5 things that parents of third culture kids should understand

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The world gets smaller everyday so the likelihood of hearing a variety of different accents in random parts of the world is quite high. This, of course, means that the number of so-called third culture kids (TCKs) has increased dramatically over the last half a century or so. I touched on this briefly in a previous post. According to Dr. Ruth Useem, who coined the term in the 1950s, third culture kids are children and adults (adult TCKs) who are/were raised in a different culture or cultures to their parent culture during the developmental stages of their lives. Consequently, they develop and adopt a third, hybrid culture which is effectively a combination of these constituent cultures.

Extensive research has been done into how such an upbringing impacts on a child psychologically, spiritually and even economically as they transition into adulthood. The pros of growing up a TCK generally outweigh the cons but, in terms of linguistic and cultural identity, the experience can be perplexing and challenging for TCKs and their parents. In some cases, it can be somewhat depressing. As an adult TCK myself, I can strongly identify with the tensions that sometimes arise between TCKs and their parents with regards to issues of identity.

For some parents, feelings of guilt or sadness are common because they lament moving their children all over the world and long for them to appreciate their home culture. On the other hand, there are some parents of TCKs who would prefer to forget their culture completely. Whatever the case may be, there are a few things parents should bear in mind when it comes to raising their TCKs and helping them forge a sense of identity.

  • Home for you cannot be home for us

Some people may still possess strong feelings of loyalty and devotion to their home country when they emigrate. That’s a wonderful thing but it isn’t something that their TCKs can relate to. TCKs spend most of their lives living outside the countries where their parents were raised and may only ever visit briefly for the occasional weddings, funerals, Christmases and holidays. In some cases, family trips back ‘home’ may grow tiresome and feel like a chore due to vast differences in culture and perspective. Despite TCKs being treated like locals by friends and family in their countries of origin many still feel like outsiders. Our parent culture is foreign to us and it’s therefore difficult for us to accept it outright as our own. So as much as our parents would like us to be – or believe us to be – patriots of their home country, the reality is, we’re not. Parents shouldn’t feel hurt or offended if their children do not consider their passport country to be home. One can hardly return to a place that was never really home to begin with.

  • It’s important to know our heritage – even if it doesn’t mean much to you anymore

This is for the parents who would prefer to forget their home country. Knowing where one comes from is essential in shaping one’s identity going forward. Although negative experiences of their home country may be something some immigrant parents wish to share with their trans-culture kids, they should share the positives as well. It’s essential to instil a sense of pride in our heritage without forcibly imposing it on us. It’s quite disheartening to sometimes feel like you don’t really belong anywhere. In contrast to friends who have grown up surrounded by extended family and childhood friends, TCKs do not always have the same experience of intimately knowing grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles or retaining long-term friendships. Learning more about our parents’ origins is a good way for TCKs to better understand our parents and their beliefs and feel more attached to the family.

Since the Apple iOS9 software update, which includes the flags of all the countries of the world in its emoji keyboard, I have seen several social media account bios and Whatsapp display names proudly sporting the flags of the users’ countries of origin. In the case of my fellow TCKs, two or three flags have been put on display at a time. This just goes to show that many of us are quite proud to make known that we are cultural chameleons and take pride in the constituents of our cultural identity.

  • Don’t feel bad about raising us in another country. We often admire you for it and are grateful to you in the long run

TCKs spend a significant amount of time away from extended family and are constantly leaving friends behind. We feel closest to our immediate family with whom we share many momentous life experiences in different locations. It’s something many of us are grateful for because it has made us more open-minded and willing to embrace many people of different backgrounds. The example our parents have set for us by stepping out of their comfort zones and travelling abroad for work or study has instilled in us a thirst to know more about, and explore, the world.

We’ve had to give up friends, family, schools and childhood homes as we’ve followed you across the globe but it’s been the most amazing learning experience. As much as being the new kid at school sucks, you’ve helped us get through it all.

  • We’re not in a hurry to assimilate to our ancestral culture

We’ve grown accustomed to either a nomadic lifestyle or an entirely different culture to your own. TCKs may sometimes regard their parents’ views, cultural practices and traditions as antiquated, irrational or unnecessary so we may find it difficult to accept their culture. We may also feel no desire to settle in our country of origin. This is the case for a number of reasons.

First, we’re not often given a proper opportunity to learn much about our parent culture in the time when we’re trying to assimilate to a new one. Learning more about the parent culture takes a back seat to the need to fit in and feel like a part of the society we actually live in.

Second, learning a language also comes with its own challenges and issues. In an article I read last year, the author documented his experiences of trying to teach Hebrew (his mother’s language) to his young daughter. Through this exercise, he came to realise his daughter showed very little interest in learning the language because he only ever spoke to her in Hebrew when he was giving her commands or scolding her. She thus came to associate the language with discipline and negative emotions. A number of TCKs have had the experience of our parents reprimanding us while speaking their mother tongue. That, amongst other things, can cause us to drift further away from our parent culture. Plus, when you’re learning a language that doesn’t have a bearing on making new friends or your future career plans, it doesn’t seem worthwhile.

Last, many parents expect their children to readily accept their cultural practices without question simply because that’s what their people do. It is essential that parents endeavour to explain these practices and traditions as much as possible. With a few competing cultures to deal with, a TCK’s third culture takes precedence and if a parent of a TCK has any hope of their child accepting theirs, they need to properly explain why things are the way they are. A TCK is very unlikely to want to take these on and preserve their ancestral culture without understanding the purpose of these practices.

  • Our peers may not always understand our unique circumstances. We don’t need that from our parents as well.

For a lot of trans-culture kids, identity cannot necessarily be linked to one specific geographical location. TCKs may feel we don’t belong to our parent culture because we seem to be on a completely different wavelength. But, at the same time, we also feel misunderstood by our peers. I’ve always been most comfortable around my fellow TCKs with whom I share the same quirky traits and experiences.  Parents should be prepared for their TCKs to, at times, be very different to how they might have hoped. They should also try as much as possible to accept their children for who they are in spite of the fact that they may not speak their mother tongue or feel compelled to observe the traditions of their ancestral culture. That’s not to say that parents should totally give up on helping their children familiarise themselves with the many great aspects of their culture. On the contrary, this is encouraged. However, we also need to feel heard. It can’t be easy for a parent to have something they care about so deeply being lost on their children but parents should be wary of forcing this upon their TCKs.

I’m not a parent and I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to raise a child but being an adult third culture kid, I have an acute understanding of the struggles a lot of TCKs go through in forging an identity. While this is difficult for a child to have deal with, it can be just as challenging for their parent who has also given up friends, family and some aspects of their own cultural identity while adapting to life outside their native country. It is thus essential for parents and their TCKs to find common ground. TCKs need parental guidance and support in order to figure out exactly where they belong in today’s world, especially when it seems that no one understands them.


Moving On, Moving Up, and Moving To, Greater Things: Why I’m Happy I Had Such a Bad Year  


2015 just flew by, at least, for me, anyway and thank goodness, it’s finally behind me now! It was a year filled more losses than triumphs and more angst than joy. But I’ve always prided myself on being a bit of realist so I’m taking those negative outcomes as necessary life lessons to get me to where I need to be in the future. Sweet twenty-16 has arrived and I am excited about the countless possibilities for greatness and opportunities for growth that this New Year signifies.


I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions per se but I do like to set new goals for myself each year and I always make a conscious decision to learn from the mistakes I made during the previous year. Christmas and New Year can be a depressing time of year because you’re kind of forced to reflect upon everything that happened (or didn’t happen) during the year as a new one begins. However, this isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. I feel, it’s the ideal time to decide exactly what you’d like to do differently and take stock of all your non-material wealth. Granted, you can decide to better yourself at any time during the year but the beauty about starting a new year is that, you can start anew and with the wisdom one gains from hindsight, you can go into it with a completely new strategy.


I mentioned that 2015 wasn’t the best year for me but really, the last three years in general haven’t been the easiest in terms of my personal life and career. But I had to go through some of these hardships in order for me to get to a better place. In the final year of my LLB studies, I suddenly found myself feeling lost and confused. All the things I thought I believed and understood no longer made much sense. I had gone from being somewhat self-assured and driven to anxious, demotivated and constantly worrying about my future. Even on my graduation day, which should have been one of the happiest days of my life, I felt no sense of accomplishment. I’d worked so hard for seemingly, nothing really. Considering the fact law was something I had always wanted to do and enjoyed immensely, how could I suddenly be having doubts?


Following my graduation, I wanted to take a little time off to unwind and explore my other interests beyond law while I made plans to pursue postgraduate studies in the subject. At that time, certain events had transpired which caused past traumas and painful childhood memories to resurface so I was desperate for a fresh start. Unfortunately, the plans I made fell apart and everything I did to get my life back on track yielded only negative results despite how much time and energy I’d put into it. It seemed as if I just wasn’t good enough. I didn’t cope with it too well either and I’m no longer ashamed to admit, that my emotional and physical well-being were suffering too. Anyone who suffers from anxiety issues would understand just how debilitating it can be.


I’d never been so directionless in my entire life but, eventually, I reached a point where I’d had enough. I decided to confront my emotional issues head-on. Even though it’s been very tough, I think the worst is over. The great thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up. Instead of fixating on how much of a mess I thought my life was, I started focusing my energy on the projects I had abandoned as trivial or out of my reach because I felt I wasn’t talented enough to pursue them. This blog is one of those projects.


It felt incredible to start The Diaspora Baby in July last year. Not only have I rekindled my passion for research and writing, but I have learnt a great deal in the short space of time that I’ve been blogging. By undertaking the blogging enterprise, I’ve read many compelling stories and inspirational blog posts, discovered some interesting concepts and most importantly, I’ve accomplished one of my main goals for starting this blog – learning more about who I am. I’m looking forward to improving my blog this year by further exploring the notion of being a third culture kid, featuring some guest bloggers, including more personal anecdotes and analysing more literature on the subject of identity.

In addition to The Diaspora Baby, I started a second blog on Instagram entitled: Urban Afro Gypsy. Unable to come up with a way to consolidate my vast array of interests into a single blog that made sense, I decided to create two, centring on two very specific interests of mine. Urban Afro Gypsy can be labelled a fashion blog, plain and simple, but (and this may sound unoriginal) it is a lot more than that. It encompasses many different aspects of the subject matter and is a platform for me to share not only the outfits I throw together or which celebrity’s closet I’d love to raid but also allows me to explore my deep interest in men’s fashion, African fashion, accessories, great memories associated with beautiful clothing and history, among other things.


Although my two blogs have different subject matters and purposes, they converge in one respect. I believe that fashion is a strong visual expression of one’s identity. The name of the fashion blog describes not only how I describe my sense of style, but reflects my hybrid cultural identity – my African roots, blended with modern urban fashion and the gypsy-esque lifestyle I have grown accustomed to over the years. I also often look to gypsy culture for clothing inspiration. I’ve already made a number of changes to Urban Afro Gypsy and have exciting plans to make it grow and build a brand from it. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, every day is new learning experience which is the whole point of the exercise – to learn, grow and flex my creative muscles.


I’ll be 24 this year and although I’m not exactly where I’d envisioned I’d be a few years ago, I’ve still got my whole life ahead of me and knowing that I’m not the only 20-something struggling through it is a comforting thought lol. Overall, it hasn’t all been bad. I’ve met some phenomenal people, made a few friends, picked up a few new hobbies, matured as a person and improved some of my skills. I’m very grateful to my amazing friends and family who have supported and encouraged me even when I felt like a complete failure. I’m also very proud of myself for staying the course in spite of how many times I came really close to giving up.


To quote Kevin Nealon in one of my favourite movies, Happy Gilmore, moving forward,  “you gotta harness the good energy and block out the bad.” Here’s to being anxiety-free and totally awesome! To anyone who’s reading this, if 2015 was a tough year for you, I’m in your corner and wish you a kick-ass 2016 and beyond!