If you are a TCK, welcome! If you are not let me explain to you some basics.
A TCK (Third Culture Kid) is someone who spent a significant part of their developing years outside of their passport country, meaning they grew up abroad. Growing up like this can be a challenge but also comes with many fun memories. Here are ten things most TCKs have encountered at least once.
1, Time different
As a TCK, you get very good at knowing which city is in which time zone and calculating time difference and local time. Sometimes you pick up the phone to call your grandparents and put it back down a second later because you realize that it is past midnight over there. Once I called my mom after school, and after like 20 minutes she said to next time wait until past eight to call on a Sunday. I didn’t realize it was Sunday because for us it was a working day and usually when I call her after school she was always awake.
2, Getting through security
Even if you lived in a country where you can drive to your home country, you probably still spent some time at airports, visiting friends, going on holiday, and many other reasons. During this time you probably figured out exactly how to get through security the fastest way possible. You always wear pants that don’t need a belt, have your computer already out, no liquids in the carry-on, and know exactly which line will be the fastest. If you ever travel with non-TCK friends, they will always be surprised at this skill.
3, Understanding a language you don’t speak
So many of us live in countries where you don’t speak the local language. It might be similar to yours or not, but after a while, you will start to pick up, piece together, and understand phrases in this language. Once more languages or language fragments you speak, the easier it will be to understand others, especially with ones in the same language group. So we sometimes join conversations happening in a language we do not speak in one we do (if this makes any sense to you, you have probably been there). Keep this idea in mind when in an international environment and using a language you think others do not understand.
4, Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype, and other Social Media is your best friend
Regardless of how many times you have moved, some friends were left behind or moved away like you. In today’s world, we have the wonderful thing called the internet which lets you talk to people all around the world. Being able to Skype your best friend, who is now living in Asia while you are still in the States, is fantastic. You can use it to stay in touch with friends and family, plan meetups, and do anything in an instant that used to take hours, or ever days or weeks.
5, You can find your way in a new city very fast
When you arrive in a new city, you have to always find your way very fast. Going to school will be a challenge on the first day, but at the end of the first week, you are the master. You have to find the bus schedule to go to your dance or piano class. You become an expert at finding your way if you get lost and do not shy away from asking someone if you need help.
6, The international school accent
People keep trying to place your accent and somehow they never get it quite right. Now depending on the school system, you were in, your accent will be more British or American (mine is american). Depending on the friends you’ve made, you might have a very French or Indian pronunciation of words they used often. This will forever confuse people and keep them guessing.
7, When you have 4 or 5 different versions of your life story
Sometimes people care about all the countries you have lived in, and sometimes they just want to hear the short answer. All of us TCKs have at least 4 or 5 versions of our life story ready depending on how much we think the other person cares. This could be from something as simple as “I’m from Switzerland” to something as complex as “parents from two countries, lived in 8 during my life, currently in Switzerland” and even more details if they seem interested. Also if you really care, make sure you have 20 minutes to listen. We don’t tend to tell the whole story because we feel like we’re bragging about something that to us is normal, so be sure to ask and look interested.
8, You follow traditions from countries you have nothing to do with
Depending on where you lived or how much time you spent at a friend’s house, you will probably follow traditions or superstitions that don’t make sense to anyone else. My family still refuses to put our bags on the floor, since in Croatia it is not done. They have a superstition that says that if you put your bag on the floor, all the money will run out of it. Therefore, you will always have a bag chair, and people will place your bag on the chair or table if you place it on the floor. This tradition kind of stuck with us and we still do it everywhere in the world.
9, Meeting someone who went to the same school, did the same international school program, means basically new best friends
Meeting someone with whom you have something in common with, you are instantly best friends. Meeting someone who also lived in Zagreb or took the IB, means an connection. We could talk for hours about which subject we took, how annoying the EE (Extended Essay) was, or how the exam period is the most annoying thing ever. TCKs can bond over the most random things and common history is definitely one of them.
10, Feeling like you fit in everywhere and nowhere at the same time
While being a TCK is amazing and I would not change it for the world, there is always a small part of you that is different. It will always be hard to fit in, especially back in your home country. Here you are supposed to be like everyone else, but you are not. On the other hand, you can fit in everywhere in the world and find your way in almost every city. Making friends is easy and hard at the same time, and while you are happy to have a place called home, you cannot wait to explore the next place life takes you to.
So there you have it. Things we TCKs can understand just too well, and now hopefully you can too. Feel free to add to this list in the comments below and follow me on social media to see where I go next.