Tag Archives: Third Culture Kids

Identity and the Third Culture Kid (TCK) experience

TCK Image for blog post

How would you identify yourself if you grew up in several different places? This is the first in a series of posts about the TCK experience. Third Culture Kids spend part of their childhood outside their parent or home culture. In this post, I’ll take a look at how young adults who grew up as TCKs, understand their identity construction.

“I moved to three different schools and in each one I actively changed my identity. Not to fit in, but to make the transition easier.”

 

We identify ourselves in a way that is complex and fluid. We like to take comfort in the security of defining ourselves and others in absolutes; but it’s really not easy to pin down essentialist ideas. We are multifaceted and don’t always fit into confined pigeonholes. We change over time and in different social environments. The way that we now exist as part of a globalised world, adds layers of complexity to identity construction.

“… identities are never unified and, in late modern times, increasingly fragmented and fractured; never singular but multiply across different, often intersecting and antagonistic, discourses, practices and positions.”

Stuart Hall

I interviewed three young adults who have migrated across nations and cultures as children- A Danish national, an Australian and a Dutch citizen of mixed Dutch and Mexican ethnicity. They grew up as Third Culture Kids (TCKs), young people who followed their parents as they worked in different countries. I wondered how these former TCKs, now adults, identity themselves. Did they change themselves as they changed their perception of ‘home’?

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Pablo Picasso: Girl before a Mirror

The interviewees made it clear that defining themselves is complicated. “It’s not simple”, a former TCK stated, “I would be a completely different person if I had grown up in one place”. And when asked if it is more difficult to work out your identity as a TCK, the interviewees answered yes, “It’s harder than the average person. I know what I’m not and I know what I am, but it’s not so clear-cut” and “I’ve changed a lot in different countries”. The TCK adults agreed that they created their own identity and this self-construction occurred in different contexts, “I moved to three different schools and in each one I actively changed my identity. Not to fit in, but to make the transition easier.”

 

I was also interested in how their identity relates to nations. In 1916, Dewey stated that the late 19th Century emphasis on nationalism and nation building passed onto education. This tendency has been maintained in education systems, where children are taught to be good national citizens. What about Third Culture Kids who grow up in several nations?

 

“I can still feel Australian but I think a lot of that is just because I held onto it. ”

 

There was an acknowledgement from the interviewees that nation and identity are consciously manipulated, “ Yeah I’m Australian. Not fully Australian… but it is the part of my identity that I wanted to cling onto… I made an effort to make contact with other Australians. I can still feel Australian but I think a lot of that is just because I held onto it”. The Danish TCK adult felt very connected to the nation, attributed to spending a longer significant period of childhood in Denmark, but at the same time questioned the essentialism of national identity, “I still feel like I’m 100% Danish…. I don’t know what it means to be Danish…Are you Danish because you like Danish food? It really depends on where you are from in Denmark”. And when it comes to choosing a passport identity, it’s a pragmatic decision “I have a Dutch passport because it’s easier.”

 

Identity is evidently something that happens discursively, in flux, and can happen in different ways, even while identifying others. We tell stories about ourselves in forming our ever-shifting identity. These narratives are multiple, stitched together and altered in different contexts. For the adult TCKs interviewed, their identities have moved and narratives changed in their many contexts.

References:

Dewey, J. (2004). Democracy and Education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York, N.Y.: Dover Publications.

Hall, S & Du Gay, P. (Eds.). (2015). Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage.

 

 

 

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Being local and global

Who are you? If you are a teacher, part of your job is to help students to recognize and understand their identity as they develop. Yet how many teachers have taken the time to examine their own identity and how we understand ourselves within a wider community of humans?

This is an activity from the Kid World Citizen website that I have used in the classroom and remains an effective, practical exercise as a starting point for young children to think about how they see themselves in the world and celebrate the diversity of local identity whilst linking it to our global citizenship. It is presented as a bilingual activity in English and Spanish. My place in the world

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My Place in this World from Kid World Citizen

When I first considered using this activity with children, I saw that it related to the concentric circles of Stoic philosophy of the 1st-2nd CE. This concept is promoted by Professor Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago) to consider our levels of belonging, our local and global identity, which allows us to recognize ourselves as local, national and world citizens.

 “The Stoics… suggest that we think of ourselves not as devoid of local affiliations, but as surrounded by a series of concentric circles. The first one encircles the self, the next takes in the immediate family, then follows the extended family, then, in order, neighbors or local groups, fellow city-dwellers, and fellow countrymen- and we can easily add to this list groupings based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender, or sexual identities. Outside these circles is the largest one, humanity as a whole”. (Nussbaum, M. For Love of Country?)

concentric-circlesThis Stoic concept is a useful exercise for teachers and older students. It is even interesting to examine at different stages of our development over time, to witness shifts in local allegiances.

For the Third Culture Kid (TCK) growing up in a different culture or nation to their official citizenship, the local affiliations may be across national borders. We can be local in more than one area. This is also true for people who have lived and worked in different places. We feel at home and local across places, national borders and citizenship.

This idea is expressed well in the TED talk by Taiye Selasi Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m a local

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“We’re local where we carry out our rituals and relationships, but how we experience our locality depends in part on our restrictions. By restrictions, I mean, where are you able to live? What passport do you hold? Are you restricted by, say, racism, from feeling fully at home where you live? By civil war, dysfunctional governance, economic inflation, from living in the locality where you had your rituals as a child?” – Taiye Selasi

When we examine our allegiances and levels of belonging, we begin to see that the way that we view the world is through a particular lens. And it is a shifting lens and not absolute. What we feel is ‘normal’ is not normal for everyone. It also emphasizes the sense of global belonging that we all share.

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