Understanding Perspectives of Identity and Belonging as a U.s. College Student Third Culture Kid

Open Access
Yoshimura, Alyssa
Area of Honors:
Human Development and Family Studies
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Linda L Caldwell, Thesis Supervisor
  • Kathryn Bancroft Hynes, Honors Advisor
  • Identity
  • Belonging
  • Expatriate
  • International School
  • Third Culture Kid
  • Global Nomad
  • Cross Cultural Kid
  • Globalization
This research explored the unique identity and belonging of third culture kids (TCKs) by collecting personal narratives of five college American TCKs and discerning shared features and characteristics that comprise their identity and belonging. Participants were five American citizens, currently seniors attending a college in the United States, who are TCKs. These individuals spent a significant portion of their developmental years outside of their parent’s culture. Hour long interviews, two in person and three using video conference call on Skype, were conducted individually to understand their experiences of being a TCK. Questions encompassed their experience before being uprooted overseas, while abroad, since returning back to their original culture, the United States, and finally what their desires and plans are for the future. These interviews were transcribed and formulated into stories, from which themes based on identity, belonging, and factors that may have influenced them, were determined and organized into timelines for each participant. The timelines, depicting identity and belonging across time, were then compared to one another, isolating common themes and similarities in their experiences. The findings indicated that the upbringing that accompanies the lifestyle of a TCK, a constantly changing and mobile environment, encourages an identity that is amalgamated and fluid across time. TCKs become highly adaptable and malleable individuals and are chameleon like in nature. They also develop multiple identities alongside their numerous cultural exposures, one of which is a distinct TCK identity that includes the previously mentioned characteristics. TCKs experience feelings of belonging through relationships as opposed to geographic location or through national consciousness, which is more commonplace. Their definition of home is less concrete than others and home can encompass a number of different answers, as well as meanings. The participants did not feel like they were homeless due to their upbringing and experience, as past research has indicated; rather they felt they had a number of homes and were equipped to establish a home anywhere. The TCK population is evolving tremendously fast, accompanying the changes and developments that occur in our world. An implication is that TCKs have come to function as a distinct population, separate from other migratory groups, and possess an individual culture. This however, has yet to be recognized by society, nor among TCKs themselves. I advocate that a greater understanding of this population within the TCK community, as well as throughout other groups, will foster and nurture current and future TCKs. They will find solace in the establishment of TCKs as a recognized population and community, and their inclusion into the bureaucracy of societal groups will alleviate their struggle, specifically pertaining to identity and belonging. Frequent and further research on TCKs is needed in order to better understand the group and phenomenon, and how best to support it.