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BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Third Culture Kids – Growing Up Among Worlds

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are people who are raised in a culture other than their parents' culture or the culture of their country of nationality, and also live in a different environment during a significant part of their developing years.

We asked Peter Møller Nielsen, our specialist on Third Culture Kids, to recommend a book on this topic.

A native of Denmark, and since 2020 also a citizen of Switzerland, Peter lives with his family in Basel, Switzerland.

As an intercultural trainer, facilitator, and coach, Peter provides training solutions within cross-cultural communication and collaboration, international career consulting, and expatriate relocation training. In addition, he has specialized in coaching for Third Culture Kids.

Now it’s over to Peter …

My first encounter with the book "Third Culture Kids – Growing Up Among Worlds"

When I first read the first edition of the book "Third Culture Kids – Growing Up Among Worlds", our family had moved from Denmark and had been living in Switzerland for 3 years.

It had been recommended to me by a mom at the International School. I was not familiar with the term TCK (Third Culture Kids), though I had worked in student exchange for more than two decades and knew all (or so I thought) about how much just a year away on exchange impacted the individual culturally.

The book was a true eye-opener.

Halfway through the book, I said to my wife: "We need to move back to Denmark – we cannot bring our kids up between cultures – life will be too hard for them, we are ruining their lives."

After finishing the book, my first thought was: "We are giving our children a huge gift by raising them internationally."

Aha! Moments for Third Culture Kids

Having spent the last 15 years as an intercultural facilitator, I have worked with hundreds of families, who have moved to a new country/culture. Many of these have, of course, brought children with them, and some of the adults have been TCKs themselves.

Most of the adult TCKs have not been aware of the term TCK, though all of them have known they were different, e.g., have had a different outlook on life; been able to look at incidents/challenges/experiences from a variety of perspectives. All of them have had extremely advanced analytical skills.

When I have brought up the topic of TCK there have been many and huge Aha! Moments.

Moments where the individual have said something along the lines of: "So, is this why I ….." or "Can this be the reason why I cannot get my boss to understand …..?" "Is that why I am not frustrated about what is considered normal behaviour in this country, the same normal which is driving my partner crazy?"

My answer to such questions has been: "Yes, probably."

To the last example, what I find amazing about TCKs is that they tend to look at something that is different and evaluate it as a different normal, and not judge it as harsh or call it wrong.

More about the book – plus a few TCK stories … 

Now back to the book :)

The book "Third Culture Kids" deals with the psychology behind being a TCK. It takes the reader through a fascinating journey through human psyches.

The book contains the following parts:

  • Part 1 includes accounts of TCKs of various kinds.
  • Part 2 deals with the history of TCKs and what changes has occurred through the decades.
  • Part 3 focuses on transition from culture to culture and re-entry – going back (home) – giving a clarity and tips for enjoying the ride. There is also a chapter for adult TCKs meant to assist them in continuing to seek understanding, healing, and growth.
  • Part 4 offers strategies for how parents and organisations can help TCKs thrive.

NB: The book I'm holding in the photo is the 1st edition from 2001. The above is based on the newest edition from 2017 which I've read in e-book form.

Who will benefit from reading this book?

  • People who have grown up in a culture different from the culture of their country of nationality.
  • People who have grown up in a culture different from their parents.
  • People who have grown up with different culture parents.
  • Managers and colleagues of the above-mentioned people.

As for highlights from the book, I will not spoil the fun of the reading for you, but give you a couple of typical TCK stories/behaviours that I have come across, personally and professionally:

#1: I have two very different TCKs. One, a product of an international school; the other, of a Swiss school and a Danish boarding school system. Both have different "normal behaviours". One of them is now 31 and has lived in 6 countries since he turned 18. The other, now 27, has lived in Denmark from age 14-21, after which he "fled" home (Switzerland). Common for them both, as it is for many other TCKs: They are in a long-term relationship with each their TCK young lady.

#2: I recently coached a lady in her late 20s. Born in Japan, raised by diplomat parents, in many cultures, she now lived with her husband in Germany. She told me: "I chose my husband because he has never left the area where he grew up. He is the first one in his family to move away from his family’s hometown – we have moved 40 km away. I wanted him to ground me."

#3: About 10 years ago I did an expatriate training for a couple (both TCKs) moving from Switzerland to China. The first part of the training was the three of us, and it was a very lively day – the couple had Latin blood and were very vibrant and loud. On day two, my Chinese colleague joined us. The wife came first, and I introduced the two ladies to each other, and watch this very vibrant, loud, and wildly gesticulating Latin lady turn down her volume and tone, stop with her gestures, and all but completely mirror the behaviour of my Chinese colleague. What is so amazing about this, you ask? Well, after our session I pointed this out to the participant, and she was not conscious of having changed behaviour at all – she had changed behaviour instinctively.

Why should you read this book?

If what I have written above has not convinced you yet, then I would say that you should read this book because it gives you a fantastic insight into the workings of some of the most amazing, open, friendly, positive, and complex people the world has to offer.

In addition, if you work internationally, whether from your home culture or elsewhere, then you may also find yourself in the book – or maybe a friend, a colleague, your boss, or your partner – and you will get a deep insight into what makes them tick and how you and they can use your combined and diverse skills-set to be successful at what you set your mind to.

More info about the book

The 3rd edition of Third Culture Kids – Growing Up Among Worlds by Ruth E. Van Reken, Michael V. Pollock, and David C. Pollock, was published in 2017 by Nicholas Brealey Publishing (the 1st edition was published back in 2001, the 2nd edition in 2009).

The 3rd edition has been significantly updated by Ruth E. Van Reken and Michael V. Pollock, son of the late original co-author, David C. Pollock. New content includes the impact of technology and new advice for parents and others for how to support TCKs.

More info about C3’s specialist on Third Culture Kids, Peter Møller Nielsen

Peter is a native of Denmark, and since 2020 also a citizen of Switzerland. He lives with his family in Basel, Switzerland.

Peter is an intercultural trainer, facilitator, and coach. He provides training solutions within cross-cultural management, intercultural communication, working in virtual teams, multinational team foundation building, and international career consulting.

Since 2005, he has conducted 500+ cross-cultural training programmes and has worked with management at all levels as well as individual employees and families facing relocation.

Peter started his career in Denmark, where he among others was country manager for an international exchange organization. Since moving to Switzerland, he embarked on a career as a career consultant, providing career-related counselling and settling-in assistance to accompanying spouses of international assignees.

At C3, we benefit from Peters high professionalism combined with empathy and intuition, when he delivers training on global mindset and remote collaboration, and when he prepares future expats for living and working in Switzerland.

In addition, Peter has specialized in coaching for Third Culture Kids, assisting them in transforming their instinctive intercultural tools into conscious and deliberately focused tools for use in their workplace.

Peter speaks Danish, English, and German fluently and has a good understanding of Swiss-German.

Where to go from here

Read about our new online learning programme Third Culture Kids’ Intercultural Business Toolkit here. The programme supports employees with a TCK background in transforming their instinctive intercultural competences into deliberate and focused tools that they can use in their work life, to the benefit of themselves and their organizations.

Would you like to know more about Peter's coaching solutions for Third Culture Kids or their parents? Contact us for a chat.

Do you want more inspiration for living and working across cultures?

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