In an increasingly globalised world, the number of children growing up between cultures is rising. But the psychological impacts of this upbringing are often overlooked.

An estimated 323,000 Brits emigrated last year according to the latest statistics published in the Migration Statistics Quarterly Report.

As worldwide migration continues to increase, a new generation of individuals has emerged. These are Third Culture Kids (TCKs); children who grow up outside of their parents’ passport culture(s).

While a globally mobile upbringing can breed open-mindedness and cultural awareness, psychological impacts such as alienation, identity crisis and restlessness are a common trend within this demographic.

Video: Dr Rachel Cason describes psychological patterns of behaviours she recognises in TCKs

Alienation: How do I fit in?

“I felt like I was an outsider…”
Cora Wilkinson Raduly, Third Culture Kid

At only 10 years old, Cora has already lived in America, China, Vietnam and most recently Hong Kong. But the bubbly TCK felt alienated in her new school as she struggled to adapt.

“I felt like I was an outsider because I couldn’t find friends. Everyone had their own groups and I didn’t want to barge in, or when I tried to, it didn’t work.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 23.29.58

Image: Cora’s new home, Hong Kong

Cora’s mother, Beth Wilkinson Raduly, believes that alienation isn’t only experienced when adapting to new cultures, but also in relation to family back ‘home’.

“Our relationship with family back in America has definitely changed, their life continues on. We aren’t part of that everyday life, so they have inside jokes and experiences that we aren’t in on.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 23.44.59 Image: Cora and Beth, daughter and mother have a close relationship

Identity Crisis: Who am I?

When TCKs reach adulthood, identity crises tend to arise. Dr Rachel Cason, a therapist specialising in working with TCKs, explains why.

“…We spend well into our teen years adapting.”
Dr Rachel Cason, TCK counsellor 

“As TCKs we spend well into our teen years adapting. We’re in reactive mode, we’re busy responding, we’re busy working out what’s appropriate for the moment and we just do it.”

The result of this constant change of place, people and culture can mean TCKs lose track of their identity.

Dr Cason, a TCK herself, struggled with identity when she moved back to Britain from West Africa.

Audio: Dr Rachel Cason explains how moving to the UK stole part of her identity

Origins of the phrase ‘third culture’:

  • Drs. John and Ruth Useem travelled to India from the US in the 1950s.
  • They were studying a community of expats who had moved to India for work.
  • Their research concluded that expats didn’t fit in to India’s culture neither their home culture, rather they had created a subculture.
  • They coined this, the ‘third culture’.

Restlessness: The ongoing search for home

The transient lifestyle that a TCK grows up with can prevent them from settling in adulthood. The idea of setting up home and staying in one place can even be uncomfortable.

Dr Cason explains “Staying is hard. I have a few clients who struggle putting posters on the wall because it’s an investment and commitment to space.”

To illustrate some of these issues, a survey was completed by 34 TCKs ranging from 14 to 46 years old.

While it’s important to appreciate the positives of a cross cultural childhood and the opportunities it provides, as the number of TCKs will continue to rise, these silenced struggles need to be recognised.

The conversation starts now.

For more information on TCKs visit TCKidNow.

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