Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Downside of Growing up Overseas as a Third Culture Kid

Today I was reading an article about The positives of growing up overseas as a third culture kid, it's on Maria's blog I was an expat wife. I agree there are many positive aspects about growing up in other cultures. Earlier I wrote about My 10 advantages of growing up in an other culture but there is a downside too. I sometimes I have a feeling that expat parents don't want to hear the downside. They don't want to hear the negatives. That's your story and I am sure with my kids it will all be different. I suppose we all prefer to look at the bright side of life. I suppose we all prefer to hope that the road we are on will be a smooth nice tarmac road without too many potholes. Well let me assure you when you leave the main road and start making international moves with kids you will meet some potholes along the way. I know what I am talking about when I talk about potholes, there were huge ones on the Zambian and Ugandan roads. Some times I preferred a smooth dust road instead of an old tarmac road full of potholes.

Just in case you are interested I have written about My 10 disadvantages of growing up in other cultures. I am starting to discover that there are more people who grew up as third culture kids and are writing about their experiences. I will introduce you to a few.
  1. James R. Mitchner writes a blog called Third Culture Kid Life. He has a blog post called The Price We Pay and it's all about growing up far away from his grandmother and not actually really knowing her.
  2. Heidi Sand-Hart has written a book called: Home Keeps Moving. It's worth reading if you are interested in getting a glimpse into the life of a TCK.                                                                                                                                         “Heidi Sand-Hart’s “Home Keeps Moving” authenticates the TCK experience. Her personal stories demonstrate the tangible reality of the TCK theories we have been reading and hearing about for years.” – Tina L Quick, author of The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition.
  3. Wout Wynants writes a blog called Memoirs of a Third Culture Kid. He is in the process of writing a book about his adventures of growing up in South East Asia. Recently he wrote about his close encounters of the slithering kind. It's all about his exotic adventures with snakes. That's one thing that's true. When you grow up overseas you go on adventures that many have difficulty relating to and people often don't want to hear about. I find it quite strange, but true not everyone wants to hear your story.
  4. Hey it's Johnny C has a blog and writes about his experiences growing up as a third culture kid too.
 Sorry to talk about the potholes along the way but it is better to be prepared than to be sorry.

Related posts:   


  1. I actually think more of the down side than the advantages for my kids. They'll never get "grow up" with anyone. They'll never form the bonds that I did with kids since kindergarten and up until we graduated high school. Those bonds is what makes us gravitate towards each other now on social media. I don't know, I know that having them live this lifestyle is a good thing. I also know that growing up in one place can be nice, too.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I am so glad that there are parents like you that consider the downside too. Thinking about it, reading about it and talking about the negatives even helps the kids. You know the great thing about children is that they are very adaptable, it's really amazing that they can quickly adapt to a new environment but it says nothing about the future and about the restlessness they might end up with due to the constant moves.

  3. I agree, I worry more about the downside than extolling the positive aspects and I'm an optimist. I feel guilty that they don't have family contact and support, that they feel different at school, that even as an expat, we are not part of any majority nationality group and our children don't attend an international school or any of the other things that often balance out the experience, there are so many pros and cons, its all a bit overwhelming. My daughter suffers from selective mutism, and this I know has come about because of this family/social isolation, culture shock and bilinguism. I'm reading this book, because I need to hear more about the positive aspects, I feel almost as if there are more negatives, even though I do my best to try and create a balance. But at least there is stability, we haven't moved for 6 years and don't intend to move, so they have a connection of sorts. Such an interesting topic, thank you for leading me here.

  4. I don't believe in giving sugar-coated views of anything, especially something as important as the TCK experience. The companion piece I wrote to the "positives" post is called "The Negative Side of Growing Up Abroad as a Third Culture Kid," and you can find it here: I also wrote about the difficulties of TCK repatriation on my blog: So many positives, so many negatives -- most days, they seem to balance out nicely. But other days....

  5. Hello Claire, raising kids can be overwhelming and raising them in another culture can increase the challenges. Sometimes it is good to seek the advice from a professional. It's true that kids can miss the family contact but there can be other adults who can play an important role in their lives. In Africa we had an elderly Scottish couple who were our substitute grandparents.
    The book you refer to is "Third culture kids, growing up Among Worlds" by D.Pollock and R.van Reken. It was the first book I read on the topic and it "opened my eyes" and helped me understand myself. I hope you find the information you are looking for.

  6. Thanks Maria for adding your information. I had read your blog (and commented) on "Repatriating TCKs: It's not all sunshine and lollipops". By the way anyone interested in reading more on this topic do hop over to Maria her blog and read the posts. There´s good additional information.
    It´s just that I sometimes sense that expat parents don´t want to hear the negatives maybe it´s too confronting?

  7. I agree — people don't want to hear the negative stuff. It's too bad, because knowledge is power when it comes to important things like our children. I run into the same problem when I talk about repatriation: nobody wants to have that conversation, because nobody wants to think about the end of their expat life. When I combine the two topics and start talking about repatriating TCKs, I can clear a room in 5 seconds flat. :)

    Oh, and thanks for the plug!

  8. My experiences have been a mixture of both positive and negative and it's crucial to be aware and prepared for both! The more awarness we can raise, hopefully the more likely it will be that others won't have to go through AS hard of transtions as some of us (including myself) have gone through. My blog is mostly about the negative because I'm still working through what happened to me and working through all the emotions that are attached. A lot of my peers didn't want to hear the negativity all the time, and I truly don't blame them, but we can't turn a blind eye to the facts. This is real and what some people experience is real. Thanks for all your awesome work on your blog. I really enjoy it!!

  9. I'm so glad you enjoy my blog, that makes my day!
    It is true that growing up as a TCK is a mixture of positives and negatives. I also hope that with all the information on the web, in books etc children and parents will be more prepared for the possible challenges (potholes). I was not prepared for the culture shock I had when I left Africa to study in my passport country: the Netherlands. I was not prepared for the identity confusion, the loneliness, feeling so out of place and being the hidden immigrant...

  10. Hi folks,

    TCK/MK here from Thailand/Malaysia. Great discussion. The downside was huge for me in terms of all the moving and adjustment issues and sense of homelessness, loneliness, lostness, confusion. Plus my brothers and I were sent to a boarding school from 5-12 years old in another country so we didn't have parents. That's a serious downside with lots of adult effects and sometimes abuse in terms of punishment (or worse). Here's something else to check out. A novel about those effects (written as a TCK thriller actually) called Nobody's Children:

    Enjoying all the posts!

    Jonathan (from

  11. Hello Jonathan, wow your list of the downside is long! That must have been a real challenge. Thanks for the tip of your book. Sounds really interesting. I'm really glad that there are an increasing number of TCKs writing about their experiences.
    Have you read Ruth van Reken her memoir called "Letters Never Sent"? It's her own story of her life: from hurt to healing and she talks about her time in boarding school too.

  12. " I was not prepared for the culture shock I had when I left Africa to study in my passport country: the Netherlands. I was not prepared for the identity confusion, the loneliness, feeling so out of place and being the hidden immigrant..."
    I had exactly the same problem when I moved to the UK to go to Uni, and as a result I left the country on my last day of my masters degree & have never lived there again.

    1. Wow, so we have the same passport country! Sorry to hear that you experienced feeling out of place and feeling lonely. I had the same and the worst thing is I thought there was something wrong with me....until I found out that it is pasrt of being a TCK, being a "hidden immigrant" etc, but it can be reallt tough. Sorry to hear that it was no better in the UK. Hope you have found a place you can call "home", or at least for some time! Thanks for the courage to share your story. I am interested in hearing more, you can email me if you want to share more.