Dr. Donna Velliaris shares her expertise

TCK Rising: Young Global Chameleons

By Donna Velliaris on Mar 27, 2018
In child development, there is a long standing debate related to 'nature versus nurture' i.e., are humans impacted more by their environment or genetics? Dr. Donna Velliaris, a prominent IGI Global contributor and the editor of the best-selling publications Handbook of Research on Study Abroad Programs and Outbound Mobility and Handbook of Research on Academic Misconduct in Higher Education, examines this debate by delving into the notion of 'Third Culture Kids' or children who associate with a certain culture and are impacted by another culture(s) to create a unique 'third' culture. Drawing from her own research, Dr. Velliaris discusses contemporary TCKs and their potentially complex cultural realities and identit(ies) formation.

Handbook of Research on Study Abroad Programs and Outbound Mobility

R. Useem began publishing on ‘Third Culture Kids’ TCKs in the 1960s and remains widely regarded as the founder of this term and topic. The expression ‘TCK’ was introduced when her and her husband—both social scientists—travelled to India in the 1950s to study Americans deployed there predominantly as corporate, governmental, military and missionary personnel. The birth of the TCK term stemmed from the apparent commonality of challenges, characteristics, perceptions and tendencies amongst the Useem’s three sons and other American children observed in India. They recognized that their children’s one-year experience during their formative years, left an indelible mark on their development, whereby their sense of belonging became more relationship-based than geography-based.

The TCK term implied that their children had a strong attachment to the Western (US) sojourners in India with whom they shared their life experience. Thus, the definition came to represent Western children who had spent their developmental and school-aged years outside their parents’ culture, building a relationship to a non-Western culture, while never developing full ownership of either. And, throughout their children’s adolescence, their sons absorbed cultural, linguistic and behavioral norms, as well as a frame of reference different to, but assembled from, what the parents regarded as the Indo-American third culture in which they were living.

In this construction, TCKs tended to be: (a) raised in one culture; (b) relocated to another; and (c) repatriated back. That is, TCKs integrated aspects of their ‘birth’ or home culture (first culture) and their ‘new’ or host culture (second culture), and created a personally blended ‘other’ culture (third culture) unique to them as individuals. R. Useem posited that TCKs found that their values and behaviors did not fit with the stereotypical characteristics of their American home/first culture. Rather, they became more comfortable occupying the space between the practices of home (first) and host (second) cultures, otherwise known as the cultural ‘third place’.

The intersection of two definitive cultures as originally observed by R. Useem in the 50s/60s, no longer adequately represents contemporary internationally-mobile youth. In the 1950s, an overseas posting meant real isolation for families and expatriate communities. National borders mattered. In the 21st Century complex cultural, economic, political and human flows ignore national borders. Today, efficient transport, emailing, internet, satellite television, social media, and other telecommunications, make that isolation for most, a thing of the past. Whereas expatriate or foreign communities used to live in enclaves or compounds so that they could maintain homogeneity in their lives, nowadays, foreign deployed families are increasingly opting to live in the host country alongside host nationals. In addition, while earlier international assignments were of a fixed-term nature, there has been an accelerated shift from long(er) to short(er) relocation or repatriation preparation timeframes.

What happens, then, when you’re raised in a shifting environment in which travel is home? When ‘home’ as we know it, is but one of many, always temporary, stops on a rootless journey around the world?... In many respects, the TCK is a test-case of a more connected, less nationally-focused world.
For Third Culture Kids, Travel Is Home
Applying the original definition to contemporary internationally-mobile youth would suggest that the TCK term is more applicable as an overarching expression to refer to the complex cultural realities these kids may encounter today. While TCKs may be advantaged by exposure to a wider world perspective or the opportunities of travel, at the same time, they may have a more limited experience of their homeland culture. In other words, they may never know the sort of cultural certainty that children who live in a single culture at home, school and in the community, often take-for-granted.

Without a fully developed identity and corresponding cultural patterns to use as a base for interacting with the ‘host’ culture, internationally-mobile youth may find that both the ‘home’ and ‘host’ cultures offer significant input, but their development is primarily influenced by the patterns of an international life. Nonetheless, as far as the concept is concerned, it is somewhat unintelligible to offer an operational definition of ‘Who is a TCK?’ and what makes them so—Age? Gender? Number of relocations? Length of relocation? Number of repatriations? Number of passports? Number of schools attended abroad? Number of languages spoken? Parents’ profession? Degree of acculturation to the host country culture? Identification with the TCK term?

TCKs are challenged daily to explain their looks, language, culture, ethnicity, nationality, and so on. And this can be a good thing. Why? Because they become very skilled at explaining, exploring, understanding and accepting differences — in themselves and others.
Annual Student Conference Explores Complex Identities of ‘Global Nomads'
Multiple contexts create diversity, possibility and unpredictability. Thus, we must accept the heuristic nature of this population of kids, adopt an approach that is sensitive to change and diversity, and recognize the potential multifarious ways that contemporary TCKs embrace (or not) two or more cultures at any one time—within or beyond the ‘third culture’.

IGI Global would like to thank Dr. Velliaris for her valuable research along with the time she has given for this article, as well as in the chapters and books she has published over the years. To read more about Dr. Velliaris’ cross-disciplinary research please view the publications below and be sure to recommend them to your library.

About Dr. Donna Velliaris

Dr. Donna Velliaris  headshotDonna M. Velliaris is currently living and working in Singapore while her two young children attend an international school. A fully qualified [Australia] secondary school educator since 1995, she has a total of 12 officially registered subjects/skills across Grades 8-12. To date, she has taught students from Reception to PhD level and across several continents. Dr Velliaris holds two Graduate Certificates: (1) Australian Studies; and (2) Religious Education, two Graduate Diplomas: (1) Secondary Education; and (2) Language and Literacy Education, as well as three Master’s degrees: (1) Educational Sociology; (2) Studies of Asia; and (3) Special Education. In 2010, Dr Velliaris graduated with a PhD in Education focused on the social/educational ecological development of school-aged transnational students in Tokyo, Japan.

Her primary research interests include: human ecology; Third Culture Kids (TCKs); schools as cultural systems; and study abroad. With recent publication of almost 30 book chapters, titles comprise: Academic reflections: Disciplinary acculturation and the first-year pathway experience in Australia [Garnet]; Conceptualizing four ecological influences on contemporary ‘Third Culture Kids’ [Palgrave Macmillan]; Culturally responsive pathway pedagogues: Respecting the intricacies of student diversity in the classroom [IGI Global]; The other side of the student story: Listening to the voice of the parent [Sense]; and Metaphors for transnational students: A moving experience [Cambridge Scholars].

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of IGI Global.

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