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The third-culture generation

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By Lachezar Arabadzhiev

I was in my first year of IB when my English teacher brought an article about multiculturalism in class. My classmates and I had the task to find specific sentence structures and stylistic devices that the author had used to convey her message (a classic English HL scenario). However, what caught my attention and later compelled me to do more research was the author’s story.

As a Korean-American girl, the author had struggled with cultural identity her entire life because her family had moved around the world when she was growing up. She just could not self-identify with a single culture, but rather bits and pieces from each place she visited. The story ended with her describing herself as a “TCK.” I was intrigued. What was that?

The term TCK (third-culture kid) was first used in the 1950s by the American sociologist Ruth Hill Useem, but a more precise definition of the concept was developed more recently (1999) by the psychologist David C. Pollock, who describes it as:

“A third-culture kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship, to others of similar background.”

I spent my teenage years in an international environment, where everyone was multi-cultural and bilingual, so to me that was the norm. I have friends who moved around their entire childhood, never having spent more than two years in a single country. When I read the definition, I thought the TCK concept was perhaps reserved for kids with traveling parents and expats. Throughout the years I discovered that TCKs are becoming more of a global phenomenon, as opposed to this narrower description of a specific group of people.

“I have always loved to look at problems or ordinary situations from multiple perspectives.”

With the aid of technology, we are now connected to an abundant amount of information that exposes us to cultural diversity, different lifestyles, and unique traditions. All that, only a click/swipe away. It almost feels like, we all have the capacity of being TCKs, but everything depends on how we use our knowledge.

Personally, I have always loved to look at problems or ordinary situations from multiple perspectives; I was never interested in picking the obvious choice, even when the situation was straightforward (that’s been a curse and a blessing at the same time). For example, I was visiting Hawaii recently and while driving around the islands, I kept seeing the word “XING” on the road. As a person, who have spent his teenage years in China, I immediately assumed that “XING” was the alphabetized version of the Chinese character 姓 ( xìng ), which means “surname”. But why would that be printed on almost every road?

Well, it turned out that “XING” is in fact, “crossing” and the letter “X” resemble the shape of a cross to alert drivers. Most people would have never made the association that I had in my mind and would have probably been clear about the meaning of “XING” in a split second. But not me, I saw it in a completely different way.

“Your different way of thinking could be the solution to a real problem”

Now, this situation might sound simple and rather confusing, but imagine how important different perspectives are when it comes to working on a new idea, project, starting a business or helping the community. Your different way of thinking could be the solution to a real problem, especially in today’s digitally fuelled world. It is easy to not pay attention to anything at all, because we have access to everything. Therefore, it is crucial to appreciate knowledge and not take it for granted.

I hope my experiences have given you enough inspiration to continue your quest for knowledge and learning new, and exciting things. The other two articles of the series are here and here; I highly recommend you to take a look at them, if you get the chance.

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Lachezar Arabadzhiev graduated from the British International School Shanghai with the IB diploma in 2013 and received a BBA in international business from the University of Toronto Scarborough. Lachezar’s ultimate goal is to build technology that has a positive impact on people’s lives. He has worked for tech-giant Microsoft both in the United States and Canada and co-founded two start-ups of his own–Kaign, a music curation app and Volykos, a wireless charging solutions provider.