April 2024
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Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds – Review

When we went to Sagion (and many other places for some of us) as children with our parents we became what has been coined as Third Culture Kids. As Saigon Kids we are part of a group known as the ‘third culture’ of global society.

What defines a TCK (Third Culture Kid) or ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid)? A person who spends, or has spent, a significant part of his or her development years outside their parents’ home culture (sometimes referred to as Passport Country).

The term third culture was coined in the 1950s by Drs John and Ruth Useem, when they made a study of Americans who lived in India as foreign service officers, missionaries, technical aid workers, and business representatives. It was realised that there were expatriates from other countries who were undergoing similar experiences even though from different origins, styles and social stratification systems. There was a shared common lifestyle that was different from either their own or their host culture.

For some of us Saigon Kids our adventures into the third culture was brief, just going to Saigon for a few years. For others, such as myself, it was a way of life throughout my youth … constantly moving from place to place, both within the USA and to and from other countries. Even during the periods when we were on what the State Department called “Home Leave” … a time, generally between Posts when we could go ‘home’ to visit with family and friends, etc. Strange as it may seem … we had ‘no home’ to go home too. So we would spend our ‘home leave’ time travelling around visiting family and friends in the town we were born in, but had long since left behind, and visiting friends in other places around the country and world or vacationing someplace we enjoyed. Then off to a new Post and culture.

I recall I always felt ‘rootless’. I never lived in a “HOME” … I lived in ‘houses’ all over the world. My parents did their best to make them … homey. But, they were always … temporary. As were the schools I attended, the friends I made, the activities I got involved in … all of life growing up was … temporary. I was always the … new kid on the block. Always having just left someplace and just arrived someplace, where I already knew I’d be leaving again in the near future … I just didn’t know where we’d be going to next yet.

I always felt different … not special, but different. I never quite fit in anyplace. I was for the most part, particularly in the USA, never totally accepted among my peers … as I was ‘different’, I was from many and different places, I wasn’t a ‘home town’ kid. While outside of the USA, I fit in much better because all us kids in the American community (such as Saigon) were all in the same boat … as strangers in a strange land. A bond we all shared and could relate too easily.

Enrolling in a new school was always interesting. It usually went something like this: The teachers would introduce me to the class saying, “Class today we have a new student, he is here from (wherever I just arrived from) and will be visiting with us …. “. Most of the time I felt like a foreign exchange student when attending school in the USA. My final year of high school I attended a boarding school. All the students were from someplace else, so it was more like attending school overseas. But, then came the school holidays … Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. … the other students went “HOME” for the holidays. I couldn’t. There was no home to go home too with my parents someplace half way around the world in southeast Asia … someplace. Peggy Goldwater was one of my classmates at the school. She and her family invited me to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with them. The school shut down for Christmas/New Year vacation … all students had to go someplace … I spent the holidays with an aunt and uncle I’d not seen since I was 8 years old, half way across the country, and met their son (my cousin) for the first time in my life. Then came the end of the school year and graduation. Everyone was going ‘home’ after graduation. For me … it was where to now?! … there was no home for me to go too. My parents were at a Post in a ‘war zone’ … no dependants allowed. So … rootless … restless … and no home to go too … me and my best friend from school bought a VW and toured the country all summer. The only states we didn’t visit that summer were Alaska and Hawaii.

Any of this sound familiar? Have you ever wondered how growing up as a Third Culture Kid shaped and molded your life during your development years … and, how it carried over into your adult life … even to today, possibly? How it developed your character and made you who you are today? What negative and positive effects being a TCK had on your life? Do you have feelings that there is a ‘missing link’ … yet unexplained … of the complex emotions embedded in you growing up as a Third Culture Kid you experience as an adult?

Perhaps you’ll find this book as interesting as I did at answering some off the questions lurking in the back pages of my mind for years. Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds addresses the challenges and rewards of a multicultural childhood; the joy of discovery and heartbreaking loss, its effect on maturing and personal identity, and the difficulty in transitioning home.

To me it was like reading my own psychological profile, complete with explanations of every weird quirk and odd personality trait, good or bad, that I’ve ever displayed.

I had several “Aha” moments while reading this book.

Constantly being dislocated, constantly switching between educational systems and meeting all kinds of people impacts one more than one would care to imagine! A lot of it is definitely positive; there are some negative consequences, too.

Third Culture Kids (Saigon Kids) bear the unintended consequences of decisions made by our parents, by the organizations they worked for, and by a host of a lot of factors we simply cannot control … but which impact us in unpredictable ways.

I strongly recommend all Saigon Kids read this book.

Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds

I bought it at Amazon a few weeks ago. I just did a quick search. Amazon has it for as little as $8.27. (Geez, I paid $19.95 + shipping for it.)

If you decide to read it, please come back here and share your thoughts after you’ve read it.

Enjoy the read … I sure did!! 🙂


“Kind Words Go A Long Way”

2 comments to Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds – Review

  • Burt Parker

    Wow! Bob, feeling ‘different’, not special. You hit the nail square on the head on that thought…

    I attended four different high schools: Canton Massachesetts, Joplin Missouri, Saigon American
    Community, and American Community High for my senior year in Naples Italy. You talk about being ‘the new kid on the block’… I understand perfectly!

    As SKs we all were privy to experiences, good and not so good, that other kids of our day could just not comprehend… around the world by age 18, rowing a sampan around Saigon’s canals and rivers, taking a month’s tramp steamer stearage class voyage (as in a bunk around #1 cargo hole) with Indians, Portugese, Chinese, Vietnamese, an Australian, a Brit, and other world travelers on the cheap) from Saigon to Marseille (via Singapore, Ceylon, Bombay, French Djboute, Cairo and the pyramids) where Dad’s brother (a Coast Guard pilot) picked me up and flew me to his home in Naples for my senior year…

    So much of what we all have experienced is just totally beyond comprehension by our contempories, most of which never left their home town or their state or the States…

    I will definitely procure that book…


    Best Regards,


  • Admin

    Burt … has the thought ever crossed your mind that the ‘tramp steamer’ you travelled on could very possibly have been transporting the Binh Xuyen’s opium from Saigon to the Corsican mafia in Marseille? (Home base of what became known as the “French Connection”.)

    Also, did you know that the unchallenged leader of Saigon’s Corsican underworld was the eminently respectable Mathieu Franchini. Owner of the exclusive Continental Palace Hotel. Franchini made a fortune playing the piaster gold circuit between Saigon and Marseille. He became the Binh Xuyen’s investment counselor and managed a good deal of their opium and gambling profits. And according to reliable Vietnamese sources, it was Franchini who controlled most of Saigon’s opium exports to Marseille. And, all of this was done under agreements with the 2eme Bureau (French CIA) and American CIA.

    Hmmm … did ya ever wonder what was in cargo hole #1 … next to your bunk???!!! … lol

    And, people wonder why we seem so ‘different’ … 🙂


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