The Tihird Culture Child

The term “Third Culture Kids” refers to children raised in a culture other than their parents' or the culture of the country named on their passport. You may not have heard of this term before, but many children can find themselves in this situation – job opportunities, especially in the technical or engineering field, are often global and expatriation is common. This means that families can end up raising their children in multiple cultures, and especially with contracting opportunities, this situation is exacerbated and multiple cultures can be experienced in a short space of time.

If you’re an expatriate facing the difficult choice of moving your family for a job opportunity, this article provides a little more insight into the Third Culture Child and how you can support your children during your assignment term. 

The positives of taking children abroad to your job location 

Although a move can be daunting for children, there are many benefits associated with experiencing life in different countries.

Learning new languages 

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are often exposed to a second (or third, fourth, etc.) language while living in their host culture. Being physically exposed to an environment where the native language is used in practical aspects of life such as school, friends and day to day social interaction can help them to become more fluent than if they learnt in their home country – which can be a huge advantage in later life.

Relationship building & adaptability 

As a result of moving to new countries, TCKs tend to be particularly skilful at building relationships with other cultures and are often referred to as cultural chameleons or cultural hybrids. Meeting and socialising with new cultures encourages children to grow up with a flexible worldview and to develop an understanding that there is more than one way to look at situations.

With exposure to multi-cultural experiences and having a more open-minded attitude to differences in the world, the TCKs have a higher level of cultural adaptability and tolerance of different cultures and of people from different backgrounds.

Future job prospects

Being able to learn new languages and build relationships with different cultures leads to the TCK having a higher interpersonal sensitivity which allows them to monitor their emotions, and register societal norms and cues more proficiently. This will therefore result in them having a higher sensitivity to other cultures and ways of life, leading to a cross-cultural intelligence vital to success in the workplace. The skills your children learn during their formative years abroad will enable them to function effectively in the varying national and ethnic organisational cultures experienced in global companies.

The challenges of taking children overseas to your assignment

Moving abroad can be a very positive experience for everyone involved, but naturally, there will be some challenges initially.

Adapting to new situations 

Adapting to a new school system in a different culture (including international schools) is always one of the hardest challenges for the TCKs. Although this can enable children to become more equipped to deal with change in later life, the initial transition phase can be difficult.

It’s also one of the most important stages to get right – to help your children adjust you could:

1. Organise catch up meetings with the child’s teacher/s to provide them with insight on the child’s prior education and how they can help your children – a school that can encourage their sense of belonging will ease the transition period.

2. Encourage your kids to talk about their school day, in particular, what they enjoyed and what was not as pleasant, so you can discuss why that might be.

3. Meet up with your children’s new friend’s parents informally to understand more about the schooling system.

4. Encourage your kids to participate in after school sports and clubs where they can mingle with other children and have fun.

5. Organise play dates for your kids with their new friends (you can also meet new people this way).

Discovering their identity 

TCKs can also struggle when trying to discover their identity - a challenge that is likely to be faced later on in their development. TCKs can find themselves facing questions which don’t always have a simple answer such as “Where are you from?”, or misguided questions and statements such as “Your accent is unusual, are you [insert nationality]?” or even “Your English is really good considering you were born in [insert country]!”

Being unable to feel a sense of ‘oneness’ with any of their nationalities or cultures can be difficult, but there are things you can do to ensure their cultural roots are kept alive:

1. Maintain your country’s traditions – cook traditional foods, support home sports teams and keep in touch with family and friends who still live back ‘home’.

2. Share your culture with new friends in the host country

3. Don’t be afraid to discuss the ‘old’ days, reminisce about your home nation, culture, town and family. If your children are too young to remember, enjoy filling in the gaps for them.  

4. Utilise technology –  there are many apps available for global communication and information.

Despite the challenges, the complex tapestry of global life experiences and pride in their own cultures generally influences Third Culture Kids in a positive way and gives them the skills to be more adaptable, understanding and mindful as they begin their transition to adulthood.

NES & Global Mobility

Our Global Mobility team are expatriates themselves so they know how stressful relocating can be; it’s important that you seek help and advice from experienced professionals to make your experience as seamless as possible. If you’re looking for support for your Global Mobility function, we offer consultancy, policy reviews and benchmarking, compliance audits, vendor management and more to alleviate the mobility burden. To find out more, get in touch with our experts today.

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