“So, here you are. / too foreign for home, / too foreign for here. / never enough for both” (Umebinyuo 171).
In her poem “Diaspora Blues,” Nigerian poet Ijeoma Umebinyuo brings to light the feelings of third-culture-kids in just four lines. They are between worlds and unsure of how to fully fit into either of them. It can be difficult to understand living in such a way where everywhere is home yet nowhere is, but it is not impossible to comprehend.
When trying to understand the lives of TCKs, it is important to make distinctions between the different types. As Christians, the term “TCK” is usually associated with those who serve overseas in the context of missions. Nevertheless, though the vast majority of missionary kids (MKs) are also TCKs, not all TCKs are MKs. Being a third-culture-kid does not automatically mean that person is a TCK due to missions. They can be military kids or simply be in a family whose parents wanted or had to travel around.
The very definition of TCK is “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture” (Pollock and Van Reken). TCKs grow up in places foreign to their parents’ culture and end up creating their own culture based on both their parents’ and country’s cultures. They have the chance to grow up in different countries around the world while they collect new cultures and stamps in their passport. From military kids to missionary kids, TCKs cover a wide variety of types of children growing up in a foreign place.
In addition to types of TCKs, there are four distinct differences between them that can help to understand their lives on a deeper level. First, there are those who physically blend into their second-culture country and share a similar culture. For these kinds of third culture kids, it can be easier to blend in because they do no stand out as much as others might. One example of this might be a French child moving with their family to Italy because the child would blend in with Italians both physically and culturally. Of course, it would not be a complete fit and would still be a transition for the child, but they would not stick out among the crowd.
The other type of TCKs are those who do not physically blend into their country but do share a similar culture. This can be easier for the person emotionally speaking but harder in terms of trying to blend in. They will stand out in a group yet be able to more easily relate to those they speak to. On the other hand, some TCKs physically blend into their location but do not share a similar culture. In this situation, the person will not necessarily stick out, but it will be more difficult for them to relate their culture to others since they are not that similar. An example of this could be someone from the United Kingdom moving to the United States. While in general, they would blend in physically, there would be barriers culturally.
Lastly, there are TCKs who do not look like the natives in their country and do not share a similar culture. This can sometimes be the most difficult. In every sense, this person stands out in a group, and sometimes it feels as though they will never truly fit in. They often feel like an outcast or black sheep at first and must integrate themselves into this new culture in order to try to fit in. Someone in this situation could be a person from China moving to the United States or vice versa. They are coming from completely different cultures and physical appearances and have to learn to rise above the cultural barriers to make a home for themselves.
It is important to note that not every TCK fits into just one of the categories; in fact, many fit into at least two. Certainly, each TCK is unique and comes from their own special experiences. There will never be simply one way to understanding each TCK; however, ultimately, learning about different kinds of TCKs makes it easier to understand and relate to them.
Pollock, David C., and Ruth E. Van Reken. Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. 2nd ed., Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2009.
Umebinyuo, Ijeoma. Questions For Ada. Createspace Publishing, 2015.
“What to Know Before You Go to Brazil: Passport Stamps, Brazil Travel, Brazil.” Pinterest, 24 July 2020, www.pinterest.com/pin/263460646936285557/.
Wright, Charity. “Some Things We Learned Around The World”. Drippingwithpassion.Blogspot.Com, 2015, http://drippingwithpassion.blogspot.com/2015/08/some-things-we-learned-around-world.html.