How do you recognise a TCK?

 In Children and Youth, Featured Stories, Serving Asia Magazine

By Averil Bennett

TCK is shorthand for Trans-Cultural Kid, or Third Culture Kid. The word “kid” is an amercanism, but also reminds me that TCK’s can have some goat-like characteristics, shared by children of business people, enlisted workers, diplomats, NGO officials and missionary parents who spend a significant slice of their developmental years in a country other than their own.

They can often eat anything; sleep anywhere; enjoy anyone; fit in wherever; live on almost no money – and all that in several languages, with the appropriate accent and understanding of cultural tact. One of our daughters worked with MAF in Madagascar and South Sudan. She wrote; “Thanks for training me to have a bath with just three dippers of water.” And; “The people in Madagascar are just like the Thai. I feel so at home here.”

That makes them independent free spirits. TCK’s have global vision and sophistication but can be naïve and restless in their ‘home’ country when they return for tertiary education. For some it is almost to the point of identity confusion. Our four children returned to NZ when 18 years old (though one considered a USA scholarship and is now married to a TCK from the US). They found university hostel life no problem, but deciphering NZ red tape awful. We stayed in NZ for a term to take the role of OMF National Director. One daughter was upset, “But I won’t be able to go home (to Thailand) for Christmas!”

TCKs merge comfortably with a crowd. Just try spotting the difference between sheep and goats in a Thai flock.  But their easy relational attitude can be superficial. The pain of goodbyes and starting anew again and again means feelings can be bottled up. Yet there is surprising maturity, and compassionate awareness of others’ feelings.  At the start of one home assignment, our 13 year-old noticed her teacher didn’t ‘see’ the tentative hands of a few Polynesian students raised to answer a question. She put her hand up and the teacher called her name. She smiled and pointed to the hesitant students: “They had their hands up ahead of me!” All our children are skilled in writing thoughtful notes, and expertly calculate the timing in order for it to ‘hit the spot’. They do this even if they don’t communicate in more direct ways.

They answer to their own name and can be guided by a hand on them. I came as a 10-year-old TCK to New Zealand. My parents were far away in Asia when I had to choose Arts or Science for University Entrance…. Which? Who to ask? So I asked God. Everywhere I travelled that summer holiday I was faced with Psalm 32:8-9. Even on a toilet door! By the start of school, I knew what to choose. The obtuse mule that bit our arms and broke our bones but never faltered on Tibetan heights was a vivid memory from my childhood. I wanted to be an adventurous member of God’s mission team, but a disciplined one. That divine hands-on guidance steered me through 42 years in Thailand with OMF.


This article originally appeared in our February/March 2018 edition of Serving Asia magazine. If you would like to sign up for more articles, stories and testimonies, enter your details below:

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