Who are Third Culture Kids? Ruth Hill Useem (1999) first coined the term, Third Culture Kids, over 40 years ago. TCKs are children who are members of expatriate families who reside outside of their passport country for varied periods of time. Other terms that have been used are Global Nomads, hidden immigrants, army brats, military brats, internationally mobile children, cross cultural kids (CCKs) and missionary kids (MKs). They move from one country to another before coming back to their passport country for a rotation (2-4 years), to resettle, or to attend university.
One of the things that I noticed about Third Culture Kids is that we share similar lifestyle habits. I believe we all develop a set of behaviors to help us cope with the losses that comes with mobility. We may adopt these habits consistently over time (most of them did not come naturally to me at first) until they became automatic reflexes.
As I listened to my TCK friends at TCKID, I found myself reflecting upon the similarities of my experience as a TCK myself. This mobile lifestyle experience has shaped many of my peculiar habits, many have been influenced by the TCK experience.
I’ll start by saying that each TCK will have their own list of habits and rhythms that reflects their lifestyle, depending upon factors like personality type, upbringing, age, family values, etc. For this reason I’m looking forward to reading the habits that others are working on in the rest of this article.
But in the mean time here are some TCK ‘habits’ or attitudes that I’ve been working on and have seen in myself, as a TCK and in others:
1. Monthly plans for everything. Phone, Cable TV, and Internet. There’s no way I’ll buy a 3-year plan.
-“I do either that or a prepaid stuff so that I don’t have to worry about paying bills later.”
-“I’d rather pay like 10EUR more for my home-phone-flatrate and be able to get out of the contract asap when I need to than be boged down for a year or even more – it scares me big time.”
2. Laptop instead of a bulky Desktop PC. It’s useful when you visit family overseas.
“I got a notebook now…I managed to move my desktop whenever I needed to but it was impractical since I never had it NOW and HERE.”
3. I prefer to rent furnished. The thought of buying furniture makes me feel uncomfortable.
– “The idea of buying property scares the bejeezes out of me. I don’t even own a car.”
– “In the past, I’ve borrowed furniture. Other than the table and chairs, all my current furniture is borrowed, except that I bought the fridge.”
“I had a panic attack when we bought our sofa, even though we’d sort of agreed we’d be living here for a while.”
4. I don’t HEAVILY decorate my room. Why bother buying fancy curtains and repainting? I’ll probably move soon.
– “For long I never decorated my walls, and I never understood why I didnt do so. But what I decorate in the sense of utilities, I make the effort to individualize it and craft it myself (comforts my soul). My main aspect when decorating: Functionality over Design.”
– “I do decorate and paint. I figure even if I’m only here for a month, it is home. I got that from my mom – she made every place beautiful no matter how short a time we stayed.”
5. I prefer watching movies online than owning DVDs. But I’m not a pirate!
“I prefer renting movies to owning them. I like to own as little as possible.”
6. I’m very frugal. The less stuff I own, the less tied down and happier I feel.
-“I thrive on thrift stores. I’ll fix stuff up so that it suits me. When I don’t need it anymore I’ll sell it in a yard sale or give it back to the thrift store. I don’t attach to my stuff.”
-“I get rid of things when I can but it seems like my belongings only increase because I keep every single note, letter, card, gift from my friends, families and acquaintances.”
7. I love books, and have my own little library, but I try to borrow books whenever possible. Ever tried moving a library? It’s not fun… books are heavy!
“I do make a point of *only* buying books that are really good – not just kind of good.”
8. My career is mobile. I like being able to decide where I want to work.
“My career isn’t that mobile – it’s an international career but I can’t just pick up and move whenever I feel like it. I do have a lot of flexibility, though.”
“I don’t have any plans for the future, which sometimes scares me, when I see my friends planing their carreers. They decide now, what they want to do in two years. I say I’ll just try to finish my studies now and then we’ll see.”
9. I don’t have a large wardrobe at home but I dress well.
10. I don’t own any large pets, but I can accommodate a cat.
“I have no pets and have no intention of having any (reason: what if it dies? more pain and grief…I can’t deal with more of that right now…)
The following are more lifestyle habits by other TCKs:
11. Buy everything in bulk, or for clothes & shoes, buy them too big so they’ll last at least two years!
12. My family is still trying to get over the “buying in bulk” syndrome. When we first came to the States we bought everything we possibly could in bulk (we still do it a lot to save money) because “you never know if you’ll find it again”
13. “How about always having “storage?” I am an adult TCK and all my 5 bros and sisters have rental storage units. Growing up, we always had to have storage someplace, for all the family stuff. It baffles my other friends, who think its a huge indulgence.:
14. “Have a complete list in your head of basic things to pack when going on trips. (e.g wet wipes, hairbrush, etc) just use the same list every time you pack.
15. Find that you are always trying to arrange trips with friends, then get annoyed when they are so dumb about arranging travel or are scared of travelling on their own.
16. Get a rush whenever you step into an airport or onto a train platform.
The list goes on:
As I’ve pondered the above 10 habits I’ve come to the realization that it’s not a complete list (I could go on for another 10 or so habits quite easily) and that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ sort of list either. Some of the habits I’ve identified above will be common to many TCKs, but there are always examples that come to mind of TCKs who’ve broken one or more of the above.