TCK vs. CCK

A comment left by The Snow Melts Somewhere just now made me dash out this quick post. Because her comment drove home an interesting point. And this does not concern Snow but the people (in school, at work, in daily life) who use these labels and act accordingly, if you’re going to slap labels on something, if you’re going to stick me in a category, I need to make sure it actually fits. Which may sound arrogant, but think of how (many times) you bristle when people mispronounce your name or use the wrong nationality. This is very similar.

So, without further ado, here’s the distinction I need people to make. Not because I’m such a stickler to any sort of rule, but because it matters. Because there is a huge difference between what is labeled a Third Culture and Cross Culture / Cross-Cultural Kid. And I’d like to be known as the latter. It’s like my last name, which could easily pass for Spanish. I could make that claim, attest to some non-existent Spanish ancestry, though I forgot all my Spanish but it would be a lie. Names matter, they give us identity, and if you label me the wrong way (where a label is absolutely necessary), you are taking away (a significant part of) my identity, and we cannot be friends.

The Term Third Culture Kid came in vogue less than a generation back. You can read up on it in more detail, but the gist of it is a child who grew up in a culture its parents are not from. Technically each parent is also from yet another culture, but that’s been fluid in recent times. It’s basically a label stuck on kids of expats, those people who are sent abroad by corporations and eventually come home. Because these days the term is just used to cover that experience. Both parents have grown up in Country A, take the family to Country B (maybe also C,D,and E), then move back. The children attend international schools, because in most cases there’s never enough time to fit into and absorb the host culture. There is a whiff of glamour to the whole thing, evoking images of exotic locations with servants and warm weather a requisite image of the whole experience.

Cross-Cultural Kids are a whole other breed. Our parents themselves come from four different backgrounds. Our mothers have two different cultures and ethnicities, as do our fathers. Frequently, religion also comes into play. We were raised in the same environment as everyone else, international schools rarely factor in. The language of our host country/ countries becomes our own, whether we like it or not. On the surface we belong, though our facial features may look different, our color may be “off.” On the phone we sound like everyone else who is local. But when people come face-to-face with us it’s a different game. We get praised for language skills we acquired in kindergarten with the wonderment in the voice of the speaker making it very clear how amazed they are that we managed to master such speech. We are the immigrant kids, the first generation children, the ones who had to translate for our parents, who grew up extremely fast and then – in our twenties – regressed. Our rebellion occurred not as teenagers but during and after college, because it would have been too much for our parents to learn.

A Cross-Cultural Kid can easily be a Third Culture Kid, but a TCK can never become a CCK. It’s not a competition, just a fact.

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35 comments

  1. I’m more of a 3rd culture kid, minus the glamour 😋 But at some point I did go to school with those glamorous kids. Which is why I find it hard sticking a label on myself, too. But I’d rather identify as a 3rd culture kid as not, if you know what I mean. In Finnish, there’s a word “ulkosuomalainen” which basically just means you’re a Finn living abroad permanently, and that is basically the group of people I identify with, even though I’m not abroad now. And there’s another term “suitcase kid” for kids who lived abroad and returned, without the connotations of an army, missionary or diplomatic background.

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      • I don’t feel Finnish. But my parents are and, ethnically, so am I. Which is why I get labeled as a Finn, though the only Finns I can relate to are the ones who left the country permanently. Still looking for the right label though I rather wouldn’t have one at all, just call myself a “citizen of the world”. (Also a Finnish term!) Anyway, it makes for a long introduction and most people won’t understand me anyway! (My parents weren’t diplomats or anything, lots of Finns migrated to warm countries or big cities in the ’70’s, looking for a less grey life)

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      • We’ve used the citizen of the world as well. I think it’s harder when people hear your name and see your passport. My English is much stronger than my French, but when people meet me, when they just see my name, to them I’m French. I once took an entrance exam for English Lit in France, and had problems translating some of the English sentences into French (don’t ask why this was necessary. I’m still trying to figure it out). The verdict was, “this student does not speak English.” 🤣 It makes you wonder at times.

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      • In Paris? If she studied Hungarian a long time ago I probably knew her. Wouldn’t that be funny, though.

        Do you remember all the music fans who’d come visit and move to Finland because of their favorite band(s)? I used to joke with Finns I met that I did the same, I came for my favorite Finnish band – Popeda. 😂😂😂 My oldest friend in Helsinki decided I needed a musical and cultural education, so he introduced me to the band via their songs. It’s been a recurring joke ever since.

        I just needed a break from everything. I was in Berlin at the time, and though it was fine, it was just that. I’ve always had friends from Finland. And I was familiar with the country because when I attended Steiner School they’d read us stories from Kalevala. And I’d somehow always known I’d end up in Finland.

        That’s what I mean with the whole CCK thing. Moving is the least of our worries / problems. 😃

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    • And believe me, I totally get you. 😃 No diplomat parents here either. But when you’re abroad, do you like to hang out with other Finns? I’m asking because I identify as French-Hungarian-American, and my experience, plus general feedback, has been while Americans and the French come in all kinds of types, Hungarians avoid each other like the plague. It’s funny albeit in a very sad way.

      The people you mentioned from the travel industry, that’s my preferred group, too. Although I never worked in the travel industry. I’d be willing to bet we even have a few friends in common in Helsinki.

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      • Probably, it’s a small town! 😊 I do avoid Finns but if they seem nice then I don’t 😂 Most of the time they seem so awkward that I feel sorry for them and say nothing. But not always! I befriended a Finnish woman once in Florence and we ended up working together at an airline, so you never know! Whenever I’ve been abroad for longer periods of time, I’ve had friends from all over

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      • Hah, yes. They can be extremely awkward. I’m still trying to learn all the intricacies of unanswered messages and showing mutual like for each other. That’s actually funny that you worked for an airline. I used to meet a lot of people who worked at the airport. 😃

        I do have some Finnish friends who are extremely outgoing, but most are very quiet. Just remembered though, when my mom was visiting, a friend and her family invited us to an art exhibition. We met up before, and my friend’s sister was there, too. After the introductions, nothing more was said to the sister. My mom later apologized to my friend for not spending more / enough time with her sister. To which my (very outgoing) friend replied, “no, don’t worry. That was just enough. If you’d talked any more to her, you would have scared her.”

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    • Btw, is there a name for all those Finns going to Thailand, Bali, and Asia in general over the winter? Can’t say I blame them. But I know quite a few, and I wouldn’t mind getting a rise out of them. 🤣 Seems like Evil Me is getting bored.

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  2. Although my kids aren’t TCK they have experienced many of the things that you mention here. I was born in Canada to a British mom and Armenian dad. Now I live in Japan and married a Japanese. My kids have brown hair and light skin compared to Japanese. They have lived their entire lives here but because of their colouing they are often asked “where are you from?” Or “Where did you learn Japanese?” They hate these questions because they are Japanese citizens and in their hearts they are Japanese.

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    • Thank you for commenting. I’ve been obsessed with Armenia since I came across the name Derenian in Escape to Witch Mountain. 😁

      Part of the reason I loved the States and Canada was because people really understood when I said I was this, that, and the other. Everyone was at least something of something. But in France I sometimes have problems. Because people don’t get it. So I feel for your kids. I wish there was a magic formula to make people see beyond those pre-conceived notions. I always go with what people tell me they feel they are. Regardless of where they were born, lived, or which passport(s) they have.

      Like

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