Third Culture Kids and the Concept of Home for International Students

Posted by Shauna | Posted in culture, education, global, teaching | Posted on 05-11-2015



Home is a word that has many meanings. It can mean different things to different people.

When I asked my students where there home was, they had many answers. They come from many backgrounds all around the world, and the one thing that they have in common is that they are all living in China right now. Some of them were born in China, but have a passport from another country, while others were born in another country, but have Chinese heritage. Some have simply moved here because their parents have found jobs, and so they came to the country.

“Home is where the heart is… but where is the heart?”, I asked. Most began by explaining that home was where they were from, the country on their passport, where their family was from, and so on.

We quickly realised that home, however, was not an easy word to define. Some students had a clear picture of where they were from, but others weren’t sure about their home.

Where you define your home as, often has a huge impact on your identity. For, if you can’t decide one culture, one country, one place, then it’s hard to put yourself in to one category, and thing`s become complicated. A big part of this complication is geography – the individual has moved away from their country of origins (where they were from when they were born) to another country where they now live.

Third Culture Kids:

Grade 6 visual thinking straegy

Visual thinking strategy: students investigating, and creating their 1own definition of  Third Culture Kids. 

Luckily, there were two individuals, Dr John and Ruth Hill Useem, who decided to travel to India in the 1950’s, and met foreigners from other countries. As they were looking at these different groups of people, they noticed that they seemed to have their own culture that was different from their home culture, and the culture they were living in.

They developed the word “Third Culture Kid.”

A Third Culture Kid is a person who has lived for many years outside of their families culture. The Third Culture Kids (TCK) have connections with many cultures, and they combine parts of different cultures. (Pollock and van Reken, 2001)


The International Student Profile: 

students working

ISNS Grade 6 students working in the clsssroom

Carry is from Hungary, but her grandparents are from China. Her parents are both from China, and Hungary. Carry grew up with elements of Chinese culture, but she views herself as Hungarian. Liel’s grandparents are from Iraq, her father from Israel, and her mother from Korea. She views herself as both. Raymond’s grandparents are from China, and his parents from Malaysia. He views himself as Malaysian. These are just some examples of children in my classroom with many cultural backgrounds.

There are also students who come from China with all of their ancestry here. They have lived their whole life here, but have a passport to another country. Some of them, like Victor, have lived in Canada, but then came back to China. Sarah and Lilly both come from Korea, but now they live in China, while Rebecca is from South Africa, also living in China. These students identify themselves as an international student, working their way through the International Baccleaurate program, and learning about China, and the Global world.

There are many more examples within this small classroom.

Classroom Activity:

  1. Ancestry – brainstorm – what is it?  (use a visual thinking strategy – think, pair, share)
  2. Go to, an online mindmaping site, and create a map of your ancestry, dating back as far as you can remember.
    •  Ask your parents for help, for homework, adding more details. Share your answers with a friend.
  3. Find some examples of Third Culture Kids in the media.
    • Who are these people?
    • What’s their ancestry?
    • Where did they grow up?
  4. Develop 4-5  questions that you would like to know about another international student and investigate the answers to these questions by conducting an interview (formative assessment).

Source: Van Reker, Ruth, and David Pollock. Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds. N.p.: n.p., 2009. Print.

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