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Third Culture Kids

Excellent sample paper 2 by Mika Nakazawa - Winter 2009

The term Third Culture Kid refers to the "third culture" created by individuals who have grown up in multiple cultures when they are in the process of relating their societies, or sections thereof, to each other. Third Culture Kids was a term that Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem first coined.

In summarizing that which we had observed in our cross-cultural encounters, we began to use the term "third culture" as a generic term to cover the styles of life created, shared, and learned by persons who are in the pro-cess of relating their societies, or sections there of, to each other. The term "Third Culture Kids" or TCK's was coined to refer to the children who accompany their parents into another society. (Useem, par.6)

Adopting the term "third culture" is an interesting choice, since it implies that in the process of adjusting to two or more cultures, people create a third culture. By definition, a culture includes a language, customs, materials, mores, beliefs, values, and norms. How do these criteria apply to the third culture of Third Culture Kids (TCKs)?

Language for TCK's is very different than most other cultures. Since TCK's usually speak multiple languages, they are about the only people in the world who can create "hybrid" languages. In my personal experience among the missionary kids in Japan, our small community of people were the only ones that could speak our combined language of Japanese and English. A single sentence could comprise of both languages, for example, the sentence could start out in Japanese and midway through, switch to English. The problem with this language created within this third culture of bilingual, missionary kids and TCK's in Japan was that our numbers were so few. Automatically, the number of people that could ever possibly interact with us in our language was drastically limited. This is likely the case for really small tribes or people groups around the world where they are a very small population of people, and their language is exclusive to them. However, the difference for my third culture was that we lived in the context of a much larger culture. It is reasonable to assume that languages developed in an isolated manner, where the people group was naturally cut off from other peoples, would become a language that was exclusive to those people. But third cultures are unique in that there is no reason for the language to be exclusive since the people of the third culture can live in highly developed, urbanized countries like Japan and the US. Yet there are other factors cutting off their culture and language that cause them to be an exclusive culture.

The materials, customs, mores, beliefs, values, and norms, are all negotiated from two or more combined cultures. So it is as if the individual can negotiate which aspects of what culture would better fit into the new hybrid third culture. An example of this is when there are conflicting values from one culture to the next. An example from my experience is that in Japanese culture, comic books--manga--are perfectly acceptable for adults and children to read. However, in American culture, reading comic books when you are an adult would most likely be a behavior that is disapproved. In this scenario, reading comic books at an older age is a belief or value that is shaped by whatever specific culture a person happens to be in at a given time. The norms of Japanese culture say that reading comic books at any age is acceptable and the norms of American culture say otherwise. The conflict of the third culture is bringing these two opposing norms together into the new culture. In this case, I have chosen that adults reading comic books is acceptable behavior and that in this situation, I will align myself with Japanese cultural norms. However, my decision to continue to follow Japanese customs about comic books while living in the US still causes the same raised eyebrows, and I still lack the consistency of following one culture's set of norms, values, beliefs, etc.

Another issue that arises a lot with TCK's is patriotism. Part of the definition of Third Culture Kids is that they "...experience a sense of not belonging to their passport country when they return to it" (Third Culture Kids). This is probably also a situation where the person could choose which country to adapt a sense of patriotism to. Membership within a society is not necessarily guaranteed because a person possesses the right passport. A person actively engages in the culture around them, by learning and following the norms, beliefs, language, etc, and is thereby a member of that society. Since TCK's actively choose different components of different cultures to learn and engage in, can TCK's ever really feel a true patriotism to any one nation? But if no true feeling of patriotism could be mustered for any one nation, then maybe TCK's need to be given the option not claim allegiance anywhere.

When Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term Third Culture Kid, she may have been referencing the fact that a third culture is created when two or more cultures are merged within a single person. But does the merging of two or more cultures to create this third culture, in fact, mean that an entirely new culture is created? Although a lot of the criteria for being a culture are met, it remains to be seen whether any third culture will ever be recognized socially as being a separate culture. The fluid and adaptive nature of all cultures is also present in the new third cultures that are emerging around the world. As technology, communication, and globalization continue, how many more third cultures will emerge? More importantly, the surrounding societies need to acknowledge the births of these new cultures and accommodate their place in the world.

Work Cited
"Third Culture Kids." US Department of State. 10 Feb 2009. Family Liasion Office. 10 Feb 2009 .
Useem, Ruth Hill. "Third Culture Kids: Focus of Major Study." International School Services. 2001. International School Services. 10 Feb 2009 .