The Foreign Service Journal, December 2008

s the afternoon sun filtered its golden rays through the curtains, I sat on the sofa facing a young man earnestly telling me about his life abroad. There was pain in his eyes as he described how he did not feel like he could connect with his extended fami- ly and his peers now that he was home again. He won- dered what was wrong with him that made it so difficult to fit in. I asked him if he had ever heard of Third Culture Kids. As I explained TCKs to him, the light bulb went on and I could see a huge weight lift from his shoulders. “You mean it’s not me? I’m not weird? There’s nothing wrong with me?” I smiled and told him, “No, you are absolutely normal. It’s just that you are a classic Third Culture Kid.” The sense of relief on his face made me both smile and feel sadness for a young person who had felt so misunderstood. As Ruth van Reken and the late David Pollack, two of the foremost experts in the field, wrote in Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds (Nicholas Brealey, 2000): “A Third Culture Kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmen- tal years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, a sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar back- ground.” If one can generalize about TCKs, they have experi- enced life overseas, outside of their home cultures and comfort zones, and feel that their lives have been enriched by the many diverse experiences they have had. Most of these young people understand that they now possess a three-dimensional world view, and have become more flexible in their thinking as a result of the many transitions they have made. The typical TCK appreciates diversity and multiculturalism, and finds life in a place where every- one is the same to be boring. They tend to be more mature than many of their peers, comfortable with adults and self-confident. As a result of living in new and chang- ing environments, they often develop an active and curious mind. The young man in this anecdote, though not an American, is typical of the many Foreign Service youth and other young people I work with. Despite the many advan- tages that come from growing up overseas, many TCKs wonder where they belong, and don’t understand why they feel so different from their peers when they return to the country of their passport. Defining “home” is a challenge. It may be at once everywhere and nowhere, because the emotional and physical state of “home” may not be the 76 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 8 B UILDING R ESILIENCY IN G LOBAL N OMADS M OVING CHILDREN FROM COUNTRY TO COUNTRY IS BOTH CHALLENGING AND REWARDING . H ERE IS A GUIDE TO THE ISSUES OF TRANSITION THAT ARE INVOLVED . B Y R EBECCA G RAPPO S CHOOLS S UPPLEMENT Rebecca (Becky) Grappo, an educational consultant and FS spouse, raised three children and sent them all to college while in the Foreign Service. She specializes in boarding schools and college planning and is a Certified Educational Planner and a member of both the Independent Educational Consultants Association and the National Association of College Admissions Counselors. A former education and youth officer in the Family Liaison Office at the Department of State, she is currently posted with her husband in Muscat. You can visit her Web site at . A