In the 1950s, Dr Ruth Hill Useem coined the term ‘Third Culture Kids’ (TCKs). And yet, despite half a century of research into the experience of children who follow their parents to another society, many TCKs still grow up troubled by some common ailments.
For close to 40 years I have been working in cross-cultural environments. I have worked as a private counsellor, life coach, and also provided cross-cultural training to organisations. More than that, however, I went to eight different schools before I reached 18, I have lived for over 35 years in Hong Kong—I am British-American—and I have raised two TCKs; I’ve got the t-shirt.
If I could have a dollar for every time I’ve heard the words ‘rootless’ and ‘restless’ in my private, public, and professional lives, I’d have bought TCKs their own home country by now. Trying to keep the threads of family and friendships alive through the chop-and-change of a life on the move can often end in entanglement, or heartbreak. What’s even worse, is when a TCK returns to their ‘passport’ country only to find that they don’t fit into the circle-shaped hug of belonging any more.
And what a spoiled, entitled, little complainer, right? Many TCKs may have lived a life of comparative luxury, or privilege, overseas—they have seen the world, and the fulness thereof. Well, this is also a problem I see far too often: many TCKs learn to mask their feelings or—as I like to call it—they ‘put up the wall’.
Many times this manifests in a desire to chisel off the exotic edges to their personalities, or accents, in an attempt to blend in. Many will condense four-to-six countries into a single origin myth when asked: “Where are you from?” But all of these avoidance strategies tend to have a common goal: escaping questions, judgements, and feelings about who they are, or are not.
But let me just say this: you don’t need to ‘fit in’. You never did.
When researching for an upcoming book, I found myself in a supermarket somewhere in Seattle. Holding a pomegranate. The rough, bland skin of the pomegranate belies what lies beneath. Open it up, and you find 500-odd jewel-like seeds, the colour of rubies.
And so the title of my book was born: The Path of the Pomegranate. It has been my life’s work to prove the worth of a TCKs’ experience to both businesses and to TCKs themselves. Please read other blogs on this site to find out why.