Thursday, 10 February 2011

Offshore Offspring- Third Culture Kids or Expat Brats?

We have all heard the stereotype of the expat brat, the privileged child safely ensconced in boarding school and flown first class to experience all the 5 star luxuries the world has to offer. But is this really the reality of an Offshore Offspring and if it’s not then what is?

We came across an interesting article recently debunking the myth of the expat brat and introducing us to just some of the articulate and thoughtful young people that an international lifestyle produces. With this in mind we started thinking about Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) and the benefits of growing up as one.

The term third culture kid was first coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem when she spent a year researching expatriates in India in the 1950’s. She found that children who had moved from their birth place to live in the culture of another had developed a third culture of their own transcending the culture of their country of origin and their new country.

With more people becoming international professionals an increasing number of children are spending their formative years across cultures. Not only is their number increasing but debate rages about whether the term third culture is actually sufficient? As children move across time zones and geographies born outside of both parents countries of origin perhaps they start to see the world as their home. Brice Royer, founder of jokingly told the Telegraph ‘I’m from heaven,’ when asked where he was from.

Whilst some experts have found that TCK’s can experience a loss of identity and suffer from the constant upheaval of a life well travelled, most ATCKs (adult third culture kids) argue that they have grown up with a more complete world view and a greater understanding and appreciation of different cultures. The nomadic quality of ATCKs enables them to transcend traditional cultural barriers of race and class and become a true world citizen. This ability serves ATCK’s well in later life as they can be viewed as mediators for the modern world. The attributes of an ATCK can also be highly regarded in the business world with individuals lending global insight to initiatives and contributing creatively to projects.

As both articles discussed here conclude perhaps lessons could be learned from the TCK’s approach to life- with technology opening the world up for all of us perhaps the notion of a world community built on shared experiences is not such an idealistic thought. Our expat guest bloggers provide just a handful of examples of people who through blogging about their shared experiences are opening up a dialogue with the world not just people within their postcode. Perhaps we should all embrace our inner TCK and stop dismissing them as expat brats.


  1. I work with TCKs in Beijing, China. There are certainly both negative and positive aspects to the TCK experience. I firmly believe that the positives outweigh the negatives with one caveat - TCKs must first overcome weaknesses in order to enjoy the lifelong benefits. When a TCK remains conflicted regarding identity, does not finish maturing emotionally, or chooses not to connect (because of unresolved tensions regarding to the "everyone leaves" phenomenon), for example, they will not thrive. When TCKs receive support to help them on this journey, forging an identity and emotional maturity despite the challenges they face, their international experience becomes a great advantage. Self-expression through the arts seems to be an effective tool in a TCKs growth:

    1. Definitely agree with what you're saying, Tanya. As a young TCK, the negatives are true obstacles. I've often thought Expat parents should undergo special training to deal with the obstacles their TCKs will encounter and how to support them through it. Eventually, most ATCKs figure it out, but sometimes it can take decades to do so.

    2. Yes - very few TCKs say they wish they hadn't lived overseas, but the good things don't erase the hardships. And in the meantime many young TCKs feel misunderstood. Having someone take the time to listen to their stories and not try to fix it can be a huge relief.

  2. Hi Tanya,

    Thank you for your insights. I am sure our followers would be interested to hear more about your work with TCKs. If you would like to contribute to our blog do get in touch by emailing

    Thanks Katy

  3. I'd love to - I will email you today :)

  4. Just found your blog and look forward to reading more. I am an adult TCK and brought my children up as TCK's. There a definitely pros and cons and we are dealing with many issues now as my three kids are in college. I know they will come out strong for it but suffer right now. I relate as I was the same.
    Will read more!!!!


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