Equity & Diversity Opinion

Third Culture Kids (TCKs)

By AAEE — September 12, 2017 2 min read
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One of the most amazing joys in teaching overseas is the international classroom. More often than not, an international educator will say they have learned far more from their students than what they have taught them. This rich diversity of nations, languages and cultures, as well as the varied experiences of the students, creates a whole new culture within the classroom.

While teaching and counseling at an international school in China, I had great opportunity to gain a broader perspective on all areas of life. Math was one of those subjects I thought was very straight forward, until I was teaching double digit multiplication and discovered through 3rd grade South Korean, Malaysian and Taiwanese students that there were at least 4 different ways to solve for the triple digit product! My students also taught me about sharing food at lunch. Each one at the table would open their lunch box and place it in the middle of the table for all to sample- kimchi, samosas, dried squid, seaweed, ham sandwiches, sushi, noodles, cookies and more. I have never eaten as well as when I joined my students for lunch in the cafeteria! They taught me new games with jump ropes, balls and wooden sticks; making our recess, both outside and inside, special times of learning as well as play. These daily multicultural events created an open and inviting community for the whole class.

The “Third Culture Kid” or TCK, is defined by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds as, “An individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than their parents’ culture; develops a sense of relationship to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.” Both an exciting and challenging experience for the international students and their parents. TCKs can be characterized as being confident in change, great story-tellers, independent, maintaining diverse and deep friendships, sensitive and empathetic. Each of these traits is gained through multiple transitions; and many hellos and good-byes that all take place against a multicultural back drop.

As I think about our world today; I see the need for a more comprehensive perspective, a willingness to listen to others’ stories and to empathize with those that are different to ourselves, I recognize how important the experiences and characteristics of TCKs are in bringing hope and healing. Many of the students found in international schools will someday be the leaders of businesses, NGOs, governments and countries. It is an honor and a privilege to know and call many TCKs friends, and to look expectantly to how they will draw people into a better understanding of the beauty of diversity.

Kris Crum
Lead Mobilization Recruiter - U.S. Operations
International Schools Consortium

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