Where Is Home for a Third-Culture Kid? – NYTimes.com

kids on stairsPARIS — When golden poppies blanket the hills of Northern California, it’s the annual season to dispatch my daughter — a summertime American — for home.

Home is a complex word in our stone farmhouse in the country outside Paris, where we all possess different passports. My teenage daughter has two: one, wine-red from France; the other, navy blue, from the United States. Before she learned to crawl she had mastered flying. By kindergarten, she had learned German, in Gütersloh, in the northwest of Germany. In first grade she shifted to French at a primary school by a 12th-century chapel with souvenir crucifixes left by Joan of Arc.

I think of summer as the season for nurturing her American roots, a time when her English turns a little nasal, making her sound at least temporarily as though she is from San Francisco. She falls in the expatriate category of “third-culture kids,” or TCK, a label coined in the 1950s by the sociologist Ruth Hill Useem. These children of expatriates call many places home, pausing a little too long on the fundamental question: “Where are you from?”

Before she leaves France, I probe for weak spots. I conduct a flash quiz of basic American history overlooked in her French lycée. Schooled by a French teacher who was the granddaughter of Émile Zola, she can weigh in on Molière or Victor Hugo’s opposition to the death penalty, but she prefers to read her American classics like “The Great Gatsby” in French.

I stump her on George Washington. She gazes back at me quizzically when I ask her who he was.

“He was a president.”

“But which president?”

“I don’t know, he’s on the dollar bill.”

As I prepare to buy her plane ticket, I take some solace from reading about the experiences of grownup third-culture kids.

The filmmaker Aga Alegria, who now lives in Ibiza, Spain, is finishing a full-length documentary about global children, conducting interviews in Germany, Spain, Trinidad and Canada. A third-culture kid herself, she started her project with an eight minute film, “Les Passagers: A TCK Story,” that explored her own nomadic life roaming from Poland, to Germany, to Canada and her yearning to belong somewhere.

Ms. Alegria raised part of the money to fund her project through crowd-sourcing and plans to finish the movie this year.

She has found that by the time they are grown up, some of these TCKs are unmoored and restless, associating airports, movement and a suitcase with home. Others complain about moments of feeling lost and friendless, baffled by the quest to belong.

I take comfort from a line in her short movie: “I come from here. I come from there. In truth I come from everywhere.”

When my daughter was much younger, and making the summer shuttle to her grandparents in California, she would often ask why we didn’t live there. It was enough then to declare: The French baguettes are better and we have a choice of 300 cheeses.

Now I don’t have easy answers.

One day, while on a walk near our home in the cool shadows of the Vexin forest preserve, I ask my daughter if she ever feels torn between two places.

The answer is swift, delivered in the annoyed tone of any French or American teenager:

“Why are you even asking me that?”

Are you a third-culture kid? Or a parent of one? Tell us your experiences. How do you define home?

via Where Is Home for a Third-Culture Kid? – NYTimes.com.



  1. Home is where my kids are healthy, happy, learning. That could be in any country. 🙂

    What I find really annoying is when people “back home”, ask me, “So, when you are coming back to a normal life?” (implying that my life is abnormal).


  2. My parents are TCKs and I am one too. For myself I’ve found living and working overseas to be my comfort zone. Only to return to my passport country for summer breaks. I draw lessons from my parents experiences. Even though they are retired they continue to travel during the winter times and stay “home” for the summer. In a sense they continue the pattern we had growing up. It’s the same pattern described in this post.



  1. […] Where Is Home for a Third-Culture Kid? – NYTimes.com (theinternationaleducator.com) […]


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