In our previous blog in this series, we explored the experience of third culture kids or TCKs, particularly children of missionaries. From the interviews done among missionary kids, the main emerging themes were:
- Cultural Confusion
- Transitions and Adjustments
- Identity and Belonging
The identity crisis that TCKS may have with regard to their sense of self can impact their self-esteem. High mobility and cross-cultural development can create a sense of rootlessness in these children. This makes it challenging for them to develop their identity, particularly in adolescence (Pollock, Van Reken, & Gould, 2001). When they cannot identify with a particular culture, they may experience insecurities or face certain setbacks in their development. This difficulty in identity formation can lead to problems of self-esteem and self-worth (Collier & Petty, 2006).
Additionally, TCKs can often find themselves being ‘different’ due to their multicultural background. This could set them apart from the norm and lead to a sense of discomfort and low self-esteem.
“When I moved from the mission field to an international boarding school, I was surrounded by some of the richest kids in the country. I faced challenges with my self-esteem because I had misplaced values. In middle school, I wanted to appear ‘cool’ like the rich kids. I faced self-esteem issues because I had placed my value in speaking as they did, wearing the same clothes they did and having the same connections“- Laura, 21 yrs
Laura’s journey resonates closely with my own, aligning with numerous sentiments expressed during the interview process. The ongoing reassessment of personal values, coupled with frequent comparisons to peers from diverse backgrounds, often gives rise to a pervasive sense of discontent. It requires a considerable amount of time to reconcile with the realization that one’s unique experiences have imparted valuable life lessons, intricately woven into the tapestry of being a Third Culture Kid (TCK)
Navigating self-esteem challenges
A question posed to the adults TCKs in the interviews was ‘What would you tell your younger third culture self?”. Some of the responses are helpful in understanding how these individuals coped with self-esteem challenges:
- Your greatest insecurities will not stem from an insufficiency in material or social resources, but in your own self-limiting beliefs. So reflect on your weaknesses and insecurities, take responsibility for any mistakes and work on them.
- This experience will give you a richness in terms of life experience. The things that make you different and ‘weird’ to other people can also be used for good. There are many people like you- make friends with those who appreciate your uniqueness (promoting self acceptance)
Having a flexible self-concept can prove to be a healthy and adaptive trait as it has been shaped by a diverse array of experiences and opportunities that afford a nuanced perspective on the world. Embrace it!
You can find Part 1 of this series and other blogs here.
Collier, A. M., & Petty, K. (2006). Characteristics and Repatriation Issues of Third Culture Kids: A Review of the Literature. Journal of College Orientation, Transition, and Retention, 14(1). Link here.
Pollock, D., & Van Reken, R. (2001). Third culture kids: The experience of growing up among worlds. London: Nicholas Brealey.
Pollock, D., Van Reken, R., & Gould, J. (2001). Always saying goodbye. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 6, 75-81