January 17, 2019

Third Culture Kids Develop Valuable Career Skills

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Third Culture Kids Develop Valuable Career Skills

Posted by: Amaia Perez-Barquero, Corporate Writer

When I was five years old, I was blissfully unaware of my status as a “Third Culture Kid” (TCK). To me, I was simply myself. I didn’t know that I was Spanish with British citizenship, and I wasn’t aware that speaking two languages was a foreign concept to most of my classmates in the UK. It never really occurred to me that there was a definitive difference between myself and many of the children I played and made friends with.

Caught Between Two Worlds

I now know that TCK is a term for someone who spends their formative years in places that are not their parents’ homeland. But when I moved to the UK permanently, I was subjected to something of a rude awakening. From being almost totally ignorant of my own culture, I was suddenly hyperaware of it. My teacher introduced me as the new girl from Spain, and neglected to tell my classmates that I spoke English fluently. No one talked to me for the first few days as a result. Lunch times were an awkward affair, explaining to my fellow pupils what exactly it was I was eating and why it looked or smelled strange. I had to come to terms with the fact that no one was particularly interested in playing the games I knew, which led me to feel like I needed to try and fit in.

Eventually, no one really thought of me as the girl from Spain, I was just the same as the rest of them. This is the beautiful thing about young children, they are curious for a while, and then they get on with life.

But as I got older, the differences became more pronounced. I remember being 10 years old and being told to go back to my own country by a girl who was particularly upset about a disagreement we’d had. This was the first, but sadly not the last time I was told this. The irony is, this is my country. I was born here, I have now lived here for longer than I lived in Spain. And yet, for some people, the concept of calling two countries home is alien. Something that I noticed quickly, and now find quite funny, is that most British people perceive me to be Spanish, while most Spaniards will call me British.

Choosing Sides

“But which one do you like better?”
“Where did you live longer?”
“Where were you born?”
“Where are your parents from?”
“But you don’t look British/Spanish.”

These are just a few examples of questions I was bombarded with by those who were so desperate for me to ‘choose a side’. I was quizzed 3rd country pullouts.pngby classmates, strangers, teachers, and even family members, who just could not fathom that I felt equal kinship with both places. I sincerely doubt that they knew that their interrogations were contributing to a slowly developing complex; “Where do I belong?”

To be surrounded by people and yet not feel a particular affinity with any of them can be very challenging. For this reason, it is vital that we begin to see TCKs as bridges between cultures, windows into other worlds with which we are unfamiliar.

After all, it is an advantage to be able to perfectly explain the nuances of one culture to another. TCKs have a unique ability to identify similarities and find the words others cannot, to decode intercultural differences and explain concepts exclusive to a particular place. This has been described as ‘cultural brokerage’.

TCKs as the Future of Global Talent

Immersion into different cultures at a young age gives TCKs valuable 3rd country pullouts2.pngopportunities to develop life-long skills and competencies. Research shows that those who had an “internationally mobile childhood” go on to make attractive employees, having acquired in childhood many of the skills and abilities businesses seek. In addition to language competencies, they are likely to have an expanded worldview, cultural intelligence and strong interpersonal skills, in addition to adaptability and advanced problem-solving abilities.

Globalisation and the increase in international moves have made TCKs more common than ever before. A Cartus Youth Cross-Cultural Programme helps young people to prepare for, understand, and process their experiences as TCKs, assisting with their transitions between countries. This helps to ensure that they can continue to grow to be well-adjusted individuals and get the most out of their experience in a new country, whilst building skills and competencies that will serve them well throughout life.

Additional Resources

For more information on intercultural support, and other matters that impact your relocation program, be sure to visit our Resource Hub on Cartus.com. Following are also some interesting articles on this topic that you may like to read:





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Cartus is the trusted industry leader, offering guidance on a wide range of topics related to global relocation using expertise gained through more than four million moves and a diverse client base.

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