Who Are TCKs?

The short answer

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are people who have lived in a culture other than their native culture during their developmental years. The term “third culture” refers to the unique blend of cultural influences a TCK has and operates under because of their significant exposure to more than one culture.

The long(er) answer

TCKs are people who have lived in a culture other than their parents’ or their native culture during a substantial portion of their developmental years. Because of their exposure to two or more cultures, a “third culture” is formed. This third culture incorporates elements of all the cultures TCKs have significantly interacted with. Thus, a TCK’s cultural behavior is not restricted to that of only one influence.

TCKs are known for being adaptable, having a broader, multicultural worldview, and having good interpersonal skills, especially with people from other countries. However, they also tend to struggle with their own cultural identity. They may end up “culturally rootless”; because they are seemingly from everywhere, they feel like they belong nowhere.

First coined in the 1950s, TCK is an umbrella term and includes many specific types of children who have been heavily influenced by more than one culture. These include groups such as missionary kids (MKs), business kids (BKs), military kids (sometimes called BRATs), diplomat kids, and domestic TCKs. The term Adult TCK (ATCK) is used to refer to an adult who grew up as a TCK. Even if a TCK or an ATCK returns to their passport country, they’re still considered a TCK due to their experiences.

Although Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs) is technically an even broader umbrella term that TCK nests under, we also include CCKs in our audience.