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

by Damaris Walter, 2012/10/29

The second part about our series of articles, “Third Culture Kids”, is about the specific challenges world citizens have to face, the questions that occupy them and the unique privileges they have over others. Immerse yourself again in the swirl of identity of the “third culture kids”.

The specific challenges faced by “third culture kids”

A sense of belonging or home: Where is my home or where do I feel at home?
Their diverse living environments, places of residence, languages and cultural imprints do not make it easy for “Third Culture Kids“ to answer this question.

Home. What makes home ‘home’? What gives you the feeling of being at home? Is it your family, your friends, the language or dialects, the place or the landscape, the familiar odours, the food, the music, the clothes or the mentality of people? Is it the combination of all this or is the sense of home linked to a few factors only?

Is it different for every human being? Can you feel completely at home at several places or is the “sense of home” of “third culture kids” rather a self-created interior feeling that is formed by the ideal mixture of all their cultures in their hearts?

An important part of our “sense home” is shaped not only by different cultural imprints, but, most of all, by the people who were close to us and have had an influence on our lives. The different mentalities and cultural backgrounds of friends and the social environment experienced during a person’s environmental years, make a significant contribution to the shaping of their identity and sense of home.

Where ever in the world something reminds them of the mentality of the people or cultures they grew up with, the “third culture kids” will experience something like a sense of home and familiarity. And yet many of them suffer from a feeling of being at home everywhere and nowhere at the same time and from not having a stable sense of home or belonging like many other people experience in their close surroundings.

One’s own culture: Which culture corresponds most to me? Which parts of which cultures make me what I am?
It is difficult to determine if a certain trait goes back to one or the other culture; most “third culture kids” probably do not occupy themselves with thoughts like these or, at least, are not aware of them.

And yet what develops out of a mix of two cultures in one person is not only three, but many more. The result is not only one third culture that is made up of the two cultures of origin (the parents’ background and the country where the person spent most of her life) and shapes the “third vulture kid’s” personality. Instead, many more inextricable factors add to this, which together shape the total work of art of a person’s cultural identity (and thus, the term “third culture kid” only refers to a part of their cultural personality as well).

A crisis of identity: Who am I? Why do I have so little in common with the others?
The quest for the “I” is probably slumbering in every “third culture kid”, and its intensity depends on the sensitivity and cultural mixture of each individual. To find an answer to this question is certainly not easy for any of them, for some of them it will remain unanswered.

What are the consequences of this life-long interior quest for one’s own identity? One consequence is certainly a kind of unsteadiness, continuous activity and restlessness that make these persons move on to new pastures again and again, in order to gain new experiences and get to know new interesting people, who maybe share similar needs.

In some cases, this lifelong quest for the “I” can result in insecurity. Not always can this insecurity be compensated for by an advantage in experiences, multicultural knowledge and understanding, and the self-confidence resulting out of that. Fact is that the search for their own identity has an (most times subconscious) impact on the lives of “third culture kids” that can manifest in different ways.

The wonderful sides of the life of a “third culture kid”

More than the above-mentioned challenges and problems experienced by “third culture kids”, their life as “global nomads” also brings about wonderful sides and advantages that are of inestimable value. To name only some of them: They are globetrotters who feel at home in the world and almost never feel as strangers anywhere. They can adjust very quickly to totally different living circumstances and can adopt the traditions, customs and typical patterns of behaviour of other cultures without much effort.

Their social abilities like their knowledge of human nature, understanding, tolerance, open-mindedness, unpretentiousness, curiosity and great interest in other people are often more developed than with people who grew up in one culture only. With “third culture kids”, these abilities are deeply rooted in their personality.

They also have a strong interest in foreign policy and world affairs, which leads to an ample knowledge and understanding of global issues and, in combination with their origin, creates them many interesting job opportunities (e.g. in the fields of foreign policy or diplomacy).

Under ideal circumstances, “multicultural” kids can profit from having obtained the best of each culture throughout their whole life.

What an inestimable and beautiful richness they possess that we do not have! In the course of the next days, we will publish some very interesting interviews with “third culture kids” and their parents. So keep in touch and accompany the global nomads on their search for identity – the topic 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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