Third Culture Kids (TCK)

This term is a spot on definition of my identity and was very excited when I was introduced to this term. So what is a TCK?

Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term third culture kid after her second year-long visit to India with her three children in the early 1950s. Initially, third culture alluded to the process of learning how to relate to another culture; in time, the meaning of the term changed, and children who accompany their parents into a different culture became known as third culture kids. Useem the term “Third Culture Kids” because TCKs integrate aspects of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new culture (the second culture), creating a unique “third culture”.

Sociologist David Pollock described a TCK 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 may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.” In order to be a TCK, one must accompany one’s parents into a foreign culture. Entering another culture without one’s parents, such as on a foreign exchange program, explicitly does not make one a TCK.


So while being brought up bilingual as a TCK qualified kid has blessed me with the ability to have native-like control of two languages and cultures (intercultural competence), it also has meant that I have two identities. An amalgamation of both! I was born and raised in London so picking up the British culture was inevitable! Looking at the other side of the coin though, my parents are also of Turkish origin and so have close ties with the Turkish culture and very much proud to have inherited this culture. However, while my parents identify themselves as a ‘Turk’ I will label my identity as a ‘BRITISH-TURK’. The title might seem very extravagant but can create identity confusions as one does not fully belong to two cultures.

At macro level, for instance, Turkish culture is pretty much ‘Interdependent’ (collectivist),  while British culture is  ‘Individualistic’ (sociocentric). The former will also follow ‘positive politeness’ rules, while the latter will follow ‘negative politeness’ rules. Both cultures are pretty much discrete in that sense and that makes my job all the more difficult. So, to put in a nut shell, don’t take my accent-free Turkish or English for granted, as one’s lingustic ability does not fully mirror one’s culture or identity. For now I have tried to introduce the term TCK, and a more detailed account of the term ‘British-Turk’ is for next round. Watch this space…

Further readings:


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Filed under Topics in Sociolinguistics

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