“Third Culture Kids” – A Clash of Cultures within their own Identity

A short trip into the world of social psychology

by Damaris Walter,  2012/10/26

The Search for the “I”

There are more and more of them: people who develop their own sub-culture. What characterizes the so-called “third culture kids”, is the fact that they grew up in several different cultures and, thus, obtained diverse cultural imprints. The “global nomads”, as they are also called, often live between two or more worlds. The question of their own identity, their “I”, is more complex and vague to them than it is for people with a clear cultural belonging and a stable home where they grew up.

Due to the growing internationalization of social structures like single companies or whole cities, which integrate people from the most diverse cultures of the world, the global network is becoming stronger every day. Multiculturalism is gradually becoming more frequent in society as a whole, and a clear trend to intercultural exchange and to spending periods of life in different countries or continents can be observed with individuals as well.

The result of this social development is that more and more people are born into one culture and grow up in a totally different one. In other cases, they are even born into a culturally mixed family, which adds another culture to their identity as a person.

Now, who is a “third culture kid”?

According to definition, a “third culture kid” is a “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture” (Pollock & Van Reken, 1999).

Often, one of their characteristics is a certain restlessness, which makes them travel frequently from one country to the other. Not least because of their own multicultural identity, they tend to be more open-minded towards other countries and more interested in other cultures than their “monocultural” acquaintances; a further aspect that can make life more difficult for “third culture kids”. Since they stay in one country only for a while, they often feel misunderstood by their local friends in whose country they spend a part of their life.

A further characteristic is their multilingualism. Since “third culture kids” often speak two different languages with their parents already and grow up in a country with a third language or have spent a part of their developmental years in other linguistic backgrounds, many of them are endowed with the privilege of multilingualism from birth.

A beautiful poem fitting this context was written by Whitni Thomas (1991):

I grew up in a Yellow country
But my parents are Blue.
I'm Blue.
Or at least, that is what they told me.
But I play with the Yellows.
I went to school with the Yellows.
I spoke the Yellow language.
I even dressed and appeared to be Yellow.
Then I moved to the Blue land.
Now I go to school with the Blues.
I speak the Blue language.
I even dress and look Blue.
But deep down, inside me, something's Yellow.
I love the Blue country.
But my ways are tinted with Yellow.
When I am in the Blue land,
I want to be Yellow.
When I am in the Yellow land,
I want to be Blue.
Why can't I be both?
A place where I can be me.
A place where I can be green.
I just want to be green.

Our series of articles with the topic “Third Culture Kids” – A Clash of Cultures within their own Identity” is to be continued!

This article contains information from the following sources:
“Third Culture Kids“ by Lesley Lewis; http://wanjennifer.tripod.com

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