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Education Supplement: The Third Place

Nora Kusaka Herrero doesn’t mind answering questions about where she’s from. And it’s not hard to understand why. The Concordia International School student has her work cut out for her explaining her family’s cosmopolitan roots: Born in Chicago, to a Puerto Rican mother, and a Peruvian-Japanese father, who now call Shanghai home…it’s all a bit of a mouthful.

At the same time, she doesn’t consider herself extraordinary, especially in a city like Shanghai. “I don’t see [my background] as much of an advantage in any way,” Nora says. “In international schools, there’s so many different nationalities, a lot of students are like this.”

Nora, like many expatriate children in Shanghai, is a perfect example of a ‘third-culture kid’, a term first used in the 1960s by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem, who conducted research on North American children living in India.

The idea is that many children who accompany their parents into a different culture have to integrate aspects of their birth (or first) culture and their second, new culture – creating a unique “third culture.”

What is also commonly seen with third-culture kids is that they feel they have more in common with each other than with peers from their home country who have not had internationally mobile experiences.

Part of the challenge, especially for third-culture teenagers, is that many have difficulties figuring out their own identity, says Melinda Weber, a former school counselor at SMIC Private School.

“Kids often figure out their identity by identifying with their home culture. So if you don’t have one, it can be very hard,” Weber says. “If [third-culture kids] go back to their home country, or the place where their parents are from, they can say this is where they’re from, but they might not necessarily feel it. Kids in their teenage years already have a hard time figuring themselves out, but if they have nothing to hold on to, it makes it even harder.”


Anonymous's picture

Great Tips

Thanks for some wonderful and practical tips about connecting TCKs to wherever they consider home. They're very helpful!

Anonymous's picture

Great thoughts

I really appreciate some of the practical tips you offer here for parents/teachers of TCKs, in helping these awesome kids formulate a personal identity that is true to who they are without constantly shifting. I think that just knowing the label "TCK" can help these kids, but I'm challenged by the thoughts about helping kids to build and strengthen connection with wherever "home" is from. I write for a blog that's aimed at TCK workers ( so this is something I think about a lot.

I am a youth worker in Beijing, and often my job is building community in a diverse group. It's so exciting, though, when there's an occasional Australian kid I can share some "in jokes" with - to help them connect them that faraway "home" we share.


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