TCK Reunions – An Invisible Bond

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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