When I first arrived at my university my freshman year, I had to a lot to adjust to. This would be the first time I would spending extensive time in my home country after living abroad for six years. I had to come from the Middle East (a very hot climate) to go to school in the Midwest (a very cold climate). I also to readjust to American culture and way of life. It was reverse culture shock that I still continue to experience.
I am what you call a third culture kid. The definition of ‘third culture kids’ is:
“an individual who, having spent a significant part of the development years in a culture other than the parents’ culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having a full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.”
(Pollock and Van Reken)
Iit was so surprising to find out that there was very little to no support for fellow global nomads like myself in the university setting. After doing some casual research, I only noticed a few institutions that have some sort of support services (i.e. orientation) for third culture kids like myself. These services were also usually attached to the international programs/international student and scholar office.
I remember reading somewhere that third culture kids are hidden international students.
This is a very accurate description, because while we may be in our home country, we are experiencing culture shock much like international students do when they first arrive. In other words, our own culture may feel foreign to us. I keep thinking how great it would be have been invited to the international student orientation my freshman year to adjust my new university (and given heads up on the weather). I was not prepared how cold it was going to be!
Third culture kids are the missing piece in international education. I like to think that we are the bridge between domestic and international students. I know that NAFSA has a Global Nomadic Specific Interest Group for members. However, I think universities and colleges should make efforts to welcome third culture kids in tangible ways. This can be as simple as having a page on a university’s website or the international office’s website. Or, it can be something more complex like hosting an orientation just for those that identify as a third culture kids.
Let’s make sure these hidden international students are no longer invisible.
To get some inspiration, look at what other institutions are doing (see list below).
Current Institutions That Offer Support Services for Third Culture Kids
University of Washington – Puget Sound