As business becomes increasingly global, and opportunities for international education and work overseas increase, the number of families living outside the country where the parents were born continues to rise. There are many such “global nomad” families among the staff at the IMF. When a parent decides to accept a position at the IMF, this can have a significant impact on their children too. Often, the whole family must relocate from their home country to the USA. American families where a parent becomes a Resident Representative in another country will also have to make big adjustments because of the parent’s career at the IMF.
What are Third Culture Kids?
Children and young adults in these situations are often referred to as Third Culture or Cross Culture Kids. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are kids that have been raised outside their parents’ culture for a significant part of their developmental years, and Cross Culture Kids (CCKs) are kids that have lived in or meaningfully interacted with two or more countries for at least one year during their childhood or adolescence. TCKs are often also CCKs and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. To keep it simple here we will only use the term TCK.
There are many advantages to being a TCK. TCKs may be exposed to several languages, in school, on the street or when playing with friends, for example. They are frequently bi- or even multilingual. Besides, after living in more than one culture, each with its own set of values, TCKs understand there is more than one way to look at a situation. They frequently develop a broader and deeper understanding of the world around them. As a result of that they tend to score higher on interpersonal sensitivity, and are generally better able to adjust than children who have not had the experience of living abroad.
There are also challenges, of course. Children sometimes experience confused loyalties. They can have difficulty understanding aspects of politics, patriotism and the moral values of a society. This is especially true when moving from a collectivist to an individualist culture or vice-versa. Sometimes it is hard for TCKs to understand a new culture where the dominant focus is on that culture, and it appears “as if nothing else is important”. Some TCKs lack (often subtle) knowledge of aspects of their home culture, which can be a challenge on their return and reintegration. Finally, a feeling of rootlessness and restlessness can make the transition into adulthood challenging for TCKs.
IMFFA has been looking into the possibility of a partnership to help support member families with TCKs, Sea Change Mentoring is an organization that offers a program in which TCKs aged 16-23 are carefully matched with a mentor who also grew up internationally and who now has a successful career and fulfilling life. Together, the pairs explore careers, post-secondary education options and other opportunities that will allow the TCK to apply their international background. As well as building a sense of global citizenship, innovative thinking and cultural adaptability, the children/young adults gain access to a network of other TCKs from all over the world. You can read more about the program, as well as view videos and read more about TCKs at: www.seachangementoring.com.