“My mother’s Dutch, my father’s Japanese. I was born in Argentina and my best language is English. I’m living in Switzerland and being educated in French, but I want to go to a university in the States. After that, I don’t know…”
Some of the most ignored and fascinating groups of youth are those Dr. Ruth Useem first termed, “third-culture kids.” Third-culture kids are those whose parents work for embassies; diplomatic agencies; the United Nations and related non-governmental organizations including WHO, WWF, and Red Cross/Red Crescent; multi-national businesses, universities, newspapers and magazines; and mission agencies. Their parents tend to be ambitious and successful overachievers, influential, bright, well educated, and financially secure. Third-culture kids tend to reflect the values extolled by their parents.
Third-culture kids attend international schools, most of which are English-language or partially bilingual. The students come from any country in the world. For example, the Ecole Internationale in Geneva, Switzerland, educates students from 99 countries, ranging from Benin to Zimbabwe, speaking languages such as Igbo and Yoruba. Though each student speaks English, many have two or three mother tongues and several citizenships to match. Most grow up outside their home country, unaffected by their own culture or by the host culture of the country in which they do reside and attend school, since most attend international schools.
Life as a third-culture kid has unique benefits as well as drawbacks. The problems these international youth face include transience (third-culture kids move an average of eight times by age eighteen), losing friends annually, and no sense of belonging to any specific country. However, the advantages they gain are manifold. Third-culture kids are typically polyglot, cosmopolitan, and comfortable with international travel and multicultural environments. They exhibit no racist tendencies and few nationalistic loyalties, are intelligent, well-educated, wise about the world, and at ease anywhere in it. Their parents run the world; third-culture kids will grow up to take their place.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How would you discuss personal belief systems with a group of kids representing different religions and backgrounds? Might one expect to see many different moralities revealed in such a multicultural environment? How could one best deal with complex issues such as sexuality in such a situation?
One would likely be exposed to varying interpretations of history from different national perspectives. What might be one’s stance toward American history as it has impacted the world?
An interesting question is that of culture; that is, what is the culture of the international community? What impact does the local culture have on the international culture? To what extent does it manifest the influence of the western industrialized culture? How do third-culture kids adapt to wide divergence in cultural input from the family culture(s), the local culture(s), the culture of their close friends (especially dating partners), and the culture of the international community?
Might one expect to see many different moralities revealed in such a multicultural environment? How could one best deal with issues of sexuality in such a complex culture?
How would you discuss faith with a group of kids simultaneously representing several different religions?
One would be likely be exposed to widely varying interpretations of history from different national perspectives.
This is an outstanding opportunity for English-speaking youth workers, teachers, and administrators interested in a brief, extended, or career-length stay living and working overseas. This highlights some considerations in moving to another country and exposing one’s self and family to new cultures and languages within an English-speaking cultural enclave.
The international community is an unstudied phenomenon, sociologically undiscovered. Its citizens maintain the universal power centers of business, finance, politics, journalism, and diplomacy, evolving into what may be considered the core of a nationless society. Spread in a diaspora throughout major and minor cities around the world, the international culture is polyglot, multinational, and multiethnic, esteeming tolerance as the highest of philosophical ideals.
English-speaking youth workers will find a fairly westernized international community in which to do youth service utilizing many of the methodologies used in the U.S., and will be able to work in English.
It is possible to get teaching jobs in international schools with American teaching credentials and experience, therefore enabling one to start youth outreach programming from within the school without having to worry about raising support or getting residence visas.
Though TCKs will generally have a veneer of westernization (Reeboks, 49ers baseball caps and Raiders jackets), they will also be influenced by the local culture and by their own culture(s). Do not assume a monolithic cultural framework.
Some problems faced by TCKs are loss of friends, lack of national identity, multicultural families, traveling parents, fear of making close friends, living in an incredibly pluralistic academic environment, being presented with multiple value systems, and a sense that they do not belong anywhere.
Advantages of being a TCK include linguistic fluency, cultural flexibility and adaptability, cosmopolitanism, earlier maturity, wide experiences of friendship, worldwide knowledge, and deep concern for world struggles.