What Makes a Person a TCK?

Category: Third Culture Kids

img_1468I should have written this a few days ago, but I was adjusting to life back here in the USA after three weeks in China. On that note, Happy Chinese New Year! (You might not believe me but I took that photo of Chinese New Year last year in China - sweet!) Anyway, we spent three great weeks in China.  Libby talked a lot…as usual…but I just hung out.

We were at 3 international schools, and also spent a weekend in Beijing with about 75 high school seniors who are preparing to graduate. It was so fun to talk, listen and just be with them. Most were Korean TCKs, but I hardly noticed that.  I think I did notice it at the beginning, but that part became secondary, even irrelevant once we connected on the TCK level. It didn’t take long really either…like maybe 5 minutes…at most. Once we discovered we had the same kind of humor, had been to some of the same places, had the same interests and of course knew what REAL Chinese food tastes like, we bonded immediately. It was like we had known each other for a long time. That is pretty common in our world, the TCK world. We either click or we don’t pretty fast. 

I have been to a couple of ATCK  (Adult Third Culture Kid) gatherings and it is so much fun to watch all the TCKs discover each other. It’s like TCKs are magnetized. We can’t seem to help it, we are mysteriously drawn to each other. It begins as verbal banter about places, foods, flights, language, and then the stories that border on the bizarre (to monocultural ears anyway) begin. For the TCK, this is just jockeying for status.  Now... before you get ticked at me and tell me that you are not vying for position, I know it’s not done intentionally. Or maybe it is better to say we don’t do it to say we are better than anyone else. But we do use those things to figure out just how “TCK” another person is.

In the “mono” world, status makers are things like the kind of car you drive, how much money you have, where you went to university, etc. But in the TCK world, status is how many countries you have been to, the number of languages you speak, how many times you moved, etc. Oh, and how could I forget the two biggest ones? 1. If you were born outside your passport country 2. If you have more than one passport. Yep…those are BIG status makers. (Just to let you in on a secret, Libby gets really jealous when she meets someone who has two passports. I think if she had a chance she would buy a second passport! haha)

So why am I bringing this up? It’s because I often hear from TCKs who question their legitimacy as a TCK because they have only lived outside their passport country for a couple of years. They tell me they really relate to being a TCK but often they are not really accepted by us.  They get this all the time: “You only lived in Nigeria for a year? You’re not really a TCK.”  “You didn’t learn the language? Hmmm…real TCKs are definitely multilingual.” “ You lived in Europe when you were in elementary school? You were so young, it probably didn’t take.”

Well I want to validate you, TCK. I want to affirm your membership into our culture. It’s not about how many languages you speak, how many places you have lived in or even the weird foods you have eaten that solidifies your membership as part of the TCK club. It's about how living outside your passport culture impacts your thinking, your actions and how you see the world. No one can really judge how much your international living experience impacted you. You may not even know yourself!

So when I (or any TCK) start throwing around the status symbols of the culture please don’t question yourself. You ARE a TCK and no one can take that away from you. Stand tall! Welcome to the Third Culture. You are part of one of the coolest cultures on the planet.

Zai jian,


Camilla is a TCK who gets to travel with Libby Stephens. Missed her intro? Meet Cami!

Libby's Schedule

No current events.



Skype Consultation with Libby