The term third culture kids (TCK) was coined in the 1950’s, when children of missionaries and army personnel were still a relative rarity in sociological terms. Today, young people who are influenced by multiple cultures, either through travel with parents, through immigration, or through adoption, are becoming the norm.
As a Dutch child, spending some of her formative years in the UK, and then most of her adult life in either the UK or Sweden, I identify not only with the idea that we develop an identity that is an amalgam of the cultures that have influenced us, but also with the experience that we feel we ‘belong’ psychologically and emotionally with other Global Nomads who, in a sense, all embrace the identity of non-belonging.
A cultural paradigm shift
While parents can often feel threatened by this supposed lack of roots, the millennium generation no longer questions this need for roots, and only suffers when parental or societal pressure is applied to declare whether you belong to one group or another. When we no longer need to hold to our own culture as the only guideline for who or what we are, but can transcend this and meet at a different level, we can meet others more as unique individuals too, rather than as cultural stereotypes.
The challenge of defining yourself from the inside out.
But as with all things, there is also a downside. It is much harder to define your identity from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. I am American/Mexican/Dutch and therefore I am like this or like that (or try and be the total opposite), is, in one sense still easier than to make up your own set of moral, principles and ethical guidelines from an amalgam of influences that are internalised and personal. And yet, with correct societal and parental support, the latter creates stronger and more psychologically rooted identity systems than the former.
I see more opportunities than challenges in being a TCK or Global Nomad, and yet, with a view to the generational paradigm shift, I also see that there is sometimes a need for the older generation to understand how to meet the needs of these Global Nomads in ways that will support, rather than stand in the way of this inside out development of an identity structure.
Unity in our Diversity
Imagine a world (at least until the Martians land) where we no longer split ourselves off from others by looking through the lens of ‘us and them’ but have an inclusive view on all world citizens, and a curiosity about what makes them tick. That doesn’t mean we are all becoming the same. We’re worth the same, but e are highly and uniquely individual, and this tearing away from cultural, religious and societal norms will hopefully help this process.
Our TCKs and Adult TCKs can lead the way in this bright new future, and I truly believe that with the right support and pedagogic approach, we can nurture these Global citizens to become the standard bearers for a more integrated peaceful world.