Third Culture Kids grow up in more than one culture.
Like Barack Obama or any other child who wasn’t raised in their parents’ homeland, I was expatriated and embedded in a foreign culture from a young age and learned how to adapt.
In fact, I grew up in three cultures.
My family was Swiss. At home, we had Swiss behaviors and traditions.
My school was French. I learned the French language, learned about French history and geography, and befriended my French peers.
My surroundings were African. The market, the neighborhood, the people, the culture – the reality of life all around me was that of the Mossi tribe.
I learned how to alter my body language and my behavior. Even my sense of humor differed depending on the audience.
This is what a TCK learns early on, which many only learn later in life:
Adapting is a necessity across cultures.
Perspective and Behavior
TCKs are in a specific cultural group all their own.
They are in a unique position where they are made to value various cultures, placing relatively equal importance on the behaviors and norms of them all.
The “rights” and “wrongs” that are culture-based and learned through primary socialization vary, and so the TCK learns that hardline views differ from group to group.
This allows some flexibility when navigating contradicting norms and values of the cultures into which the TCK is placed.
In this way, TCKs develop specific interpersonal behavior and standards of perspective that a child raised in a single culture does not, as they are not so exposed to opposing worldviews.
A TCK’s lifestyle is different. Their communication is different, not only in its multilingual nature, but in its style, nonverbal and otherwise.
The complexity of their firsthand experience with multiple cultures produces in them distinct characteristics that enable their positioning as the perfect zookeepers.
Zookeepers Know Different Species
Due to their knowledge of and relationship with multiple “species” in the “zoo,” TCKs have developed a natural understanding of various perspectives.
They can see through the eyes of the elephant, the eyes of the penguin, the eyes of the giraffe.
They can even see through YOUR eyes: the eyes of the monkey.
While those who have grown up in one culture develop firm values and norms rooted in that single culture, this can often hinder the acceptance of contradicting values and norms.
Those growing up in single cultures often view other perspectives as wrong, rude, forbidden, or even illegal.
Instead of seeing the whole picture and trying to understand the rationale behind another culture’s beliefs, their perspective becomes emotional, biased, and they tend to stonewall understanding.
TCKs, on the other hand, have learned how to monitor emotions about differing perspectives.
They are more adept at registering social cues and norms and more practiced at cultural sensitivity.
Just as they switch fluidly from one language to the next, they are able to fluidly adapt to behaviors of one culture or another.
To them, it is a way of life.
And this natural empathy allows them to be more understanding of YOU, the monkey, as you have “monkey moments” in a foreign culture.
In this way, they can help serve as a patient teacher between the two worlds, if you should be so lucky to secure their friendship.