Third Culture Kids: An Interview with a Cross-Cultural Education Consultant

  1. What is your name and role? I’m Sarah Stewart.  My husband and I have raised our two children overseas and I now have the privilege of encouraging cross-cultural families in my job as an educational consultant in Europe. 
  2. What is a TCK?  ​The term, TCK, means Third Culture Kid.  This term was coined by researchers John and Ruth Useem, who define it as “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.”  (Third Culture Kids, David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, 2001. p.19.).  I have found this definition to be true not only for my own children but also for other cross-cultural children I have known through the years, who combine parts of their home culture with their host culture(s) to create this uniquely blended culture.  
  3. What challenges do children face in growing up in a country/culture that is different from their parents’ home country/culture?  While challenges are diverse and are dependent upon each child’s unique experiences there may be some common struggles that TCK’s face. They may face the challenge of identity as they seek to discover who they are based on their own experiences and worldview.  TCK’s are insightful in the way they perceive their world which gives them a depth and understanding that is unique. This insight may create a challenge as they search for belonging and a sense of rootedness.  What many may not realize until later years is that their belonging may be tied more to relationships than an actual physical location.
  4. What are the benefits of raising children in a different country/culture?  Just as challenges are diverse, benefits can be diverse too for children growing up in a different country/culture.  For me personally, I am thankful that my children have a broader worldview.  I see this global perspective of embracing different customs and cultures as a gift we give to our children.  TCK’s also may have a greater understanding of people who are different than them.  Empathy toward others comes from not only developing multi-cultural friendships, but from being the kind of friend who has learned to see a different perspective because of their own life experiences. 
  5. Before moving internationally, how can parents prepare their children for an international move?  Communication is key to helping your children of any age process an international move.  Find ways to learn about the culture, hear the new language, and anticipate the excitement of this new home.  Seek out other cross-cultural families to learn how they have adapted. If possible, see if you can find a family who is from the country where you will be moving to and spend time with them.  When we think of communication, we sometimes equate it with what we say, but just as important as our words is the act of listening.  Listen carefully to your children.  Let them know you hear and see how they are feeling.   Any change can increase feelings of fear, uncertainty, and loss, so let them know this is normal and sometimes you feel those same feelings too.  Comfort them and walk with them as together your family learns to embrace this change. 
  6. As parents prepare for different schooling options in the country they will be moving to, what kinds of questions should they be asking about the schooling choices? How can parents find the answers to these questions? This is a really great question.  Sometimes we are so inundated with other logistical tasks, such as visas, job, home, etc. that we might wait to inquire about schooling options until you are further down the road in the moving process.  Conduct online research, ask people who are from there or have lived there for input.  Ask your employer or contacts in the new city for any connections at the local schools or resources they may have. Find out if there are viable national school options, private or international school options, or what the educational laws are for the homeschool option. Talk to your spouse and then with your children as you prepare for this adjustment.   What sacrifices will you be making and what benefits will you be gaining in this new educational situation?  The more you can talk through these potential advantages and disadvantages in advance, it will be helpful as you step into these new school choices.
  7. My patients that attend international schools deal with constant “hellos” and “good-byes “as international students move in and out.  How can they help their children cope with the frequent “hellos” and “good-byes”?  This can be a common experience for our Third-Culture Kids as well as for ourselves, especially as the world becomes more globally mobile and families move more frequently.  I think it is important to ask in what ways are these relational transitions affecting our child (and us).  Do we find them to be triggering specific feelings each time?  Do we have a response that is more negative or positive? (Note that both responses are necessary and important in processing relational transitions). Do we lean into or away from relationships as a result of these transitions? How can we see “hellos” and “goodbyes” with a growth mindset that helps us navigate through them with more ease and acceptance?  Is the child picking up on messages (intentionally or unintentionally communicated) that we are saying/sending about how we as the parent processes “hellos” and “goodbyes”?  It may help to find ways to keep in touch with those meaningful relationships, if possible, so that friendships can continue across the miles. 
  8. How important is it for my child to learn a new language?  I think that language learning is very important for both your child and for you as you assimilate into a new culture and develop relationships.  Communication is key to our feeling of belonging.  We more quickly get a sense of “home” when we begin to feel more comfort, ease and connectedness in our new culture.  Even if your child is in a school setting that is their first language, they may still have friends in the second language culture and will be having daily life experiences in their community.  While there is much to be said regarding language learning, the best advice I received for myself and my family as we moved overseas was the importance of intentionality and leaning in to the new culture and language.  Although this can be hard to do, it is worth the effort as it helps you adjust to your new home.  
  9. Are there any books or websites that you would recommend for raising “healthy global kids”?  


Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken

Fitted Pieces by SHARE Educational Services 

Misunderstood: The Impact of growing up overseas in the 21st Century by Tanya Crossman

Raising up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids by Lauren Wells

Websites: (Third Culture Kids International)

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