To be born and raised in the same town, attend the same school and continue on to a local university is fast becoming a thing of the past. Further more so than attending a university not local to your area, is the popularity of enrolling in a higher-learning institution abroad. This developing international tribe has also given rise to the Third Culture Kid (TKC).
“I’m a fourth generation expat and I try to regularly remind myself of how lucky I’ve been growing up the way that I did”, Erika Felton, a TCK who spent her teen years in Nanjing and currently resides in Sydney, Australia, studying at film school, told The Nanjinger. “I’d say the number one thing that’s been difficult growing up as a TCK is the severe lack of roots.”
So what is life like in Expatria? “Every year it was a waiting game to figure out who was leaving or staying or who’d been extended or whether you’d be the one to go”, commented Felton. “That puts a lot of stress on friendships. I’ve seen a lot of friends come and go, very few having stayed in touch just because of the work that’s required to make long distance friendships work. However, there is a lovely bond that comes with reconnecting after years apart, and that similar experience is something that then brings us back together”.
In a survey conducted by American Adult Third Culture Kids (AATCKs), it was found that there are now as many bilingual children in the world as there are monolingual, and that “Expatria’s children were proven highly educated and are four times more likely to attain a Bachelors Degree than non-expatriates”.
If most TCKs are being educated at international schools, then it is safe to say that their level of education is indeed that of a private school in any Western country. Couple this with their unique experience of living in a culture other than their nationality and some will argue that this cocktail of an upbringing is breeding generations of well-rounded young adults. Yet, there is always two sides to every story, and while these claims do ring true for the majority, evidence that TCKs can fall by the wayside has surfaced as well.
TCKS may possibly experience a prolonged adolescence, while they might also find it hard to adjust and suffer mentally from identity problems. Shanghai Community International School Early Years Coordinator with a background in teaching IB and Love and Logic specialist, Ms. Jillian Eyre-Walker, spoke with The Nanjinger, saying, “The biggest challenge international expat children I believe have is navigating between languages when internalising or expressing the concepts that they are being tought or have learned. However, understanding that they are in a classroom where most of the children are experiencing the same challenges and many support systems are in place, gives them the confidence to take risks in overcoming these challenges”.
The online magazine dedicated to today’s Third Culture Kids, Denizen Mag, revealed in their latest survey that the average age a TCK experiences their first move is nine or younger, while those surveyed have lived in four countries, on average. If a child finds it particularly tough changing schools or leaving countries and friends, it has been reported that this may pose a risk to the child’s mental state into adulthood.
“You’re virtually not allowed to be closed minded when growing up in such a unique situation, and that’s pretty cool. We’re all shaped by the people we’re raised by and the places we’re raised in. I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow as an individual thanks to the diverse range of people that I’ve met growing up as a TCK. However, being a TCK feels like you’re in this weird bubble”, Felton went on to say.
“As teachers we give them a bit more of a break, when we know they are coping with a recent move, because we understand this about them, but because they recognise that everyone else at the school is just like them, they grow stronger. TCKs tend to have a broader acceptance of difference as a result of their upbringing”, observes Eyre-Walker.
According to The Expat Survey online, “Third Culture Kids of Japanese origin have posed both a domestic difficulty and a potential solution to a nation, like all, needing individuals with a three-dimensional worldview. In 2011, they grew to 780,000 and have been a cause of periodic domestic issues due to their difficulties in reassimilation. In light of the global climate, the Japan Times has called for this oft-marginalised group of bicultural and bilingual returnees to assist Japan, as its industries grapple with globalisation”. The same thing could it be argued of Chinese returnees; TCKs will all perhaps eventually be lured back to the countries of their passports in order to help with national development.
It is important to note the rising population of Expatria and “help” that is becoming available to expats around the world, including podcasts by certified psychologists such as Mindful Expat, support groups and online communities. While most of the TCKs and teachers with which The Nanjinger spoke admitted to unique difficulties as a result of the lifestyle and upbringing, not one said that they would have it any other way.