"A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant portion 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 are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of a similar background."
To put it simply, Third Culture Kids have trouble answering the following question "Where are you from?"... !
The kids in Moscow know that Katya and Natalia are different; to them, my girls are from America. My kids have different customs and traditions, different core values from their peers. For example, in Russia it's considered normal to cheat/bribe -- even necessary -- since everyone does it to function in business and government, or simply drive a car around town.(No one, of course, believes that cheating is good and moral -- but people generally accept that "it's how the system works.") Additionally, imagine what it's like to be the only kid in your elementary school to insist that the tooth fairy does exist -- or even Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, for that matter!
But the children in America know that my daughters don't quite fit in there, either: their life experiences have been radically different from those of their "regular" American peers for the vast majority of their lives. Their idea of the world is a largely mobile one, where the different continents on a global map aren't simply colorful shapes -- they're actual places where their other expat friends who have left Moscow now live, where those friends speak many other languages. Diversity and multiculturalism are my daughters' basic way of life. Any item on the news or in the paper can be personal to them, since they're keenly aware that people just like them live all around the world. Hearing about a tsunami or terrorist attack can effect Third Culture Kids and Adults* much more deeply.
Then there's the whole idea of the word "home"... When in Moscow, they hear me talk about how we'll be going "home" for the holidays or summer to America. But when we're in America, we don't have a home... We flit from relative to relative, always in transit, out of suitcases, never settled. When we're in America, we then talk about going back "home" to Moscow. It's quite confusing if you stop to think about it!
Kids tend to crave routines and stability -- and the routine that my kids know is that we're highly mobile, crossing the globe throughout the year. As hectic as that is, to them it actually IS a routine, normal. Neither their American nor Russian peers can quite understand that.
As a result, they most easily relate to other kids who are also Third Culture Kids. Katya has finally made a close friend here, a best friend, whose parents are Russian and American. That girl "gets it," knows what it's like for Katya to be growing between both worlds, as opposed to fully belonging in either. Their very friendship illustrates that "between" space they inhabit -- depending on the situation, they effortlessly switch between Russian and English.
When we move back to the USA, it won't necessarily be easy for my kids to make friends who can understand who they "really are."
I am devouring this book... It is so interesting, and eye-opening, to me as an expat parent!
Here's the website for Third Culture Kids all over the globe.
*A Third-Culture Adult is one who lived in the "third culture" for a significant period of time during the developmental years -- impacting his or her core identification with one "native" culture. Chris and I wouldn't fit in that category since we didn't move overseas until we were adults.