TCK Children: Third Culture Kids

Children from Europe, the US and Canada can spend part of their school years in International Schools in SE Asia. Mostly the schools are very good, and those of us who grew up monoculturally can envy them their broader experiences, their bilingualism, their citizenship of the world. But it’s not always easy for them.

I’ve only just come across the term TCK’s. A moving account of them is given in Nina Sichel’s collections Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids (2011). TCK’s often feel powerless as their families decide to relocate, and they lose their sense of belonging, recognition and connection. In spite of the high quality of their new schools, they may experience loss, which may be hard for their parents and teachers to recognize.

They may not readily come to the attention of the school counsellor; they may appear to be adjusting to their new school world, or be struggling to make friends and join the peers, or be angry and disruptive. I realized met a few: one boy couldn’t express himself aloud for months and even after 2 years was still struggling to maintain focus in some classes, after arriving from London at 5½. Another extremely bright boy from Korea missed his home culture so much it was worth failing in Singapore to be allowed to return home.

International schools are used to the problems of relocation their kids experience and many prepare them well for change and can recognize the problems. But schools in the home country may be clueless. They are just not aware of what the child may be struggling with and have no experience of helping. I have heard of one of two like that, too.

If a TCK comes your way, maybe besides checking out any problems, you can encourage him just to talk, and share his story. She may need time just to open up and then perhaps to mourn the losses she hasn’t been allowed to acknowledge. Singapore is a wonderful place but its not somewhere everyone can easily feel at home.


Written by

Dr Tim Bunn
EdD, MSc, BA (Hons), PGCE
Consultant Educational Psychologist

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