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Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds

by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken


Cultural Balance

Parents communicate both the ‘above water’ and ‘below water’ cultural norms. This happens by, for example, dressing differently for a business meeting than for a tennis match, or, by correction: ‘don’t chew with your mouth open’, or by

"When we are in cultural balance, we are like a concert pianist who, after practicing for years to master the basics, now no longer thinks about how to find the right piano keys or when to pedal." It mean we are internalizing bahaviors and the assumptions behind them. [View source]

pg. 42

praise ‘what a good boy you are to share your toys with your sister!’.  This means, for example, that girls from the Middle East may continue wearing a head covering no matter which country they live in. 'Dutch children wear Western dress in the forests of Brazil.’ Parents communicate their culture's paramount values such as 'telling the truth at all costs' or 'shade the truth to avoid shaming another person'. For parents who live in a common community, other adults reinforce what the parents teach at home because the rules are uniform. The same characteristics – such as honesty, hard work, and respect for adults – bring approval (or, in their absence, disapproval) from the community as well as from parents. But Third Culture Kids (TCKs) interface with different local communities, each having different cultural expectations. For example, they may learn to drop in on friends without calling ahead. Or, they might call adults by their first names. Yet when they return to their home culture, they usually have to switch to a different set of cultural customs and practices. Now an unexpected visit becomes an intrusion. Addressing a playmate’s mother or father by her or his first name is rude enough to be a punishable offense. Woe to the TCK who forgets where he or she is.’ [View source]

pg. 44-46

Benefits of a three-dimensional view of the world

"As TCKs live in various cultures, they not only learn about cultural differences but they also experience the world in a tangible way that is impossible to do through reading books,

"My siblings and I found ourselves the only Americans in an Anglo-Argentine culture and we went to British schools. But the Argentines also thought their education was pretty good, so Peron mandated an Argentine curriculum for every private school and, with what time was left over, the school could do what it wanted. We went to school from 8:00 to 4:00 with four hours in Spanish in the morning and four hours of an English public school in the afternoon. Meanwhile, our parents fought desperately to keep some semblance of Americanism at home. They lost the battle of the “crossed 7s.” They lost the spelling battle. Worse, when they were told that in a given year there would be a focus on North American history, geography, and literature, they discovered, to their dismay, North America meant Canada.’ [View source]

endnote 9, pg. 47

seeing movies, or watching nightly newscasts alone. Because they have lived in so many places, smelled so many smells, heard so many strange sounds, and been in so many strange situations, throughout their lives when they read a story in the newspaper or watch it on the TV screen’ those stories take on deeper meaning." [View source]

pg. 92


Cultural adaptability

"TCKs usually learn to adjust with relative calm to life where meetings may start the exact minute for which they have been scheduled or two hours later, depending on which country they’re in." But becoming a cultural chameleon brings challenges: They may never develop true cultural balance anywhere. ‘While appearing to be one of the crowd, inside they are still the cautious observer – always checking to see how they are doing.’ Also, TCKs behavior may change in various circumstances. It may look as if they don’t have real


"'Home' might refer to the school dormitory or to the house where we stayed during the summer, to our family’s home where our parents worked, or, more broadly, to the country of our citizenship. And while we might have some sense of belonging to all of these places, we felt fully at home in none of them.’ [View source]

Seaman, Paper Airplanes in the Himalayas, pg 8, cited in Third Culture Kids, pg. 134

convictions. What are their true values? Are there absolutes in life they can hold on to and live by no matter which culture they are in? [View source]


pg. 93, 103


"It seems the awareness which helps TCKs view a situation from multiple perspectives can also make TCKs impatient or arrogant with others who only see things from their own perspective – particularly people from their home culture.’ [View source]

pg. 113

Teenagers have it more difficult

"To avoid looking foolish or stupid, they retreat from these situations in such ways as overemphasizing academics, belittling the new culture, or withdrawing in extreme shyness. Even those who have been extremely social in one setting may refuse to join group activities in the next place because they have no idea how to do what everyone else already can. Maybe they have returned home to Sweden from a tropical climate, never having learned to ice skate, toboggan, or ski. They would rather not participate at all than let anyone know of their incompetence." [View source]

pg. 124




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