Third-Culture Kids: 11 Signs You Grew Up With The World As Your Home


We third-culture kids might seem a little strange, but can you blame us? We spent the most formative years of our lives away from our families, our countries and just about everything else familiar to us.

Speaking for myself, the experience shaped me into the person I am today — though it wasn’t always easy.

Here are 11 signs that you’re definitely a third-culture kid:

1. Answering “Where Are You From?” Takes A Lot Of Effort.

This simple question is supposed to be answered in just a couple words, but as third-culture kids know, that's impossible.

By the time you finish explaining where you’re born, where you grew up and where you are now, the person asking is either confused or bored. Yeah, sorry about that.

2. Your Family Is Concerned About Your Accent.

Almost subconsciously, my accent changes wherever I am living. As I moved between Korea, Hong Kong, India and the United States, my accent morphed in each new country.

When I’d return home, my family teased me when my Korean sounded much different than before.

Alternatively, when you meet someone new, he or she will have no idea where to place your accent. That can sometimes be amusing.

3. You Adopt Certain Parts Of Each Culture.

Every country does things differently, and it’s only when you leave the country and learn a new culture that you get enough perspective to see what works and what doesn’t.

In Korea, I love the closeness of the family. In Hong Kong, I love the intense, inspiring (and a little intimidating) work ethic. In India, I love the kindness people show their guests.

In the United States, I thought highly of the sense of freedom most people have when it comes to deciding what to do with their lives and careers.

There’s definitely cultural overlap between these countries, but I’m grateful for having the chance to adapt and learn in each place I lived in.

4. Your Family Tries Bringing You Back To Your Roots.

My family wanted me to study outside of Korea, but they definitely didn’t want me to forget my heritage.

Whenever I’d return, I’d be overwhelmed with Korean-ness in an attempt for them to get rid of some of the “strange” habits I picked up abroad. It was all out of love, but it wasn’t always subtle.

I can see where they’re coming from. The more time I spent abroad, the more I forgot the nuances of my culture.

5. The World Feels A Lot Smaller.

When you’re in a different country, surrounded by people from all over the place, the world starts to feel a lot smaller.

No country seems particularly exotic, and no person seems too different. I learned that despite our backgrounds, we’re all similar in our desires to find happiness and live good lives.

6. Culture Shock Becomes Too Strong Of A Word.

Culture shock is defined as the feeling of disorientation when you experience a different culture for the first time. For third-culture kids, this sensation is definitely muted.

There’s always a learning curve, but there’s nothing shocking about it; it’s just a part of life.

7. For Better Or Worse, There Is A Psychological Impact.

We might be good at adjusting to culture shock, but all this moving around does take its toll.

I always looked forward to coming back to Korea, but each time I felt a little more detached from the culture of my family.

This isn’t an uncommon feeling, as many third-culture kids suffer from a bit of an identity crisis.

8. Your Family Celebrates Several Cultural Traditions.

The funny thing is, as much as my family tried to retain our cultural traditions, we still adopted quite a few aspects of the different cultures we were surrounded by.

Growing up, we celebrated all sorts of different holidays and traditions: Pakistani, Korean, Chinese, Indian and American.

Sure, it was strange, but as clichéd as it sounds, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

From the packets of red envelopes filled with money for Chinese New Year to flying kites during the festival of kites and even decorating our family Christmas tree, my childhood was filled with an assortment of cheerful festivities.

9. You Have Multiple Teams To Cheer for In The World Cup And Olympics.

While most people only have one team to cheer for, you can spread your cheers to a couple different teams.

Growing up abroad, we don’t usually have the same loyalty or sense of patriotism as the people who never left their countries.

During the World Cup and the Olympics, things become simplified and we can just support whoever we’d like.

If one team loses, there’s always a backup option.

10. Travel Becomes “Just A Thing.”

As most people count down the days to a life-changing vacation, we’re a little more ambivalent. For us, it’s more about necessity.

I always looked forward to new places and new people, but I never really felt the rush of excitement when stepping through immigration and into a new country.

Of course, I’d still sight-see as much I could in my downtime. It was just a different experience than what other travelers go through.

11. You Socialize Way Too Much Online.

Everyone seems to waste too much time online, but for us, it’s a necessity.

We have a best friend in just about every time zone, making Skype calls and online chats a nightmare to schedule.

On the plus side, we’ve gotten really good at remembering the time in different countries.