What is a TCK?


February 6, 2022

Welcome back to the blog! If you’re new here, welcome! This is my space to write about all things expat living, international student, and TCK related… but in order to do all of that I need to explain what each of those things means! I’ve been making an effort on the blog recently to write lots of informational posts in case you’re new here or just never knew my story! I wrote a re-introduction post about myself and my story and I also did a post explaining what an expat is, and in this post, I’m going to talk about another part of my identity – being a TCK!

Apart from being a very cool-sounding acronym, a TCK, or third culture kid, is a term to describe someone who is raised in a culture different from their parents’ or the country where they’re from/have lived. It’s a term used to describe someone who has experienced living with lots of different cultures and can’t really describe themselves with just one culture or background. Having been educated at an international school, we learned about what TCKs are and talked about them in class, but I’m not so sure it’s a common word for other people. When we first learned about TCKs in my freshman year, my teacher used a really great analogy to explain what a TCK is; she said that a TCK is someone who can’t tick off a certain box to describe their background. For example, when registering for the SAT or applying to college I remember being asked to tick off boxes to describe my background and culture. A TCK is someone who wouldn’t fit into one of these simple boxes or would have to combine multiple to describe themselves. I remember I always found these boxes annoying because there was never one that really fit who I am, and I had to select a few that didn’t really accurately reflect me and my background.

Being a TCK can be as simple as growing up in one place but experiencing your family’s cultural identity at home. I remember even when I lived in London before I moved to Dubai, I felt as though my family’s culture at home was different from the British culture I was growing up in and would see on TV. At first, this was kind of disorienting, at a young age when I didn’t really know my own values, it was difficult to try and find that balance of keeping my family’s cultural identity but also relating to the place that I lived in. My family is originally from Tanzania, and our culture is a mix of Indian, Middle Eastern, and East African cultures, which in itself is a delicate tangle. And then add living in a region so drastically different, such as the UK, into the mix and you’ll end up with one very confused child. The values of both of these cultures are very different, from the things we eat and drink to the way we treat and act around others. Especially at a young age when all you want to do is be like the characters you see on TV and be the same as everyone else in your class, I feel like it’s critical to learn about what it means to be a TCK.

I think moving to Dubai and attending an international school where we talked about what it means to be a TCK actually really helped me understand my own cultural identity fully. I think a common struggle of being a TCK is that disorienting feeling of not really feeling like you fit in anywhere. I actually wrote a whole blog post about this a while back. Growing up in a community where almost everyone around me was a TCK led me to become proud of my own mixed-cultural identity. I didn’t feel as though I had to change myself to be exactly like everyone else around me, which was a luxury I know a lot of people don’t grow up with. I was lucky in that each person I got to know was proud of their own cultures and was willing to share their own experiences, and through this environment, I grew to become proud of my own cultures too. Where I would avoid talking and explaining where I’m “culturally from” before living in Dubai, I’m now proud and willing to share where I’m from (well, it kind of makes sense since I have a whole blog talking about it!)

I also think that being a TCK is kind of a “self-discovery journey.” When you have so many different cultures influencing you, it’s important to work out what your own personal values and beliefs are; it’s impossible to take every single element from each culture, instead, as a TCK you kind of mold your own culture together taking elements from this and that. I think this connects to the idea of lived experience; you really have to experience different things to work out what values are most meaningful to you and what your identity is. It’s a journey that takes time and a lot of reflection. I by any means still don’t have it totally figured out, and I assume that as I move to new places in my life and meet new people, my culture will keep evolving and I will keep getting more confused – but that’s part of the journey!

I hope you found this blog post interesting and that it taught you a little bit about what a TCK is! I think the topic of cultural identity is really interesting and something I hope to write about in the future, let me know in the comments if this is something you’d want to hear about.

See you next week,

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