If your child is a ‘Third Culture Kid’ you’ll be able to recognise these six things that TCKs have in common
10 years ago when we decided to take on an adventurous job post in Singapore, never would have we thought we would still be living in Southeast Asia so many years later! Our three children were born in Kuala Lumpur and we’ve lived in four different countries in the past decade. When you ask my kids where are they from, they would say Canada and Scotland because it’s where mommy and daddy are from. And despite having never lived in either of these countries themselves, my kids still identify with them proudly. There is even a special term for kids who grow up between cultures differing from their parents called Third Culture Kids (TCK). This unique group of children are the result of parents who may have chosen to be expats in another country for work or for a better way of life. Third culture kids are generally exposed to a wide variety of cultural influences than those growing up in one specific cultural setting.
Having lived abroad now for 13 years, I’ve discovered a few things most third culture kids have in common:
1. You change your accent to match who you talk to
This can happen on a daily basis where my kids speak with a Canadian accent to me and then Singlish when they are interacting with local Singaporeans. They will also alter their accent depending on who they are interacting with at school without thinking twice as they are accustomed to hearing so many different accents.
2. You can name 10 countries by the time you are 5 years old, most of them you have visited.
Being a third culture kid means you may go to an international school and will be surrounded by kids from various parts of the world. You will learn to identify your friends at school based on their passport country and may take interest in learning more about their culture. As a result, you have a keener sense of geography and can easily name a few countries. You also get more travel opportunities (pre-Covid-19!) as you visit family around the world or take long weekend trips to neighbouring countries.
3. You have this insatiable desire to find your roots
My kids are absolutely fascinated with stories about mommy and daddy’s upbringing. I would reminisce about the time when I had to walk to school in snow boots thanks to 2 feet of snow in Canada and taking long family road trips in the summer. And daddy would have stories about Scotland’s passion for football and the horizontal rain and hailstones.
4. You identify with passports not hometowns
Identifying where is home for a third culture kid can be difficult as home can be considered anywhere and nowhere. So the easy answer is to identify themselves with the passport countries of their parents. Home for our kids is where they are currently living so for us it’s Singapore. And when they are at school, they also identify their friends with their passport countries.
5. You’ll be a real foodie
Thanks to the melting pot of several cultures in Singapore, you get spoiled for choice in terms of the selection of cuisine. So it’s no surprise kids become little foodies since they are accustomed to authentic flavours of some of the best cuisine! Some of my kids favourite foods are Hainanese chicken rice, cheese naan, sushi and xiao long bao!
6. Third Culture Kids are often bilingual or multilingual
Being fully immersed in a new culture and language of the host country, third culture kids are able to learn a second or third language quite easily. The majority of international school are conducted in English but often have a second language option for kids starting from preschool age, while others are completely bilingual! My kids have been learning Mandarin from the age of 3 as part of their school curriculum and they feel very proud to be learning the local language in Singapore. In addition, TCKs may be exposed to different languages while playing with their friends at school or while interacting with foreign nannies so naturally they will pick up some lingo.
With the increase of globalisation around the world, the possibility of living in several countries throughout one’s career is more than ever before. Being parents, we have to be aware of the unique path these third culture kids are embarking on. As a family, we define home as the place we are currently living, and that place is Singapore for now. Our hope is that our kids will have a better understanding of the world and grow up to be good human beings who embrace cultural differences around the world.