06 May 2014


TCK- (n) Acronym for "Third Culture Kid." A child who lives most of his or her developmental years outside of his or her "passport country." A TCK's culture is a blend of their parents' culture and that of the culture in their host country. It is neither fully the first nor the second, but rather a third culture, blended from both.

I will be using this term more often around here, so I thought I'd introduce it to you in case you don't know it.

Believe you me! This isn't some made-up word so that I can make my sometimes socially awkward kids seem special. 

This term describes my children well, along with many of their friends.
Here's the deal, y'all. We'll be landing in America in just a couple of months.  Our minds are beginning to prepare for that transition.
For real though, a good portion of my thoughts have to do with things like sales racks at GAP, Old Navy, and Target. And the taco trailer. Also Cracker Barrel and that there are Reece's peanut butter cups on hand at every convenience store nationwide. Boggles. The. Mind.

However!  Many many of my mental wanderings have centered on my children entering into full-on US culture.  "Who are they and what will it be like for them?" I wonder.

While Ivy will be 9 months old the first time she sets foot in her passport country and won't look a bit out of place, or probably even act like it (what a sweet baby she is!) Isaac, at 6 years old, and to some extent, Isaiah at nearly 5, are bound to seem strange at times to some of our friends and family. They've now spent long enough living in their Third culture, that it's beginning to gel.

Isaac was 3 before he realized he didn't have black hair like all the other kids in his preschool.  Isaiah loves BBQ sauce because we eat it with our chicken wings. They both think chicken-rice is just what you get to eat when you go to the mall.  Isaac says, "Libury" "Full-stop" and "Tidy" like his British teacher, but "really" and "million" come out like his Chinese-Malaysian classmates' pronunciation. Ivy's favorite people at church are Filipinas (and she is theirs, I'd wager.) Going to the doctor in a neighboring country doesn't seem weird to them nor does eating sweet potato casserole and Philly Cheesesteakchicken sandwiches.

There are elements of both worlds in their everydays. Sure, they will probably call money "Ringgit" when we get to America, but there's an ever-present element of being an outsider here too:

Scene- Birthday party for a local friend at KFC. We are the only non-Malaysians in attendance. Clown does a magic show and calls each child up for a trick. It's Isaac's turn.
Clown: "Hello boy. What is your name?"
Isaac: "Isaac."
Clown: "Hello, Isaac. Where are you from?"
Isaac: "Malaysia."
Clown: (laughing and confused) "No, I mean, where are you from?"
Isaac: (confused because he thought he answered correctly, says nothing)
Local Friends Speaking up for Isaac: "He's from here! He was born in Malaysia!"
Clown: (still confused, carries on with magic trick anyway)

That was the first time I witnessed him encountering his "TCK-ness."

So if it happens to him here, I'm curious to see what it will be like from the American side. 
Since my youngin's look American, they probably won't get the question too often, but answering the simple question, "Where are you from?" is one of the more tricky answers TCK's find difficult to come up with.  Yes, he LOOKS American. His accent is American (well, mostly) his passport and Social Security number are unmistakeably American, but is he "from" there?

I try not to let my patriotism get in the way of me marveling at this happening to our kids.  I thank God for the sojourning life he's laid out before them.  Others, very long ago, have lived like my children are living and it was due to the providence of God and his great love and plan... Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph... all sojourners in lands that weren't their own.  I trust that the same God who loved those 4 mentioned above, also loves and cares for my children...no matter how succinctly they can answer where they are from.

So yes, sometimes I think about their TCK lives in super serious, deeply meaningful terms. 

But, most of the time I forget that they don't know what I know about the USA.
Most of the time I forget that they don't feel what I feel about the USA.

But then they'll say or do something that brings it front and center.

For example:

Scene- All of our children have a backpack for the specific use of being their travel backpacks and carry-ons for trips.  On each one, I've sewn flag patches from every country they've been to. Isaac was holding his backpack, looking at the various patches the other day.

Isaac: "Ooo, look Zayah, here's the Malaysia flag."
Isaiah: "Yeaaahh."
Isaac: "And here's USA. I've been there."
Isaiah: "Me too."
Isaac: "And here's Thailand."

etc etc

"I've been there." is his what comes out about the flag of the culture and birthplace of his parents and one that weighs heavily on his life whether he realizes it or not. But in his young mind, he has as many memories of it as he does of Bali and Singapore.  He's not dismissing it. He's not elevating other places over it. It's just his experience. And the experience of tons of kids like him.

Granted, he knows his grandparents live in Florida and that Disney World is there.  All of our kids regularly watch our home videos and several of them are from us being in the US.  They are excited about going this summer, make no mistake. They know loving hearts and arms are there waiting for them. That's what makes them excited.

I know my fellow overseas friends can vouch for this. Its quite something to watch it unfold before your eyes! To hear things come out of their mouths that other folks who have lived abroad have said they would say.

But still. I marvel at it all the same, though I was told it would happen. So I thought all of you should know too. I'd read the Wikipedia link. It's quite helpful.

If you happen to encounter a TCK, (mine or someone else's) just know that they might not be able to answer where they come from. But my guess is that where ever you are, where ever you are from, if you get the chance to make a memory with them- or a dozen memories!- they still won't be able to answer where they come from, but at least they will know that where they have been, they've been loved. 


  1. Love this. Well said. Eager to see how my TCKs handle America someday!
    (and you forgot the "proppa" way that Isaac says "proper!) :)

  2. I really enjoyed this, and especially loved your pics. That "Birdie" is precious - they all are! Please, please tell me you'll be at September conference!?

  3. I really enjoyed this, and especially loved your pics. That "Birdie" is precious - they all are! Please, please tell me you'll be at September conference!?

  4. Well I'm good and curious about what you're doing in America, for how long, if you have plans to visit South Carolina, etc. :) And this was so interesting to me. I often wonder what my daughters would be like if we were still living overseas like I thought we would be.