Third Culture Kids

John Curtis is one of those people who can talk your head off, because much of what he says is so interesting that you simply can't stop listening. Tonight at dinner, we talked about a concept that I had understood my whole life but never had a word for: Third Culture Kids. This will sound extremely familiar to some of you, while others won't know what the heck I am talking about.

When a child is either born of two different cultures (I'm Mexican and Gringo) or spends their childhood in multiple cultures (I lived in Mexico and India before moving to the US, John Curtis was a state department kid), the child usually does not feel a part of either culture. There are several ways one can react to this: the kid might simply shut down socially, they might reject one of their cultures and try really hard to be accepted by the other, or they might combine the two (or more!) cultures to create their own, unique, "Third" culture.

These Third Culture Kids tend to have more in common with each other, regardless of the cultural mix within them, than to "normal" people from any culture. Those who make it through their teenage years tend to behave as cultural bridges, seeing commonalities rather than differences since they've been "different" their whole lives.

The most prominent example of a Third Culture Kid in the world right now is, of course, Barack Obama. An absent African father, a white family, and a few formative years spent in Indonesia are part of that makes him who he is today. The fact that the US elevated a TCK gives me a lot of hope that as we become more common, we'll stop being weird, uncategorizable rejects and become valued cultural bridges.

Third Culture Kids Unite!


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