What It Means To Be A Third Culture Kid


“No, but where are you really from?”

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a term that is used to refer to children who are raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture “for a significant part of their development years.”

For me, it meant moving to a different country every three years until I was 16. I boarded my first plane before I knew how to walk, and I learned how to pack my entire life into a few boxes at a very young age. At the age of three, I left the country I was born in, leaving most of my family behind and at the age of 12, I had already moved six times and had lived in five different countries.

As a third culture kid, although I felt like I could identify with many cultures and nationalities, I never felt like I really belonged to any particular one. Being asked “where are you from?” is one of my biggest annoyances. I always have a short and long answer ready, depending on who’s asking me. Often, I tell white lies in order to avoid getting into the long story. Depending on the situation, I’ll either choose to identify with the country I was born in or ones of the countries I grew up in. Other times, I’ll generalise and say “I grew up around Europe,” and leave it at that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly patriotic and proud of my nationalities, but sometimes it can get exhausting to explain.

While growing up, I hated my parents for moving us around so often. I hated leaving my schools and my friends and having to make new ones. Now, as a (somewhat) adult, I can appreciate the experience that my parents gave me. I can recognise the privilege I had by growing up in the diverse environment of international schools.

Here are just a few things I have learned/noticed in my nearly 23 years of being a TCK:

  • My best friends and I have never lived in the same country. We have maintained our friendship using apps like whatsapp and viber. We missed birthdays and anniversaries, and promised to be there next year even though we knew we would fail to do so.
  • I can calculate time differences in under five seconds because I’ve been doing it my entire life, but my phone has five different world clocks to help me when I am trying to contact a loved one and I’m feeling lazy.
  • I’ve spent an incredibly unhealthy amount of time in airports and on airplanes.
  • As a TCK, it’s weird if you don’t speak multiple languages
  • I say that I’m from my passport country when I’m outside of it, but when I’m in it, I always feel the need to say “well I’m from here by citizenship, but not by blood.”
  • At this moment, I have four different currencies in my wallet.
  • For the last five years, I’ve been in a long distance relationship with my family, and for some, I know it may be years before I see them again.
  • Fortunately, I’ve become really good at saying goodbye. Unfortunately, they never really get any easier.

When I was younger, I never felt like I belonged.

I used to see this as a disadvantage. I used to think that this was bad, that there was something wrong with me for never being able to truly fit in to one particular culture or country. But as I’ve grown older, I have chosen to embrace the life of a third culture kid.

I don’t belong to one culture, I belong to many. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Following my heart and writing about where it takes me.

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