Third Culture Kids, Do Refugee Kids Count?

This past week I have had the pleasure of reading a book called Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds. The authors are David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. They have tremendous experience with third culture kids and largely dealing with cultural issues. I came upon the term last year. To be honest with you I honestly don’t know how I found it. However I’m glad this term popped up on Google. So I was excited to finally read an edition of the book. The book was quite insightful and enlightening. It exceeded my expectations and I was awed at the information I received and read. What exactly are third culture kids, you may ask?

According to the book, the term third culture kid(s) was coined by Dr. Ruth Hill Useem during the 1960s. The original meaning of the term was a kid who was brought up in a different culture , typically because of their parent’s job. Typically, the family would move to a foreign country, usually outside of the kid’s birth country. In other words, missionary kids, diplomat kids, military brat, and business brats count. Any child who had to move to a different country or constantly was on the move, because of their parent’s career would be considered a third culture kid.

Third culture kids don’t feel at home with their birth country aka “passport” country, but at the same time they don’t feel at home with the country they grew up with. For an example an American diplomat kid may have been born in the US, but they moved to France because their father was sent over to Paris to be a representative for US-France diplomatic relations. The family may move again. This time it may be to Nigeria. The kid knows that he is an American, but he may also feel French and possibly Nigerian. Even though he may know he is American, he does not feel 100% American. He also feels French and Nigerian, yet the native people may not consider them as one of their own even though the kid may feel that he is like them. Why does he have those feelings? It is because he was raised up in a country that was not his birth one during the developmental years. The developmental years are between 0-18, from the time the baby is born to the beginning of adulthood.

This sums up the definition of third culture kids. David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken have created their own definition what a third culture kid is. They have defined it as, “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experiences, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

This means that a person may not exactly feel 100% of something. They are bits of pieces here and there but not all of it. The first culture is the passport or birth country, while the second culture is all the countries or cultures they grew up in. Finally, the third culture is the relationship to others who are in the same circumstances as them.

The best example of a third culture kid is President Barack Obama. The President comes from a biracial background. He was born in Hawaii and has been raised in Indonesia and Chicago.


So where do refugee kids come into this? I feel like refugee kids fit the term “tck” because there is the passport country and the countries or cultures they grew up outside of the birth country. There is also a shared culture among people who grew up with high mobility because they do move a lot.

However the difference is that refugee kids is not brought up in a different country or culture, because of their parent’s career, but due to political circumstances. There is also a level of privilege among TCKs that refugee kids do not typically experience.

So if refugee kids are not third culture kids, what are they? They are cross-cultural kids. I’m glad that there is a term for refugee kids. Basically cross-cultural kid is a person who has lived in—or meaningfully interacted with—two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during developmental years.”

Anyone who would fit that term would be immigrant kid, bicultural kids, etc. I wish there was a lot of research done on the term “cross-cultural kid”. I personally think it would be enlightening and informative. There has been a lot of research and statistics on third culture kids but not on a cross-cultural kids.


What do you think? Should refugee kids count as third culture kids or just as cross-cultural kids?

Have you had any experience in cross-cultural circumstances?




9 thoughts on “Third Culture Kids, Do Refugee Kids Count?

      1. I hope! It would honestly make me happy if that is the case. I love the term cross-cultural kid but I feel like it’s too broad and that anyone could fit that. TCK in my opinion is more specific.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I was just about to write a blog on this topic and doing some research. I stumbled to your blog and realized you are also a refugee from Burma. I am a Kachin refugee living in New Zealand and just started a blog.
    Come check it my blog here if you are interested.


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