Quotes on “Third Culture Kids”


The study of the third culture kid perspective is not static. Every year, new information and quotes can be found. I’ve compiled this short list of TCK quotes for you today. There are many, many more – but these are some that I have gathered or written the past few years. Please add to this list in the comment section! 

“A British child taking toddling steps on foreign soil or speaking his or her firstwords in Chinese with an amah (nanny) has no idea of what it means to be human yet, let alone ‘British.’ He or she simply responds to what is happening in the moment” (Pollock and Van Reken, 2001)


One of the quickest ways to damage the heart of a TCK is to outlaw negative emotions (grief, anger, disappointment, etc.). Tell them they shouldn’t feel something, or that they just need to suck it up, or that their feelings show a lack of gratefulness. Yup, that’ll do it. But, and this is the great part, allowing a TCK to experience the full range of emotions is one of the most caring things you can do. It’s also one of the healthiest things you can do. – Jonathan Trotter in 3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your TCK


“A global soul is a person who had grown up in many cultures all at once – and so lived in the cracks between them.”– Pico Iyer


The journeying reality of the adult third culture kid is connecting our multicultural past with something that feels meaningful; connecting our invisible skills to a visible occupation.- Marilyn Gardner


Sometimes it’s very confusing, not knowing where you belong, or not belonging anywhere but feeling that you should. Other times I feel history’s breath on my back and I wonder about the ways that everything got woven together for me to be where I am now.” – Olga Mecking


“The answer to the question of how long it takes them to adjust to American life is: they never adjust. They adapt, they find niches, they take risks, they fail and pick themselves up again. They succeed in jobs they have created to fit their particular talents, they locate friends with whom they can share some of their interests, but they resist being encapsulated. Their camouflaged exteriors and understated ways of presenting themselves hide the rich inner lives, remarkable talents, and often strongly held contradictory opinions on the world at large and the world at hand.” – Dr. Ruth Useem


“Seeing a world we loved disappear out a tiny airplane window as the plane lifts off and flies away. If we’re lucky, it circles once so we can take a last full look at a place we once called home.” – Jennie Legate


“Our generation is in need of voices with storied backgrounds. TCKs who participate in a faith community are equipped to bring about a certain vitality and prophetic voice. They embody a different story to congregations with a single narrative. In this fast paced society of sound bytes and noise, we need the sharpened clarity brought by multiple cultural lenses, a valued asset TCKs possess. They live outside the box, upset the status quo, captivate larger dreams, and compel those around us to examine preconceived notions and to live with deeper integrity and passion.” – Cindy Brandt in Third Culture Kids in the World of Faith

so, here you are. Too foreign for home, too foreign for here. never enough for both. – ijeoma umebinyuo


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. – Robynn Bliss in TCK Reunions – An Invisible Bond


“No generation before now has had so many of its members simultaneously living in, between, and among countless cultural worlds as is happening today.” – Lois Bushong


“Any third culture kid who lives effectively in her passport country has a moment of truth when she realizes it’s okay to live here; it’s okay to adjust; it’s okay, even if she never feels fully at home, to feel a level of comfort in who she is in her passport country. To adapt doesn’t mean settling for second best. To adapt is to use the gifts she developed through her childhood in order to transcend cultures and to find her niche in both worlds.” – Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging


“Our homes are not defined by geography or one particular location, but by memories, events, people and places that span the globe.” – Marilyn Gardner

What quotes about TCKs do you love? Please join the conversation in the comment section! 

Resource: Top Ten Tips for Counseling Third Culture Kids

Identity with Ruth Useem – Djibouti Jones

passport stamps

Have you ever wondered about the history of the term “Third Culture Kid?”  Learn more about the woman behind the term by heading to Djibouti Jones to read the third part of the series by Paul Asbury Seaman – Our Tribal Elders. I have included an excerpt from the piece Our Tribal Elders, Identity with Ruth Useem.


Anyone who has read Letters Never Sent, or one of the many other TCK memoirs and anthologies, understands the power of naming things. It is one of the most potent aspects of religion. Naming something puts a border around it; makes it less scary, easier to manage. And it tells us who we are. Ruth Hill Useem was the first one to name us. Moving clockwise around the medicine wheel, the second quadrant is the South, where we grow into and affirm our individuality, a place of clarity and a sense of purpose—where we begin to recognize our potential.

Dr. Useem was a sociologist at Michigan State University. From 1952 to 1985 she studied expatriate communities, overseas schools, and the discrete subcultures of organizations working abroad, including the military, religious missions, diplomatic services, private businesses, and nonprofit agencies. Her later work focused on the impact of living abroad on minor dependents and eventually took her to seventy-six countries.

The first cross-cultural research conducted by Useem, and her husband John, had been on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.[i] They wanted to explore the psycho-social dynamics of people (such as health care workers, educators, and government officials) who move temporarily across cultural borders for organizational reasons. Ten years later (in 1952), now with three children in tow, the Useems went to India with similar questions about people who had gone to a Western country for their higher education.

The Useems made a second, year-long trip to India in 1958, this time to study American expatriates working there. What they discovered was that these families, businesses, embassies, international schools, military commissaries, and mission compounds all developed patterns of interaction with their host country that were distinct, patterns that incorporated elements of both the home culture and the host culture into what the Useems called a “Third Culture.” While compiling their observations over the next few years, Ruth coined the term “Third Culture Kids” to refer to the children who grow up in such an environment. Her findings have been confirmed and elaborated on by many others and do not need to be summarized again here.[ii]

Read the rest of the essay here Our Tribal Elders, Identity with Ruth Useem

What do you think about naming things? I talk in Between Worlds about the “edenic characteristic” of a name. Does the term “Third Culture Kid” frustrate you or give you a context?  

“And then someone invented a name, a name with a thousand meanings and memories. We became third culture kids. And we learned that we were not alone, that there were so many like us. We learned it was okay to have a name. It did not label us as an infection; it gave credibility to who we were and how we had lived. We were real. We could relax and begin to thrive. We had a place and we had a name — those Edenic characteristics applauded by God in the Garden so long ago. With a name we could grow into the people God intended us to be. And so we did” © Doorlight Publications July 2014; Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging Page 46 

Guest Posting at Djibouti Jones – A TCK Talks About Raising TCK’s

Today’s post is perhaps the truest piece I’ve ever posted. It is a piece I needed to write and I look forward to hearing from some of you. I’ve included an excerpt here and then I ask you to go to Djibouti Jones to read the rest of the piece.

Just being brought up by people who didn’t and still don’t feel fully here, fully present–that’s very intense,” ….. “It’s not just all about the house we live in and the friends we have right here. There was always a whole other alternative universe to our lives.” from Jhumpa Lahiri: The Quiet Laureate – Time Magazine 2008

English: Maria Spelterini is walking across a ...

If I could pick two words to describe my life they would be the words “Between Worlds”. Like a tightrope walker suspended between buildings, so was my life.  My tightrope was between Pakistan and the United States; between home and boarding; between Muslim and Christian.

Since birth I knew I lived in a culture between – I was a third culture kid.

I realized early in life that airports and airplanes were perfect places of belonging, because I was literally between worlds as I sat in airports, idling the time with my books and my brothers waiting for flights. Or sitting in the airplane, row 33D, buckling and unbuckling while settling in to a long flight.

I always knew I would raise my children overseas. In my mind it was a given. It made complete sense – it was a world I loved and my kids would love it too.

But there is a curious dynamic when an adult third culture kid moves on to raise third culture kids. First off, you transfer your love of travel, adventure, languages, and cross-cultural living. You don’t worry that they will be away from their passport countries, you don’t worry that they’ll miss aunts and uncles. You know theirs is a life that few have, and even fewer understand but you also know that in many areas the benefits outweigh the deficits.

So I was set. My world was a world of expat comings and goings, making friends with Egyptians, conjugating verbs in Arabic classes, and attending events at international schools. It was a world of change and transience and we were at home within that transience. We didn’t name the losses – we didn’t think there were any.

But then we moved. We left our home in Cairo of 7 years, our life overseas of 10 years, and moved to a small town in New England. A town that boasted community and Victorian homes, a small school and tidy lawns. A town with white picket fences and white faces……..Read More Here!

New Series on Djibouti Jones

Today I’m sending you over to Djibouti Jones where Rachel Pieh Jones launches a series on Third Culture Kids. The most popular posts on Communicating Across Boundaries are overwhelmingly those that process the TCK experience.  As an adult third culture kid who raised third culture kids for 11 years, I am deeply connected to the topic. With that in mind I knew many of you would be interested in following this series.

Rachel begins the series with an essay by Ruth E. Van Reken, co-author with David Pollock of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. I have included a short excerpt and you can follow the rest at Djibouti Jones. Please weigh in through the comment section of that post!


Who are third culture kids?

In the late 1950s, Ruth Hill Useem, originator of the third culture kid term, simply called them “children who accompany parents into another culture.” While she did not specifically say so, all those she originally studied were in another culture due to a parent’s career choice, not as immigrants or refugees. Dave Pollock later defined TCKs as those who have “spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture(s).” He then went on to describe them by adding “Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.

This descriptive phrase seems to be part of where some confusion rests. It is absolutely true that any given TCK or by now adult TCK (ATCK) often personally incorporates various aspects of his or her life experiences into a personal world view, food preferences, or cultural expectations. That’s why many TCKs and ATCKs relate to the metaphor of “being green” that Whitni Thomas describes in her lovely poem “Colors.” There she writes how she feels both yellow and blue in her different worlds but wishes there was a place to “just be green.” Ironically, many TCKs do feel “green” when with others of like experience, as Pollock describes. This is where they don’t have to explain this desire to be both/and rather than being forced to choose an either/or identity. Other TCKs easily understand because many feel the same way, no matter which country their passport says is “home” or which countries they have lived in. But putting various pieces of different cultures together is not the third culture itself, although it is a very common (and wrong) way many describe it. Read more here.

Three Kids out of Five by the pyramids
Three Kids out of Five by the pyramids – Cairo was home for 7 years