TCK Reunions – An Invisible Bond

English: Cover of book Third Culture Kids: gro...

TCK Reunions—an invisible bond by Robynn

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”—David Pollock

A TCK is “someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than [their] own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture.” –Kay Eakin

TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their passport country.[3][4] TCKs are often multilingual and highly accepting of other cultures. Although moving between countries may become an easy thing for some TCKs, after a childhood spent in other cultures, adjusting to their passport country often takes years.

Before World War II, 66% of TCKs came from missionary families, and 16% came from business families. After World War II, with the increase of international business and the rise of two international superpowers, the composition of international families changed. Sponsors are generally broken down into five categories: missionary (17%), business (16%), government (23%), military (30%), and “other” (14%).[5] Some TCK families migrate for work independently of any organization based in their country of origin. –Wikipedia

There are a group of us who bear no identifying marks. We don’t have the same accent, we don’t pronounce or even necessarily spell words the same way. We can’t tell one another at first glance. We don’t wear the “home team” t-shirt.

But when we meet, and we know we’ve met, it’s like we’re from the same place. We greet each other, we carry on, we tell stories, we laugh wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter the age difference, the nationality, the gender. We connect.

It’s a very strange phenomenon.

This is what happens when Third Culture Kids meet other Third Culture Kids.

I’ve had this experience often. Two years ago I was sent to a college campus to recruit students for a non-profit agency. The other two representatives were both men, Peter and William. Peter grew up in Kenya and attended Rift Valley Academy. William on the other hand spent his childhood in the Ivory Coast where he attended Ivory Coast Academy. I was raised in Pakistan and went to Murree Christian School. The three of us all graduated in 1988, we all attended different colleges across North America, we all currently live in different corners of the world. And yet meeting up with these two men and working together for the weekend was like attending a reunion. We had so much in common. We laughed easily at the same jokes. Our banter was full of sarcasm and cynicism. We tried to outdo each other with airport stories and travel escapades.

What was interesting was the number of TCK students we quickly developed a rapport with who stopped by our booth. These students were from all over the globe.  Instantly the three of us middle-aged adults bonded to these young college kids. We shared history and an invisible connection even though we had never met, had never visited their childhood homes, had never met their parents.

This past spring, I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey where I stayed in a retreat center surrounded by mountains. It was spectacular. However, the highlight of the trip was meeting a new friend, Ruth. Ruth too is a TCK. She grew up, in Iran, although her family left there when she was fifteen. The remainder of her high school years were spent in the US. Like me, she is a TCK. She’s eight years older than me but you would never know it. We were immediately close friends. I know it sounds trite and impossible. But it really happened. We jumped into each others stories and souls. We connected. We understood each other. There were so many things we didn’t have to explain, things we could assume. It’s a wonderful relief to meet someone from your “home town”.

My husband works closely with Ed Brown, who is incidentally Marilyn’s older brother. In March 2011 we travelled north to visit Ed and his wife Susannah. Both Ed and Susannah are adult TCK’s; like me they both grew up in Pakistan. Although they’re considerably older than I am, we were astounded by how similar we are. We share the same sense of humour, similar political views, similar passions and pastimes. It was uncanny.

TCKs don’t have the privilege of returning “home” for Christmas. We don’t run into each other when we’re back in “town”—we are spread globally, we’ve settled internationally. When we happen to meet another it’s a sweet treat, a kind reminder that we are not alone, that we’re not completely strange or forever foreign.

There are others out there just like me. That might worry those who know me…but for me, it’s a comforting reality that brings me joy!

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20 thoughts on “TCK Reunions – An Invisible Bond

  1. As a TCK, I could completely relate to everything you wrote! There really is an instant connection between TCKs, regardless of age, or which countries we each lived in. Where I am now, there are really no TCKs around, and there are days when that can be really tough. Luckily my husband is also a lifelong TCK, but we both miss the company of others who have lived similar lives… I’ve heard so much about that book since I started blogging last year and found other TCK blogs, but still haven’t read it – I think it’ll be on the christmas list this year! Thanks for sharing!


  2. I agree. meeting with someone who is a TCK is often an instant connection! One girl told me about the book, and reading it was like having all my oddities made normal. I’m always ready to promote that book to any TCK I come across!

    I also had the good fortune of having a University tutor this semester who I knew almost right away was a TCK, (although she’d never heard of the term!). She’s working on her Thesis on how communities create meanings of belonging. It was like I’d been handed the expert on what I’d been trying to figure out for myself!

    I think the biggest connecting point is we understand we don’t have to be the same on the surface/superficial things that most friendships are initially built on, and that acceptance of difference is not threatening.


    1. Loved the book as well – the thesis sounds fascinating and I would love to hear more.. I especially liked the phrase in your comment “acceptance of difference is not threatening” this I have found to be so true. Thanks for your insight Lynnette and as you learn more about what your friend is finding in the communities of belonging I would love to hear.


    2. “Oddities made normal!” — there’s comfort in connections like these! I too would love to see your friend’s thesis! What a great resource.


  3. Enjoyed reading this very much … I have grown up in one (no longer in existence) country, but found myself in another, very different country long time ago. I know that does not place me within TCK, however the feeling of belonging to the wider world rather than one place does. Having said that, it remains somewhat of a mystery to me that nation of belonging to a place.

    Kind Regards,


    1. Yes – I agree. It is a mystery. I just read Lynnette’s comment above and am fascinated that her friend is working on a thesis that looks at communities of belonging. I was just speaking yesterday to someone about the sense of belonging I feel in a city …. feeling community despite anonymity – how strange is that. So, I’m so curious as to what country you grew up in??


      1. I grew up in Zagreb, capital of Croatia and lived there until 1994 when I moved to NZ (without speaking any English … as you do -:)). While I was growing up Croatia was one of six federal republics of Yugoslavia (Tito was a president, you may have heard of him).


    2. Daniela – what an interesting background. You must have some pretty profound memories of that move. If you ever want to write about them – CAB would be the perfect place. And interesting because you actually are a Third Culture Kid based on the definition. I’m finding people through CAB that have never heard the term but as they read what all of us write the words go deep and they know exactly what it feels like to be that outsider, but not necessarily look like the outsider. Would love to hear more about your life.


  4. “Accepted immediately, no explanations needed” is the way I describe what happens when meeting another/fellow TCK/MK. What always amazes me is how small the TCK world is – and that we are NOT 6% separated – but more like 2-3%!


      1. That is fascinating Sandra! And very much our own fmliay’s experience too. My kids are non-conformists to our current UK culture, and they also have a sensitivity to anyone they see who is left out or treated badly because they are different. I think where kids are given the confidence to be whoever they choose to be, they won’t suffer too much from an identity crisis or assimilate with the culture to the extent that all their distinctiveness is completely obliterated. I think a child can only have the courage to be different when they already have love and acceptance. If they find love and acceptance within their own fmliay, that provides a strong foundation for them to go out and be true to themselves. My daughter initially got a lot of teasing and bullying when she was in a mostly white, Scottish little primary school soon after we got here. It affected her quite badly at first, but now she has been able to take pride in her differences and has even been told by her current schoolmates that she is weird but in a good way.


  5. There are so many that it is incredible! Even when I was back in the US for a couple of years, way back when, the folks I connected with most closely had either lived abroad or were foreigners. The connection is hard to define but is very strong. Lovely post!


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