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Living Abroad

Third Culture Kids

A Unique Student and Life Experience

It is a common mistake to assume that most students from American universities who study abroad come from the same cultural background. One group of students clearly have a cultural experience very different from their “traditional” American counterparts who are born and raised in the U.S.—even though they often look and sound as American as any other student. As a result of being American but growing up apart from American culture, Third Culture Kids (TCKs) create their own separate (third) cultural identity—a combination of American culture and that of their country of residence.

Because they are accustomed to readjusting to foreign cultures, TCKs can provide valuable input in orientation sessions. At the same time, TCKs also can be insecure—their cultural identity is blurred and they cannot easily explain where they are from. Some TCKs go through their entire college experience (both in the U.S. and abroad) feeling quite separate from everyone else. Sometimes adjustment problems—including the ability to find close friends—can even affect their academic performance.

Identifying “traditional” American students and TCKs (as well as international students in the group) at the beginning of orientation may assist TCKs in finding other students who might have had similar life experiences. The more awareness and sensitivity educators and students have, the more successful a TCK’s academic experience will be.

For More Info

Helpful Links for TCKs and Global Nomads

Global Nomads
TCK World

TCKs and Global Nomads Information (Lewis and Clark College)

Editor's note: You might wish to read the following recently published books on the subject

Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World by Robin Pascoe
The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition by Ruth van Reken

AMY RUHTER McMILLAN is Assistant Vice President of Marketing at IES (The Institute for the International Education of Students). Born in the U.S., she attended school in Hong Kong from grade five to 12 before enrolling at Valparaiso Univ. in Indiana. She studied in Cambridge, England on Valparaiso’s semester program.