Understanding Your TCK

Our FREE parent chronicles  are written by an adult TCK and every issue includes unique insights into your kids’ lives and their experiences. Sign up for our Parent Chronicles to receive exclusive activities.


Parent C



(So you can be confident you're not screwing them up!)

Since our world is an ever-changing one, it is important to define the term TCK. In the new edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, authors Ruth Van Reken and Michael Pollock present an updated definition that might be a little bit different than the one you are familiar with:

A traditional 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 that is different from at least one parent's country(ies) due to a parent's choice of work or advanced training.

Mixing blue and yellow paint is a common way to explain what makes third culture kids unique. This is a fun, messy activity we do with your kids! Blue represents a TCK's passport country, and yellow represents the country they have spent time in, or their host country. When these colors blend together, it makes green. Rather than losing either color, a new color is created. The same thing happens when a child moves from the United States to Kenya, for example: a new, unique culture is gained!

Each TCK is a different shade of green depending on how much they are influenced by their host and passport countries. However, a unique quality TCKs possess is their ability to relate to one another, no matter where they are from or what their shade of green. Whether TCKs grow up in South Korea or South Africa, whether they are missionary or military kids, they all share this commonality of "being green."

How do people who have grown up on opposite sides of the world find themselves becoming best friends, you ask? Find out next time as we explore the unique pieces that make up this third culture.


What better way to explain what a TCK is, then our good old friend, Buddy the Elf! In the movie Elf, Buddy is a quintessential TCK. Too tall to be an elf, but different than other humans, he has to try to figure out how he fits into the busy metropolitan life in New York City. Check out our blog post for discussion Q's, and theIMDB page for parental advisory content and plot details.