Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK):

adult who grew up as a TCK. Barack O’Bama is an ATCK.


I found below definition from Jerome H. Hanley (clinical child psychologist) in this article. So beautifully said. I’ve nothing more to add.

“Biculturality is the ability of people in a minority culture to understand and work within the dominant culture in order to improve the economic and/or physical well-being when they interact with that culture. At the same time, these people are able to retain the knowledge and behaviors of their own indigenous culture, thereby ensuring inclusion and physical, emotional, and spiritual survival within that culture.”


is the ability to use two different languages or dialects in different domains and situations, for different purposes and with different interlocutors. This is the definition proposed by François Grosjean, PhD, professor emeritus at Neuchâtel University, Switzerland. A bilingual person is thus not meant to have the same degree of fluency and perfection in both languages as commonly supposed to.

Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK):

defines a child dealing with two or more cultures. A cross-cultural kid is not necessarily changing country, he/she can experience the contact with different cultures in his/her home country. Example: a US born and raised boy whose parents are Mexican.


is defined by the Collins dictionary as the attitudes, feelings, values, and behaviour that characterize and inform society as a whole or any social group within it. Anthropologist Gary Weaver developed the iceberg model to explain that culture contains visible elements (above the water line) and invisible elements (below the water line) being far more important. Some examples of visible elements are cooking, clothes, language. Invisible elements include values, myths, beliefs, thought patterns.

Culture shock:

is the state of mind you experience when moving to another country. The Oberg’s model, still very popular today, encompasses 4 stages: honeymoon, crisis, recovery and adjustment. An expatriate experiences at least one of those stages. For more information, you can read this article “Culture Shock: What Gérard Depardieu Can Teach Expats”.


is a person who left his/her native country to live elsewhere (Merriam-Webster dictionary definition). The word comes from the latin ex meaning “out of” and patria, “country, fatherland”. UN statistics report more than 200 million expatriates in 2010 although those figures are difficult to check.

Expatriate disconnection:

is this suffocating feeling of not belonging to your local community after a significant period of time (even after several years!). You’re not succeeding to establish meaningful relationships with the local people. There may be several factors responsible for this lack of connection: a host culture which is quite closed, the inability to speak the local language, your own attitude if you’re grieving to name a few. Feeling disconnected makes you vulnerable: it’s one of the risk factor affecting your resilience!

Expatriate grief:

is a problem met by all expatriates in general at various levels of intensity. It’s important to understand it and to deal with it. To assess whether you’re suffering from expatriate grief or to know more about supporting someone who’s grieving, take our 7 part-course on how to deal with expatriate grief. It’s free here.

Global Nomad:

other name designating a TCK. If I may say, I’m not quite happy with the terminology. After understanding the meaning of TCK, I tend to prefer this one because it’s more accurate but it’s not self-explanatory either which makes it difficult for a novice to relate to.

Home country:

country of origin. It can be your passport country or the country where you were born. Most of the time, passport country and place of birth are the same but not always. In the case of my children, both countries are different. They were born in Belgium and spent a significant time there (ranging from 9 to 15 years) while they’re holding a French passport. They consider their home country as being Belgium.

Host country:

country where you’ve moved on a temporary basis.


Is the #1 problem met by Third Culture Kids. Identity is a very important topic for everybody but for TCK, it’s even more complex, having to deal with several cultures, languages and schooling systems. I compare building your identity with building your on house. Being born and bred in a single culture, you’ll have to deal with one set of raw materials to build your house. But if you’re travelling and living abroad during your childhood, you’ll have several sets of raw materials at your disposal. This house model underlines both sides of the medal: on one hand, more complexity to deal with, on the other side, a much richer and more original house to build. For more in-depth information related to this subject, you can read this article (part 1) and this article (part 2).


is a person who comes to a country in order to settle there according to the Collins English dictionary.


is a cute made-up word to designate a person who followed the love of his/her life overseas. It’s an expatriate also commonly refered as EXpat who chose the expatriation to follow his/her heart. Hence the word LOVEpat.


is a person who moves regularly in order to find work or to escape from danger in her previous country.


is the ability to move. One of the features met by numerous TCK’s is their high mobility, meaning that they frequently changed country during their childhood.


is the ability to speak two or more languages. Multilingual living is an excellent site providing resources and useful tips to learn and maintain your proficiency in several languages.

Orphan Spouse:

You’re married or in a relationship but your job(s) make(s) you live separate lives. For days, weeks or months in a row, you’re on your own: either with the kids (generally the woman’s case) or all alone, far away (generally the man’s situation). Dual careers, short-term international work assignments Fly-In Fly-Out rosters are three factors contributing to this modern invisible epidemic. Moreover, mobility studies show that the trend is accelerating. The separation for several days/weeks/months in a row year in year out, is not harmless. You suffer from ambiguous loss. For more information, read here. Orphan spouse is an expression coined by my friend, Pamela Leach, Ph.D., Respectful Relationships Project Officer at the Migrant Resource Centre, Hobart (Australia).


designates the action of moving back to your original country. While most people assume this will be an easy step, it is not. Do you know why? Watch the video “7 Tragic Mistakes Families Make When Moving Abroad”.


is the continous strive to move in search of a place to settle down. This need for change can be fostered by 2 things:

* a habit anchored in the TCK. Due to their high mobility as a child, TCK’s are used to change house, school, country and even language frequently. Some of them develop a defense mechanism to cope in front of unpleasant situations (an annoying teacher, unfriendly schoolmates, an uncomfortable house): the present is only temporary. Those issues will disappear in the next move. Growing up and becoming adults later on, they don’t need to follow their parents anymore and are able to choose a place where they can potentially live permanently. But when difficulties arise (which is always bound to happen), their only solution is to escape and to look for the next move.

* the hope for a home. Living abroad, some people tend to justify their difficulties by the fact that they’re not in their country of origin. When they finally come back home, they realize that they don’t fit either, urging a perpetual need to move in search of the ideal place.


is the ability for an individual to bounce back in front of adversity. Resilience has been studied extensively in the last 50 years pioneered by the work of Norman Garmezy. Diane Coutu wrote an article in the book from Harvard Business Review on Building Personal and Organizational Resilience, underlining 3 essential characteristics of a resilient person: the capacity to accept and face down reality, the ability to find meaning in the midst of hardship, the skill to solve problems with creative solutions.

Reverse Culture Shock:

defines the state of mind you encounter when coming back to your home country. After watching the video “7 Tragic Mistakes Families Make When Moving Abroad”, you’ll know why reverse culture shock or re-entry shock is more painful than originally leaving your home country.


is the fact of having no roots. Rootless is said of a person having no ties with a particular place or community according to the Collins English dictionary. “Where is home?” and “Where are you from?” are the most difficult questions to answer for a TCK.  Having lived in so many different places, they’re attached to all of them and none of them at the same time. Imagine a US child having lived in Singapore, Paris, Sydney and Mexico. He’s got the US citizenship but has never lived in his passport country. He has got friends everywhere but does not truly belong to one single place.

Third Culture Kid (TCK):

defines a child who is spending a significant amount of time outside of his/her parents passport country/countries. Why third culture? The term was first coined by Ruth Useem in the 50’s when studying an expatriate community of Americans from different backgrounds (missionary, business and military) living in India. She noticed that the culture developed by those families was neither identical to the home country nor similar to the host country. They had developed a third culture regardless of their professional occupations. Later on, Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken added in their reference book “Third Culture Kids: growing up among worlds” the concept of high mobility. Every Third Culture Kid has a different story whether he/she is French but lived in Belgium and Australia, or was born in the UK and lived in Nigeria and Sigapore for example. But it’s the commonalities of what those individuals experienced which makes the TCK’s feel connected together.

Third Culture Parent (TCP):

is a parent raising their kid(s) in a country other than his/her country of origin. A third culture parent will have to face specific challenges like how to support their kid(s) to learn foreign languages, to cope with different schooling systems, to build their own identity, to deal with different cultures.

Third Culture Adult (TCA):

is an adult who is not living in his/her home country.

Trailing Spouse:

is the word used to designate the partner following his/her spouse on assignment abroad. Far less poetic than lovepat, and with a strong connotation of little value added, which in my view, is totally inadequate. The “trailing spouse” is the anchor in a successful relocation process. It’s the central element around which everything falls into place. While the working employee goes to work, the trailing spouse is in charge of all the “non-corporate” aspects of life for ALL family members: the children of course but the working partner and herself as well.

Unresolved grief:

occurs when expatriate grief has not been dealt with properly. This is the #2 problem met by TCK’s according to the book “TCK: growing amongst worlds” from Ruth van Reken and Dave Pollock.





  1. […] A small aside: a trailing spouse is the spouse that follows their partner overseas on a work/study assignment, often leaving behind […]