Third Culture Kids and the Impact of Expat Life

Families who move abroad to enjoy the expat way of life reap a host of benefits. Experiencing new cultures and traditions, learning new languages, and enjoying a different pace of life are all benefits of expatriate life. However, with families come children and expat life can have its advantages and disadvantages for younger family members. Below, Expatriate Group shine a light on life overseas for the children of expat families.

What is a third culture kid?

Children who spend their formative years raised in a country that is not their homeland are referred to as third culture kids, often abbreviated to TCKs. Back in the 1950s cheap air travel became commonplace and this, teamed with technological developments and wanderlust, have seen countless families move overseas for a variety of different reasons. This can include, but are not limited to:

  • A better quality of life
  • Job opportunities
  • Decreased living costs
  • Work life balance
  • Better education

Regardless of the reason a family moves abroad, there will undoubtedly be an impact on the lives of their children.

5 advantages of raising third culture kids

There are over 12,000 international schools dotted around the globe. As families move overseas in pursuit of an improved lifestyle, places in these schools fill up fast. Whilst expat children are often welcomed into local schools, the fact that there are so many international schools shows the sheer volume of expatriates worldwide. The UAE has the highest number of international schools. Considering that 89% of the UAE’s population is made up of expats, the number of international schools is no surprise.

Every TCK is brought up differently – some are immersed in the local culture whereas others live in an expat bubble. Therefore, the benefits between children will be vastly different. However, generally speaking, the benefits of being brought up overseas can include:

1.     Greater life experiences

Life as an expat child undoubtedly exposes them to unique life experiences and different cultures. Even those raised in an expat community cannot avoid every element of life overseas, thus absorbing elements of life they wouldn’t have if they’d been raised back in their mother country. Making friends with other expat children hailing from different corners of the world, and those children born and raised locally, will inevitably lead to TCKs picking up a new language, trying new food, and experiencing customs and traditions of their peers.

2.     Increased emotional intelligence

Moving abroad and being put into a new school means expatriate children have to take on a completely new life. Whilst some are quicker to settle than others, the result is the ability to manage their emotions and understand new societal norms quicker than children who are born and raised in their home country.

Third culture kids will be faced with peers of different cultural backgrounds and challenges such as language barriers or new ways of learning will make them experts at facing new experiences head on.

3.     Developing life skills

Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest attributes a TCK has is adaptability. Typically, the younger a child is introduced to expat life, the easier it is to adapt. However, even older children who move abroad naturally develop key life skills such as resilience and adaptability. This is particularly prevalent with children in expat families who relocate frequently due to parental job commitments, such as those who work in the armed forces. The life skills TCKs develop can be carried throughout their formative years and into their teen and adult years too.

4.     Lust to learn

For many third culture kids, the language barrier when moving overseas is something that is hurdled swiftly. Typically, international schools teach in English, but children will naturally pick up the language of their new country as they converse with local children and adults when out and about. Being multilingual is incredibly valuable, particularly from a career point of view.

Moving to a new country is naturally going to evoke a child’s natural inquisitiveness. Therefore, many TCKs are natural high achievers, whether this is in an academic setting, or more in the way of ‘life lessons’. Learning all about their new country and becoming part of society will help them integrate with greater ease.

5.     Higher education and beyond

It is often argued that the level of teaching at international schools is exemplary. Academic prowess amongst TCKs, even those who don’t attend international schools, is high. Nearly half of all TCKs go on to high education, earning undergraduate degrees, Masters, and PHD qualifications. Moving overseas will have an impact on what children want to study and can help pave the way for their professional careers as they grow older.

Are their any downsides to life as a third culture kid?

Being immersed in culture, learning new languages, and developing life skills are all incredible benefits of life overseas for children. However, just in the same way adults struggle with moving overseas, the same can happen with children. It should not be ignored that moving overseas is daunting and not all expat children will thrive immediately.

1.     Lack of stability and continuity

Those expat families who move frequently due to work commitments may find that their children struggle. Making friends is important for development, particularly in younger children, and switching schools and friendship groups can have a detrimental impact on their wellbeing. Some TCKs are more introverted or withdrawn as a result, finding it hard to make friends through fear of moving or lack of confidence.

2.     Expat bubble

Whether on purpose or not, some children fail to experience the benefits of life overseas due to being in an expat bubble. Home-schooled TCKs may struggle more with this as school is their primary connection point with other children their age. Whilst being raised in an expat community may seem a wise move on the surface, TCKs may be missing out on core life lessons and may feel isolated.

3.     Culture shock

Starting life as an expat can be daunting for adults and whilst children tend to be more susceptible to change, culture shock is just as much as reality for TCKs as it is for their parents. Moving to a country where the language is the same, such as families moving from the UK to Australia, may not be too daunting. However, a move from the UK to India would undoubtedly result in culture shock for TCKs because of the huge disparity in not only language but way of life too.

If you’re moving overseas, don’t forget to find the right level of protection for your family with our International Health Insurance. Whilst you focus on helping your children settle in, we can have all the support in place to provide the best international health insurance for families.

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