What is a “Third Culture Kid”

Anybody can yearn to travel and explore the world, but this is especially the case for us “third culture kids”. Probably because we feel like we belong everywhere and nowhere.

Third culture kids (TCK) are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport (where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years.

Pollock, D.C., & Van Reken, R.E. (2009). Third culture kids: The experience of growing up among worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealy.

I was born, raised and currently live in Athens, Greece. However, my home when I was a child felt more like a miniature UN headquarters. A total of six (6) languages could be heard at any given time.

I’ll explain: from my mother’s side, my grandma was Russian and my grandpa from an old aristocratic Greek family of Istanbul. At some point when my grandfather was still a child, his family moved to France, but moved again to Greece later. So he grew up a trilingual, being fluent in Greek, Turkish and French. My grandmother’s family on the other hand, fled the October Revolution and sought refuge in Greece (my great grandfather was enamoured with ancient Greek history and culture). Eventually my grandparents would meet and fall in love during WWII in Athens.

On my father’s side, both him and his parents were born in Romania. After WWII, my dad’s family moved to New Zealand. His cousins moved to Australia, although some chose to stay in Bulgaria instead. Eventually, my father returned to Greece, where he met mom and the rest is history as they say 😉

Growing up, I never felt the typical Greek. I don’t like bouzouki music. Or most Greek music for that matter, including modern Greek pop. In my family we don’t keep most Greek traditions and don’t eat much traditional Greek food either. My maternal grandmother, who was the pillar of religious traditions in the family, would take me to the Russian church of Athens during the holidays when I was a child. Oftentimes I am more comfortable expressing myself in English than Greek. Fun fact: my accent of English depends on my location at each given time.

Consequently, I can feel at home anywhere I travel to. Just give me a couple of days. Less than a week. Even in countries where I don’t speak the language! I think of myself more of a global citizen than belonging to any single nationality. I speak half a dozen languages and I’m always game to learn more.

In addition, my parents also loved to travel when I was little. My very first experience with air travel was when I was 4 years old. I remember (yes, indeed I have memories from that time) that I was ecstatic. I would gaze at the fluffy white clouds from my window seat, totally mesmerized. It was love at first flight. Even now, I get excited just by passing by an airport and watching the planes come and go!

Later, when I was 17, I went on my very first solo trip abroad to London. Mind you, that was back in the early ’90s, a time before GPS and social media. Travel abroad solo those days was quite an adventure! I also traveled to Paris on my own a couple of years later, and even went to Toronto, from Greece, sharing a hotel room with a girl I’d met only online, to take part in a sci-fi convention (I’m also a bit of geek). Once you catch the travel bug, you’re “ruined” for life 😉 I even studied in three different UK universities, as an excuse to live in a different country for a while!

One other thing that I fell in love with during that very first trip, back when I was four, was the pampering of a 5-star hotel stay. It so happened that my father was sent for training by his company to Crete at the time. The company was paying for our accommodation at a luxury hotel for the three months of his training. Everyday my mother and I would enjoy a delicious breakfast in bed, and, me being just 4 years old, of course I’d get special treatment by the hotel staff. It was glorious. How could one not pursue the same luxury treatment as an adult?

Therefore, given my lifelong love of travel and global mindset, it is only natural that I would eventually wish to share my experiences and travel adventures. I do love to travel, but in comfort. Doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it has to be comfortable. And stylish!

So there you have it. Being a third culture kid (now adult) may sound complicated, and indeed when I was younger I felt left out, that I didn’t belong anywhere. However, not only I’ve come to terms with this feeling, I have even embraced it. This mix of cultures is a kind of a culture of its own. My very own, personal, culture. And, in this age of digital nomads and global citizens, I finally feel at home.