The Evolution of the TCK - Stage Four: The Trans-Nationalist

Category: Third Culture Kids

Let me begin by making an apology. I cannot believe it has been this long since I last posted a blog. As is the whole world, I too have been incredibly busy. However, I did expect that, although I was on 2 continents and speaking in 4 countries, I would be able to write a short blog. What was I thinking? With that off my chest, let’s look at the fourth stage of Third Culture Kid development!

A few weeks ago I began a short series on the behavioral evolution of the Third Culture Kid. The first of the four stages is the Cultural Sponge. This is the initial phase of Third Culture Kid development that ushers in cultural learning and begins the etching of what is normal in the TCK’s growing up experience. In stage two, we talked about the Cultural Chameleon, the essence of this stage being cultural adaptation combined with developing personal patterns of transition as well self-awareness and self-preservation in the midst of his changing worlds. In stage three, TCKs begin to question their identity and to wonder where if anywhere they belong as they become Hidden Immigrants in their passport country.

Today I would like to explore with you the fourth stage of “The Evolution of the TCK”.

Stage Four: The Trans-Nationalist
global-survey2
After thinking through all the stages mentioned above, we finally come to the last stage, the elusive stage of Third Culture Kid development, when he or she becomes a “trans-nationalist” or “global citizen”.

The developmental journey of the Third Culture Kid to the stage of being a Trans-nationalist is a long one. Some TCKs never reach this point. In actuality it may be easier to identify this TCK in terms what he/she is not rather than what he/she is. 

  1. This is not the TCK who finally reaches adulthood and decides to live internationally again because he cannot adjust to living in his primary passport country.  
  2. This is not the TCK who decides he has had too much mobility in his life and decides he never wants to move again so he plants himself somewhere and grits his teeth and says “Never again will I move.  It is just too painful.”
  3. This is not the TCK who makes the decision to live internationally because he does not want to feel trapped in his primary passport country.
  4.  This is not the TCK who hides his history to the point of denial. This TCK’s story might be unknown to others. He never makes references to his international life. It is as though it never existed, which most certainly brings about a level of guardedness and lack of vulnerability in his relationships.


Rather, the trans-nationalist is the Third Culture Kid who has completed a successful transition back to his primary passport country. He is the TCK who may or may not desire to live internationally again but has developed the skills needed to live, even thrive, in the country that has legal claim to him though his developing experiences were in another country.

Psychologist Nancy Schlossberg defines a successful transition like this:

“A transition can be said to occur if an event or non-event results in a change in assumptions about oneself and the world and thus requires a corresponding change in one’s behaviors and relationships.”

bridgingthegap-300x230This TCK is one who has developed skills to live in any culture and uses those same skills in his passport country. Skills like cultural tolerance, adaptability, being observant, culturally adventurous or linguistically adept are used by this TCK wherever he lives. He might be a cultural mentor, bridge the cultural gap or be a cultural diplomat. These skills are who he is. He isn’t stuck in his past, but treasures his past and still years later may periodically mourn his past. However, the grief he feels is good grief rather than bad grief. Having said that, he does not glorify the past or tell himself life will never be as good as it was when he was a kid.


This TCK has grown up! He is not afraid of change. He is not afraid of stability. He can objectify his life and experience and he understands and accepts who he is. He is the new global citizen and he has a fantastic story to tell.

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Word cloud courtesy of Pocket Cultures
Bridging the gap image courtesy of New Directions Consulting

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