GeneralHas Migration Disconnected "Third Culture Kids" from their Native...

Has Migration Disconnected “Third Culture Kids” from their Native Counterpart?


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By Jamie Aira Agbuya.

As a Third Culture Kid (TCK) myself, I felt compelled to write about this topic and research the apparent disconnect between TCKs and their native homeland in exploration of my own identity and own detachment to my native homeland.

According to sociologist David C. Pollock, a Third Culture Kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parent’s culture.

The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCKs life experience, and the sense of belonging to others of similar background.

As a TCK, based on my experiences in life, I’d have to say that I definitely resonate with Pollock. I spent a significant part of my developmental years outside of my parent’s culture, and each culture I have been immersed in has in some way helped contribute to my identity.

At first, TCKs were children of expatriates including: missionaries, military personnel, diplomats, and businessmen. Today, however, migration and globalisation have significantly increased, and so many families now live abroad due to a range of reasons, e.g. parents of TCKs from economically less-developed countries wanting a better upbringing and better opportunities for their children.

There are many types of TCKs, some being:

· Traditional TCKs – Children who move into another culture with parents due to a parent’s career choice

· Bi/multi-cultural/and/or bi/multi-racial children – Children born to parents from at least two cultures or races

· Children of immigrants – Children whose parents have made a permanent move to a new country where they were not originally citizens

· Children of refugees – Children whose parents are living outside their original country or place due to difficult circumstances such as war, violence, famine, or natural disasters

· Children of minorities – Children whose parents are from a racial or ethnic group which is not part of the majority or ethnicity of the country in which they live

Although being a TCK has many benefits, such as being immersed in different cultures, it does have adverse effects. One being a struggle of identity. A significant amount of people around the world commonly struggle with their identity at some point in their lives, however, TCKs are predominantly affected by it. For example; I was born in the Philippines, but I grew up in the UK. This has largely affected me because I did not grow up immersed in Filipino culture as a native kid would. As a consequence, I struggle to understand and speak the language, and I struggle to find some form of connection to this country I am supposed to call ‘home’.

Where are we ‘from’?

What is identity?

According to Epstein (1978), identity “represents the process by which the person seeks to integrate his/her various statuses and roles, as well as his/her diverse experiences, into a coherent image of self”. We are all looking for identity, but trying to figure out our individual identity is one of the biggest tasks we have. Adolescents find it harder to answer the question as some may become overwhelmed by the task of identity development. TCKs in particular would find it more difficult as most already go through identity crisis at a younger age.

When we have been immersed in a particular culture long enough to internalise its behaviours and assumptions behind them, we have an almost intuitive sense of what is right, humorous, appropriate, or offensive in any particular situation. Being “in the know” gives us a sense of stability, deep security and belonging.

In the opinion of Nieto (1999), “Culture consists of the values, traditions, social and political relationships, and worldview created, shared, and transformed by a group of people bound together by a common history, geographic location, language, social class, and/or religion.”

When people migrate to another country as adults, they experience culture shock and need a period of adjustment. This is because their value system, sense of identity, and the establishment of core relationships with family and friends have already developed in their home culture. Their basic sense of who they are and where they belong are already intact. However, children and adolescents who move among different cultures are doing so before they have formed their own personal and cultural identity. This is where migration has disconnected Third Culture Kids from their native culture. TCKs tend to grow up in a culture where their personal and cultural identity are formed through different cultures and identities they come across outside of their native culture.

Interestingly, TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their own country. Most of my friends are TCKs, and I can unequivocally say that most of us aren’t as connected to our native counterparts as we’d like. Although there are probably TCKs out there who are greatly immersed in their native culture, there are many who are definitely disconnected.


Jamie Aira Agbuya was born in the Philippines and is of Filipino, Spanish and French descent. She is currently studying American Studies at Swansea University. She writes poetry, short stories, plays and is currently a contributor for TCS. Follow her on twitter @jamieaira

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