Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) have both a unique set of experiences and an equally unique perspective on life. Born or raised in cultures outside of their parents’ place of origin, they live elsewhere because of their parents’ occupations or interests.


As the world grows, we now have adult third culture children (ATKs), who are TCKs at least 18 years of age or older.


Here are some examples of the kind of things they typically experience:


— To everyone’s confusion, your accent changes depending on who you’re talking to

— You’re really good at calculating time differences, because you have to do it every time you call your parents

— You start getting birthday wishes several hours before your birthday, from your friends farther east than you

— Your passport looks like it’s been to hell and back

— You get nervous whenever a form needs you to enter a ‘permanent address’




There are currently millions of TCKs in international schools around the world, while others are in embassy schools. Every year, countless numbers return to their passport countries of origin. Once home, there are basic things all children need: belonging, recognition and connection. These basic needs are often wrenched away from TCKs after each relocation. The layers of loss can leave deep scars; friends, pets, family, weather, food, loss of identity.


TCKs are not alone. Some of the most famous include Barack Obama, Kathleen Turner and Julie Christie. Some TCKs say that losses not successfully resolved in childhood have an increased likelihood of recurring in adulthood. Questions about who you are, what you are and where you are from will change, or may even wait until long after their childhood to bubble up and burst.


Here are some first-hand experiences of TCKs:


Penny: Being a TCK is pretty awesome, but you are always leaving your friends behind. I consider home as where my passport was issued not necessarily where I was born. My family is important to me, wherever they are.


Charlotte: It’s strange, but your friends always behave differently in front of you.


Vidya: I’m from the country I live in now; I won’t go back, but I won’t forget my heritage. I’m happy to sit and listen to the elders who are feeling loss; adults take longer to adjust.


Getting Help


Therapy is a partnership between an individual and a professional such as a psychologist. Families of TCKs often consider therapy under the following circumstances:


— Noticing a feeling of intense overwhelming; a prolonged sense of sadness and helplessness, TCKs will become withdrawn and quiet

— Emotional difficulties make it hard for TCKs to function from day to day

— Actions harmful to themselves or to others. e.g. getting aggressive, bullying

— Troubled with emotional difficulties facing family and friends


Global mobility comes at a price. Psychologists are able to provide therapy and support to cope with challenges faced by families and TCKs. Sometimes it’s difficult for kids to cope in an uncertain world. Emotions and physical health are closely linked to a person’s overall well being and can have a positive effect on the body’s immune system.


Bluteau Laetitia is a French pediatric psychotherapist at Family Medical Practice, Hanoi. For more information call (04) 3843 0748 or click on

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