Re-Entry to the U.S.
What is a TCK?
Most Foreign Service kids can be classified as Third-Culture Kids (TCKs) or Global Nomads. The term TCK was coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in the 1960s and refers to people who spent significant parts of their childhoods away from their parents’ homeland. Rather than identifying fully with the culture of their passport country or one or more host countries, they integrate aspects of each and create their own “third culture.” Later, the term “global nomad” was introduced as an alternate descriptor by Norma McCaig, founder of Global Nomads International.
Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere
While every third-culture kid is unique, TCKs tend to have a lot in common with each other. They often have a chameleon-like ability to fit into other cultures but find it difficult to answer the question, “Where are you from?” By growing up in multiple cultures they never fully experience any one culture, which can cause them to feel left out, especially in their passport country, which is supposed to feel like home. This contributes to the phenomenon of reverse culture shock and helps to explain why TCKs often build social networks among themselves. Frequent “goodbyes” and years spent living as relative outsiders in a kaleidoscope of cultures contributes to another commonality among many TCKs—they enjoy especially tight-knit nuclear families but struggle to form and sustain long-term, in-depth relationships throughout their lives. Nonetheless, most TCKs agree that the pros far outweigh the cons of an internationally mobile childhood.
TCKs have been thoroughly studied and analyzed over the past 40 years. Some Foreign Service youth (and their parents) may find comfort in learning more about the TCK experience and recognizing that they are not alone. Leagues of TCKs have come before them and translated their multi-cultural childhoods into successful and happy adulthoods. The most famous example is the current U.S. President, Barack Obama.
Interaction: Today’s Voice for Third Culture Kids and Internationally Mobile Families
TCKid: A Home for Third Culture Kids
TCK World: The Official Home of Third Culture Kids
Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock
Strangers At Home: Essays on the Effects of Living Overseas and Coming "Home" to a Strange Land by Carolyn D. Smith (Editor)
According to My Passport, I’m Coming Home by Kay Eakin (click here to download the free full-length book)
The Art of Coming Home by Craig Storti
Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World by Robin Pascoe
Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global by Faith Eidse and Nina Sichel
When no place feels like home (The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 23, 2009) by Corinna Schuler
Rooted To Nowhere (Time, Oct. 20, 2003) by Hanna Kite
At Home Abroad / Third Culture Kids: Often more accomplished, but sometimes more troubled (New York Times, Oct. 26, 2002) by Gretchen Lang
At Home Abroad / Third Culture Kids : Nowhere to call home but I like being a global nomad (New York Times, Oct. 26, 2002) by Anne-Sophie Bolon
For teens, it's a tough transition (New York Times, Jun. 26, 2004) by Nora FitzGerald
FSYF Re-entry Support
FSYF exists, in part, to help Foreign Service youth with re-entry to the United States (usually the greater Washington, DC area). We organize a welcome-back picnic for Foreign Service families every September and an Away Day for new returnees every fall. (For more information, click here.) We connect FS kids and teens with their DC-based peers, who are an important source of friendship and support during the challenging re-entry period. (For more information, click here.) And we sponsor an annual teen re-entry workshop that delves into the TCK experience and considers life in the United States from the perspective of a teenage global nomad. Check the FSYF Calendar for the date of the next workshop.
Additional re-entry support may be available from the
Family Liaison Office (FLO) at the department of State.
Contact the FLO at (202) 647-1076 or (800) 440-0397 and ask
for the Education & Youth Officer.