Robert L. Peters

10 May 2008

On sojourning and growing up TCK…



Frankfurt, Germany

Having grown up multi-lingually on several continents, I’ve never really been “at home” in any particular place, and have often felt a bit like a chameleon. I’ve also eschewed (mostly unconsciously) being woven into a single community or cultural fabric. This likely explains why I live in the woods (without neighbors or a local community), yet have spent my life heavily involved in professional and global peer networks, and seem to have an ongoing “restlessness to move” and travel on a continual basis. I’ve often used the ironic quip: “If you don’t care where you are, you’re never lost.” as a truism I can really relate to. While being rootless does have its advantages (one tends to be more tolerant of others; adapting to new environs is easier) this identity struggle also brings a raft of other social and psychological issues along with it in its sojourns, including reverse culture shock and a sense of disengaged melancholia.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered this phenomena has a taxonomy and name of its own—Third Culture Kids, often abbreviated “TCKs” or “3CKs” or “Global Nomads,” referring to “someone who, (as a child) has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture.” By definition, “the TCK tends to build relationships to all cultures, while not having full ownership of any,” and “develops a sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere.”

The concept of Third Culture Kids was introduced in the 1960s by Ruth Hill Useem (1915-2003), a sociologist who used the term to describe children who spent part of their developmental years in a foreign culture due to their parents’ working abroad.” Her work was the first to “identify common themes among various TCKs that affect them throughout their lives.” TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their own country—over the past decades, TCKs have become a heavily studied global subculture. (My cousin Faith, also a TCK, authored/edited the book Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing up Global, documenting “a life of growing up in multiple nations, cultures, and language regions.”)

“Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” —JRR Tolkien (a TCK himself)

Old photos: I always had this thing for small cars (perhaps in reaction to the hulking ‘Strassenkreuzer’ Studebaker my parents shipped over to Germany); on our Stettenstrasse front stoop, my first day of school in Frankfurt.

back to News+

© 2002-