The Third Culture Kid

-To live in a conflict of loyalty with your own country
We, who read this magazine sometimes have one thing in common; we have grown up in different cultures. In English, it is called TCK, an abbreviation of Third Culture Kid. We have followed our parents abroad and during our formative years we have grown up in different cultures and this will affect our identity for the rest of our lives. 

I’m not sure why this concept is so unknown in Sweden, but probably it is due to a low rate of immigration since Sweden is situated on an isolated peninsula, and because it has been socially unacceptable to stand out too much. The TCK’s parents are often called “expatriates” either they were diplomats, missionaries, or was out on a business trip. Nowadays it is cheaper to fly and the short-term assignments have increased. Children of “expatriate” will have grown up in a diverse number of countries during their formative years, and it is no longer unusual. The concept “expatriate” is also questioned, for example in the article “Why are white people expats When the rest of us are immigrants?” in TheGuardian (Mrs. Koutonin editor of and activist for “Africa Renaissance).

I came “home” or back to Sweden twice. It was too seldom for my class mates to accept my foreign influences and yet I had words in my vocabulary that none of them knew. But twice was also enough for me to be having a strange dialect, to seriously wonder why people complained about the school meals, or to be hopelessly left behind in popular culture. I learned that I had to split myself into a Swedish self and that other self that I tried not to mention so often. As I got older, I thought it would be easier, but discovered that acquaintances could be provoked if I tried to talk about how it felt to have two cultures. I shouldn’t try to stick out or believe I was something special. As an adult, people began to ask the question “where do you feel most at home”. I experienced this as something they needed for defining me as a proper Swedish if I had mentioned my background. If I was with a friend who was Swedish but had dark skin, I never got the question “where have you grown up” as my friend could get, even though he or she may never have been living abroad. Today in Sweden we have a growing number of people who are TCKs or that will become TCKs if their parents return to their home countries. According to SCB some years ago (Swedish Bureau of Statistics) returning Swedes was the largest group of immigrants in Sweden. I have noticed that this is also provokes many Swedes, to call yourself an immigrant when you look like a Swede and have a Swedish passport.

There is a lot of research on TCKs. As a TCK there are many advantages like the ability to adapt and a so-called cultural intelligence. But also disadvantages in the form of dual loyalties, rootlessness and a confusion of identity. You may experience grief during the reintegration process and depression may follow. TCKs also generally have a difficulty to create close relationships since they are accustomed to breakups. In the 80s no one talked about religion or politics. It was too unusual if someone had been anywhere else than the Canary Islands or Mallorca. According to research TCKs need a lot of support in school and this was quite unknown when I grew up. There are also differences within the TCK world. Military Child or “military brats”, have often spent most of their growing up on a military base unlike the MK’s (Missionary Kids) who often have a close contact with the locals and have spent a lot of time in just one country. Some of my friends spent their first years only with the family’s African nanny and some had to get to know their parents anew as they returned home during their school holidays. Diplomat Children (Foreign Service brats) are often moving from country to country. TCKs are often more mature than their peers but have more difficult to focus on their life goals when they are in the 20s. They are four times more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than ordinary children. They focus later in life on international careers, they learn languages in depth and they often work in sectors with relatively low wages, such as aid organizations. They often work in education, business management, start a business or acquire very highly skilled positions.

While our parents, the “expatriates”, have been enjoying the experience of different cultures because of “the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people as indispensable to the enjoyment of life, rights, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (free translation of The US Expatriation Act of 1868s foreword) I wish that all of Sweden’s Global Nomads or TCK’s, will get rid of any depression and identity crises, succeed in their careers and experience happiness as long as they are in Sweden or in their return country. One way to “find yourself at home” with this kind of identity is to join various like-minded groups in Sweden such as or on Facebook e.g. Gothenburg Expats. Malmö Meet-Up International for example, has over 600 members. Or you can join a group that is just for TCKs:

/ Sofia Larsson