly worried, trying to reach their families in order to check if they are ok. Maybe they’ll not talk to them for days, weeks. Whether you’re living in a war zone and try to evacuate or you have family in a war zone: it’s an extreme situation and you’ll be in survival mode for a long time. How long can you resist?

And what about the children? Children learn to be resilient in so many situations during their international life, but war is something terrible to live with. They see their parents extremely worried, scared. What do parents tell their children, how do children process this? How can parents – who need help themselves! – help their children to cope with these situations?

Accusing or looking for the person, group or nation that’s responsible isn’t helpful. Being empathetic and listening to the fears children have is incredibly important now. Focussing on the here and now: what can we do today, how can we help eachother today, what kind of measures can we adopt to help our loved ones, our friends?

What should parents tell their children about their country when it’s at war? How can they help them to maintain a positive attitude towards their traditions and values when they see them all questioned by a war?

Children who grow up abroad, often grow up in international settings. What about their friends who turn up being “enemies” all of a sudden? How can they still stay friends if their families are suffering because their nations are combatting each other?

One is for sure: families coming from those countries and living abroad need support.

If you have experienced extreme situations like those evoked here above, I would love your suggestions about how to help children cope with this in the comment section. – Please be aware that I will remove any comments containing accusations or inappropriate language. All I’m looking for are suggestions about how to help these families and children cope right now.

B at home: Emma moves again by Valérie Besanceney

If you are raising or teaching Third Culture Kids and are looking for a book to read to them – or for them to read by themselves! – about leading a mobile life and especially relocating this is the right book for you.

The author, Valérie Besanceney, is a Third Culture Kid herself. In this fictional “memoir” she tells about what a ten year old girl, Emma, and her teddy bear feel when they need to move again and how they perceive the changes. She translates what “adults know about the TCK experience into language and concepts that children who grow up globally can relate to”. (p.XVI)

If you are not a TCK yourself, this book will help you understand what TCK children are facing and find a way to help their adjustment.

This book will give you an insight into what children go through from the leaving stage until the entering stage of the transition phase. Changes can be adventurous, but also scary. Saying goodbye to friends, adjusting to a new school, a new language, a new country is a challenge TCKs face at every move or change in their life. Emma tells about the issues she has to B, her bear, who is her constant companion and the reassuring voice throughout the book.

Emma has already moved twice and when her parents tell her that they will relocate again. She is furious, sad, nervous – excited? Not really: “taking of for a vacation to an exotic island is exciting. Getting a present you’ve been wanting for a long time is exciting. Having a little brother or sister finally join the family would be exciting. Moving is not exciting at all!” (p.2).

Children usually appear to be resilient during transition and parents often don’t get to know what’s going on with them, unless they complain about tummy aches or show unusual behaviour. Valérie Besanceney knows all this first hand: “I know I silently struggled as a child, and there were only a handful of educators along the way who showed empathy for my situation” (p.XXII).

Emma finds a way to “tackle the conflicting emotions by turning to B, her faithful teddy bear”. All Emma wants is to “be at home”. During her journey, “home” acquires a new meaning for her and she finally comes to terms with the challenges of this move.

The very useful discussion questions added at the end of the book, help teachers and parents to discuss the different issues of a TCK with the children.

What others said about this book:

“In this book, parents, educators, teachers etc. will find suggestions for ways to translate TCK theory into practices to help children navigate the “chronic cycles of separation inherent in a TCKs childhood” (Ruth van Reken, Co-author, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds and Co-founder of Families in Global Transition)

“Beautifully written, B at Home: Emma Move Again is a must ofr parents, teachers and organizations that support global nomads. Adults who work with famlies in global transition will find it added to their “go to shelf”. Tidbits such as ‘…home will never ever be one place. It will be constantly moving. Like the waves, ike the beads in the kaleidoscope’ has made this one of my favorite books!” (Julia Simens, Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family, Summertime Publishing, 2012)

“This is a book that will help children and their parents (and stuffed animals!) with any transition or move” (Dr. Lisa Pittman, Co-author, Expat Teens Talk: Peers, Parents and Professionals Offer Support, Advice and Solutions in Response to Expat Life Challenges as Shared by Expat Teens, Summertime Publishing, 2012)

Bildschirmfoto 2014-07-23 um 13.45.38

B at Home: Emma Moves Again, by Valérie Besanceney, Summertime Publishing, 2014.

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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