Friday, October 18, 2013

Third Culture Kids: A Book Review

I just finished reading Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, by David C. Polluck and Ruth E. Van Reken (click here to find it on Amazon). The term "third culture kid" (TCK) refers to "children who spend a significant period of their developmental years in a culture outside their parents' passport culture(s)" (p. 13). As we look forward to welcoming our baby, who will be biracial, bicultural, and (hopefully) multilingual, I decided to read this book little by little during the past few months. Here is a brief summary and some of my thoughts. I welcome your comments, as well.

The authors divide the book into three sections:

1. Understanding the World of TCKs
These chapters flesh out the definition of a TCK and also discuss Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs). The latter are those who have lived in and/or interacted with two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time (this is probably a more accurate description for us). These children and teenagers can be "military brats," those whose parents are diplomats or international business workers, or "missionary kids" (MKs). They usually experience two key issues: (A) cross-cultural living and (B) high mobility.

2. The TCK Profile
This section describes a variety of traits, skills, and patterns that tend to characterize TCKs. Polluck and Van Reken emphasize how the concept of paradox underlies these areas, creating benefits as well as challenges unique to these children's identities, life stories, and abilities. One example of this paradox is that TCKs often develop an "expanded worldview," enabling them to appreciate and interact with a wide variety of people in many different contexts, but experience "confused loyalties," which means they may not feel fully part of any one location or group (pp. 88-90).

3. Maximizing the Benefits
This final part of the book outlines practical suggestions, based on research with TCKs, of how families, friends, and organizations can help make the most of the advantages TCKs are offered while addressing their struggles and needs in a healthy way. For example, parents can create special family traditions that their children enjoy and that bring relational cohesion, cultivating stability their children can find comforting regardless of which country or culture they are in.

As I read the book, several recurring ideas stood out to me:
  • My experience is markedly different from TCKs' experiences:
    • I grew up in a monolingual, monocultural environment, felt called to move to Latin America, and prepared as best I could based on my own initiative. I have chosen to embrace this lifestyle, I have had to learn adaptability as an adult, and I know what it's like to return "home" to where I grew up.
    • TCKs usually have no choice in growing up in different cultural contexts with frequent transitions. They often learn to ways to cope and adapt, and they might not have a clear answer as to where "home" is.
  • Being intentional can make all the difference.
    • By educating ourselves as parents, we can more easily understand how our child might think, feel, and act.
    • If we foster healthy habits from a young age, it is more likely that our child can cope with difficulty and enjoy enriching benefits as he grows up.
  • As our world becomes more culturally intertwined and mobile, TCK and CCK life is becoming more common and better understood. This is encouraging!
  • The internet provides access to abundant resources about this topic and connection to others in similar situations.

What I most like about "Third Culture Kids" is:
  • It's very well-organized, research-based, and balanced.
  • Many examples of TCKs illuminate concepts and poignantly show the real, personal aspect of the topic.
  • It invites thoughtful dialogue, not superficial formulae.
  • The tone is positive and there is even an entire chapter called "Enjoying the Journey," which was very inspiring!
  • It is the kind of resource I can refer to in the future, not only as a parent, but also as a friend to other missionary parents and TCKs.

I would love to read your thoughts if you have read the book or other literature about TCKs. For example:
  • What has your journey been like as a...
    • TCK/CCK?
    • Parent of a TCK?
    • Friend of missionary families, both parents and kids?
  • What are some of the best parts, and how did you make the most of them?
  • What would you do differently?

Feel free to leave a comment below, email me, or contact me through Facebook.

Thanks for reading!

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