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Third-Culture Kids as Parents

Did you grow up in one culture, your parents came from another, and you are now living in a totally different country? Then you are a third-culture kid! Yet being a third-culture kid is not always easy; in fact many hardships may arise from this culture-hopping phenomenon.
Third culture kids often become expats  and raise children with an international background.

As adults, third-culture kids are likely to move abroad again, to work and raise their kids in a foreign country. Hence, third-culture kids may end up raising third culture kids!

Anna (38) from Milan and Francesco (39) from Southern Switzerland both identify as third-culture kids. After spending their childhood years in Thailand and South Africa, they met in Italy and fell in love. Both of them know that while it is tough to be a third-culture kid, it is just as challenging to raise one.

“When you grow up abroad, you often end up behaving quite differently than your parents because you try to adapt to the new culture,” Anna explains. Anna and Francesco now face the challenges of raising a third-culture kid themselves. When their daughter Antonia was only two years old, they moved to Singapore with her.

How to Support Your Third-Culture Kid

“The most important thing is to give your child a sense of stability and consistency,” Francesco says. “When children get a sense of lacking cultural roots, they turn to their parents to find out which social and cultural rules apply.” Family and home should always be a safe haven to a third-culture kid.

At the same time, it is important for your kid to become familiar with their host country. Anna and Francesco have always encouraged Antonia to not just learn English, but also Malay and a few phrases in Chinese and Tamil. In this manner, Antonia can communicate with the locals and may gain a better understanding of Singaporean culture.

Both Anna and Francesco know, however, that, especially in families that switch countries a lot, parents need to offer their kids a lot of support. “Parents should help their kids stay in touch with old friends. That way, they will end up with a network of friends all around the world,” Anna says.

“Also, you should remember that for your kids, reverse culture shock is much stronger than for you. After all, they grew up abroad. They don’t have the same memories or attachment to their home culture as their parents.”

Resources for the Third-Culture Kid

  • TCK World: the home of Dr. Ruth Hill Useem, who first coined the phrase “third culture kid”
  • Denizen Mag: an online magazine dedicated to third-culture kids founded by a team of former third-culture kids and global citizens from all over the world
  • Third-Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds: the standard book on this fascinating topic