Third Culture Kids

Raising kids in another culture is interesting, challenging, fun, insightful… I could go on. When you raise kids in a culture that is different from their parents home culture, they’re referred to as Third Culture Kids, or TCK’s.

Alex is definitely a TCK. Olivia, I’m not sure what you would call Olivia? She was born in Haiti, so technically she’s being raised in her home culture. But, she’s being raised by parents from a different culture, so I guess she technically falls in that TCK category.

Most of the time I don’t thing about the TCK thing, but there are moments when things pop up and surprise me. Especially with a 4 year old who has a lot of insight into the world and isn’t afraid to share that. I didn’t realize just how many things we learn from being in our surroundings. Things that are ingrained. Things that we assume everyone knows. But, when you’re removed from that those things need to be taught.

Here’s what I’m talking about… (a.k.a. the section where I tell you about funny moments that have made us go “huh!”)

  • One day I was helping Olivia with some pre-school coloring exercises. She was supposed to color all of the things in a set of 4 pictures that were typically red. The choices were an apple, a strawberry, a sun and a wagon. I explained what to do and then asked her which ones she needed to color red. She sat there looking at the page and then it clicked for me. She knew what an apple was and what strawberries were because we consumed them in mass quantity in Canada. But she had never seen a wagon and certainly didn’t know that it was stereotypically red. I had to explain what it was :)
  • In Haiti there is a different understanding of personal space. As in there is none. When we go home Chris and I frequently have to tell Olivia to back up and give people room when she’s playing, sitting next to them etc. She doesn’t get that people are weird about that in North America.
  • Alex didn’t want to wear clothes when we got back to the US. He would fight putting on a shirt and then whip it off after we succeeded in getting it on. It took a couple days for him to realize that clothes were a good thing.
  • We have had to teach Olivia about sidewalks and crosswalks. And looking both ways before crossing the street. Because we don’t typically cross the street with our kids here. That would be like being the target in target practice.
  • When Olivia is in North America and where she can watch tv she becomes like a zombie. She also gets upset when commercials come on and says, “But I want the show! I want the show!” and then we have to explain that the show will come back on. She’s used to watching movies on a computer where commercials are non-existent.
  • Olivia knows about touch technology from all the visitors that have iphones and ipads. At New Years we were visiting friends and they had a wii. The girls were playing Just Dance. One of the older ones had the controller and was standing behind Olivia controlling the game. When it came time to select the level Olivia stood in front of the tv trying to move things with her hand on the screen. She had no idea that tv’s aren’t touch screens. Maybe she’s just ahead of her time.
  • Haitians will talk about you right in front of your face, and make observations that in other countries would be considered incredibly rude. Things like when we got engaged it was very normal for people to congratulate Chris and say, “You have a big fiance!” and basically verbally slap him on the back like he’d won the lottery. We have to remind Olivia that saying things like, “Mom, that lady is big” in the grocery store so everyone can hear might not be the most socially acceptable thing to say.
  • Having to tell my kids that they can’t drink the water out of the tap in one country, but that it’s okay in another.

I think the most interesting one happened when we were in the last week of our vacation when Olivia was asking where we were going and how many nights we were going to be there. When I told her she said, “And then are we going home to camping?” I realized that we refer to Haiti as home, because it is. And we refer to Canada as home, because in a way it is. And when we visit places like Grandma and Grandads we say, “Okay, we’re going home now” when we’re out doing things, so that’s home of sorts. And camping, well, the van was home for the time we were out doing that. “They” say that TCK kids grow up to feel that home is where their friends and family are, not necessarily a physical place like it might be back in their parents home culture.

Seeing these things become a reality with our kids at such an early age is really interesting to say the least.


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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

3 thoughts on “Third Culture Kids

  1. Great post, I think it was very helpful. I’m planing on going to Haiti to help my friend run her orphanage; I knew that there would be major culture differences but this is a real help to me and a reminder that things will be different not just living conditions but very much so social situations. Great read.

  2. Nice post. I like reading posts about third culture kids, because I grew up as one and I am glad the awareness is increasing. More and more parents have heard the term and have read about it or write about just like you do. I grew up in Africa, my dad actually worked in waterprograms in Malawi and Zimbabwe. My passport country is Holland. Have you heard of the term Cross culture kids? It’s a broader term that includes the TCKs, children of multicultural parents, children of minorities and international adoptees and more: see These kids have lots in common. In the world we live in the number of cross culture kids (and TCKs) will only increase, are they the future global citizens? Greetings Janneke @DrieCulturen

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