Third Culture Kids

Belonging somewhere is one of our most elementary basic needs. We want to know where we belong, feel connected and have the stability and roots we need to grow and further develop.

In this connection we automatically take certain things for granted. We don’t have to constantly think about which conduct is currently appropriate or how living together works. If we grow up in a certain country with a certain culture and a fixed circle of attachment figures, we have an inbuilt concept of home and a place that we can return to that we know well and which conveys a certain sense of familiarity and security. We develop a certain system of values and an own identity. This gives us an awareness for who we are and where we belong.

When children and youths spend the majority of their formative years outside of their native culture due to the professional careers of their parents, this awareness does not yet exist.

Their identity, their system of values and the ability to enter relationships are still in the development stage.

In a world that becomes increasingly more globalised, in which employees are expected to show more and more geographical flexibility, the amount of these children, so-called third culture kids, is on the increase.

The term third culture kids was coined in the 1950s by the sociologists and anthropologists Dr. John Useem and Dr. Ruth Hill Useem. They considered the first culture to be the country of origin or the country the passport was issued in, the second culture is the respective host country and today the third culture means the “lifestyle that is created, shared and learned by people, who come from a certain culture and are in the process of building up a relationship to another culture.”

David C. Pollock lists the following definition in his book “Third Culture Kids – Growing Up Among Worlds”:

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person, who has spent a significant part of his or her development years outside the parents’ culture.

The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.

Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background.”

Internationally operating companies have long since been aware of the many advantages of growing up in different cultures. Adult TCKs often speak several languages fluently, can put themselves in the position of foreign employers more readily and have a good intercultural understanding. They have travelled a lot, have a wide spectrum of experiences instead of merely knowledge gained from reading and are very adaptable to new situations. This makes them sought-after employees.

Unfortunately, it is often overlooked that apart from wonderful advantages many people pay a high price for such a life.

Answering the questions: Who am I? Where am I at home? Where do I belong? is not easy for many TCKs.

The many cross-cultural relocations, the many experiences related to the transitions and changes and the high mobility that determine the life of a TCK, lead to repeated uprooting and losses of a constant companion.

This complicates the formation of an own personality, often prevents deep-rooted relationships and can lead to a life in constant restlessness.

Many TCKs don’t have the assurance of having actually arrived somewhere in life or having a real home.

Podcast interview on the topic Third Culture Kids


The individual coaching of At home everywhere helps people with a TCK background to process losses and develop strategies for a resourceful life with a firm foundation.

In targeted training sessions the path is paved for parents to come up with plans for the leaving phase of the emigration and return more consciously, keep the needs of their children in mind and recognise and correctly assess the correlations between unresolved sadness (loss of relationships, places, etc.) and possible unexpected outbursts of rage, withdrawal or rebellion. The sadness on parting of younger children, who still cannot express their feelings in words, is taken more seriously, they can show their sadness and their parents can support them in the grieving process.

This gives the parents reassurance and helps them to be more confident and responsible on taking their decision to move abroad with their children.

The knowledge about these correlations and good forward planning are essential factors for a healthy detachment from relationships and a good reintegration into the new (or old) community, so that the many advantages that a TCK experience brings with it can become the decisive criterion!