Belonging Everywhere yet Nowhere – Memories of TCK/ATCK

Hello, some memories of teenage years – The first we knew of an impending move was the sound and smell of pine packing boxes being delivered and stacked in the hallway. Metal strips connected sides; tops and bases, screws to secure (two at the ends, three at the middle); Pre-cut stencils -name, address (New destination), Box Number, TOP/BOTTOM; Packing lists(One inside each box; one to carry). Their arrival signalled change, anticipation and much frantic activity became a whole family event – from wrapping of breakables, decisions of what to take, leave behind or carry; packing not too full as they had to be carried and sent by freight and flight.

The arrival of the boxes had this uncanny effect of trading key stages of things to do and go through. From informing friends and family of the news of when and to where we were departing; taking part in last things together, sharing memories and promising to keep in touch. Yet, somehow we knew deep inside these connections were already loosening and changing. This was pre-mobile phone; Snapchat; WhatsApp and Instagram – where hand written Air Mail letters were eagerly anticipated and sent.

Those boxes now filled and sealed, ready for collection – shifted the focus as to what can be carried and what to leave behind. Also, those final farewells – they were already disconnected and moved on – you were different, not part of us anymore, as our attention was on the new destination.

The emotions were mixed and the arrival at the new location was the container of our anticipation; loss of friends; favourite toys; where do we fit – all seemed to take a backstage as we faced the big unpack – new rooms, different sounds, smells, schools, meeting new people and cultures – curious to explore the new landscape and adopting that chameleon like process with conversations of introductions; where are you from and what’s your tribe became second nature. There seemed to be a shared unspoken experience and acceptance of each other.

This was my life of as a TCK (now ATCK) and those experiences and relationships of this global community of TCKs. The impact on TCKs is such that from the outset there is a feeling of belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The TCK is anyone who during their first 18 years have lived outside their country of origin for a period of time. As David C Pollock describes “A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who spends a significant part of his or her first eighteen years of life accompanying parent(s) into a country or countries that are different from at least one parents passport country(its) due to a parents choice of work or advanced training”(p27). This sense of belonging is through the relationship of others of all cultures “whilst not having ownership in any…elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCKs life experiences”(13).

The childhood experiences can be invisible for many in society. Yet, we may be surprised that ATCKs are more common in todays global community. If I were to list a few headline names you might be surprised to know they are all TCKs:

Sandra Bullock – Award winning Actress

Sandra Bullock – Award wining actress

Barack Obama – President of the United States

Isabel Allende. – Best selling Author

Tom Cruise – Actor, film writer director producer

Christina Amanpour – Emmy Award winning international correspondent

All those mentioned have had experiences of mobility and adaptability to and into various cultures, makes their strengths and skill set most sought after in our globally interconnected world; at the same time can bring chronic cycles of separation and loss, dealing with grief for each farewell and become challenging for many. The life of the TCK/ATCK raises questions of identity, belonging and relationships, with feelings of rootlessness and restlessness being common characteristics.

If you are interested in commenting or discovering more about TCKs and the issues raised during this blog would be great to hear from you.

Some further resources:

David C Pollock, Ruth E Van Reken, Michael V Pollock, Third Culture Kinds (Growing up Among Worlds); Nicholas Brealey Publishing, BOSTON and LONDON 2017 (2009).

Cross-Cultural Kids

Gardner, Marilyn, Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging, South Hadley, MA, Doorlight Publications (2014).

2 thoughts on “Belonging Everywhere yet Nowhere – Memories of TCK/ATCK

  1. Nice piece! The bit about conversations and introductions really resonated with me. As a cross-cultural/ biracial person, I get asked ‘Where are you from?’ a lot and the answer varies depending on the context/my mood. Also, the book ‘Third Culture Kids’ is giving me a greater understanding of my mother’s side of the family, who moved to the UK from Guyana in the 70s.

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