Third, and Fourth, Culture Kids

There’s a lot been written recently about third culture kids – kids who grow up in a culture which is different from that of their parents.

I was third culture kid…and my parents didn’t share a culture either. Let’s call that a fourth culture kid, to differentiate from kids whose parents come from the same culture, but live elsewhere.

It think this is an important distinction to make.

As a fourth culture kid, my ‘host’ country’s culture became my ‘main’ culture. I have never, ever felt that my either of my parents’ cultures were my culture. I do think that this was a result of at least three things:

– I spent all rather than part of my developmental years in the ‘host’ country,

– my parents came from two different cultures so there was no consistent culture at home, and

– my parents assimilated into their host country to the point that they would never go back to their home countries.

Here’s the first tricky point though – when you identify with the new culture more strongly than your parents do, there’s a huge – and sometimes bewildering – disconnect.

The second tricky point is that even though your ‘host’ culture might become your ‘main’ culture, you are always aware that it’s not ‘quite right’ because, unfortunately, you are being pulled in a different direction (directions?) at home.

Apparently third culture kids (TCKs) have more in common with each other than with children in either their ‘home’ country or their ‘host’ country. If these TCKs are actually ‘fourth culture kids’ too, I might go so far as to say they may have more in common with each other than with their parents (assuming the parents are were not fourth culture kids themselves).

Why? Because those parents cannot know what it’s like to not have a consistent culture at home.

I’m partly drawing a parallel from my adult life here. As an adult, I have lived the expat life. And it is abundantly clear that I tend to have more in common with other expats than with those who have stayed at home, and I certainly have very little in common with the locals in my new host country.

And here’s the kicker. For the first time, I feel some sense of belonging. A sense of belonging with these ‘global nomads’ that I do not feel with those of my ‘main’ culture back ‘home’.

Growing up as a ‘fourth’ culture kid is incredibly hard on one’s sense of belonging. You don’t really fit anywhere, despite trying, because there’s a mixture of cultures at home, and you’re in a different culture outside the home. You somehow have to reconcile all these different influences within you.

It probably makes you a well-rounded, flexible, accepting person (as apparently is the case for TCKs). It makes you think, and evaluate, elements that make up ‘your’ culture because you are effectively stringing it together as you go along. But there are days when you wish you didn’t have to do that, when you wish you could just fall back on generations of ‘this is how we do things’.


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