What It’s Like Being a Third Culture Kid

Have you ever felt out of place because of your upbringing? Do you sometimes feel like you can’t categorise yourself to just one culture or lifestyle? Do you speak multiple languages?

Chances are, you’re a third-culture kid. A third-culture kid is someone who implements various cultures as their own. This is often found in people who lived in different countries over the years, especially as a child. They can’t associate themselves with just one culture, because of their unique lifestyle. They might speak a different language to their parents than to their peers or they just think differently due to their surroundings. 

There are loads of people who are third culture kids, and if you’re one of them you can easily relate to the following 5 points. Being a third culture kid is not a bad thing – even if it sometimes puts you in uncomfortable situations. 

1. You sometimes feel different to everyone else around you

You’ve lived a different lifestyle to most of your friends so you sometimes feel like you can’t always relate to them. It’s like you can understand their lifestyle but they can’t always fully understand yours. Because you’re a third culture kid, you’ve integrated all the different cultures into one. This makes you different from the people around you.

I’ve met people who only integrated themselves into their own culture, so when they met me they were quite surprised and didn’t know how to converse with me. It just felt like we had so little in common that the conversation just didn’t flow.

Honestly, I think most third-culture kids have felt this way at one point in their life. You’re not alone if you’ve experienced this. And it’s not a bad thing. You’ve experienced all these different lifestyles and cultures that you can’t identify with just one. It makes you unique to everyone else and should be something to be proud of. Of course, not everyone can relate and positively react to your way of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

No one can get along with everyone. It’s just not possible. And that is no different for someone who can’t identify with just one culture. You won’t relate with every single person, but being a third-culture kid still makes you stand out. It gives you a story to tell, whether it’s living in multiple countries or it’s the various languages you speak. 

2. Speaking a different language at home 

Chances are, if you’re a third-culture kid, you speak a different language to your parents than you do with your friends. Or, you speak a different language with your family and friends than what is spoken in the country you live in. 

Many third-culture kids are exposed to multiple languages. It’s normal. As an expat student/family, you live in a country that isn’t your home country for the sake of school or work. The language you speak at home is likely to be different from the language you speak at school. 

This may make you seem different from other people, but it’s not a bad thing. It shows you can be exposed to multiple languages and still get on fine. Not everyone can do that. A majority of the population can only speak one language. If you can speak more than one, it makes you stand out. It’s difficult to balance multiple languages, and it’s a skill you should be proud of, even if you have issues differentiating them sometimes.


3. You get your languages mixed up sometimes

It’s a great skill to be able to speak multiple languages. Lots of people can’t do that. But, as a third-culture kid, who constantly moves around, there is a large chance that you mix up your languages sometimes. 

I grew up speaking both English and German. I’m fluent in both languages, but I have noticed that when I stop speaking one of the languages for a while, some of the words just don’t pop into my head like they used to. I constantly mix up my languages. 

It’s normal. Sometimes it’s difficult for your brain to differentiate the languages, and it takes time to readjust. You’re not alone. So many people experience the same thing. 


life as a third culture kid


4. You’re more open-minded about various topics and ideas

Now, I’m not saying that people who aren’t third culture kids aren’t open-minded. I’ve met some that are very open-minded. Heck, some third-culture kids aren’t open-minded at all. But, I’m generalising this based on what I’ve experienced. 

I’ve noticed that lots of third-culture kids that are more open-minded about various topics and ideas. They don’t immediately rebuff an abstract concept. I think it’s because they’ve been exposed to various cultures over the years. 

Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing as me. 

Some people are just so open-minded. When you speak to them, it makes you really think about what you’re talking about. It’s not just a mindless conversation – they are actually able to get you to think from a different point of view. Maybe you’re one of those people. If that’s the case, congrats. It’s a skill that not everyone has. But it is a skill that is useful. 

Some people don’t understand this type of thinking. You may seem weird or different because not everyone can relate to you, but it’s these type of qualities that makes a person more interesting and unique to talk to. 


5. You’ve experienced cultural marginalisation or cultural separation at one point in your life. 

Cultural marginalisation refers to someone who doesn’t identify with any culture, whether it’s their host culture or the new culture they are trying to adapt to. 

Cultural separation is when someone distances themselves from their host culture in favour of the new culture. 

Both of these things are very common in third-culture kids. When you were a child, you probably tried to constantly associate yourself with your peers. 

You may also have tried to distance yourself from your complicated culture, so that you can categorise yourself like everyone else. That is very common. 

Some people just feel like they don’t fit in anywhere because they can’t identify themselves with one specific culture, which makes them experience cultural marginalisation or cultural separation at some point in their life. 

Maybe you’ve tried to degrade your host culture to try and fit in better with your peers. Or you’ve never felt like you belong to a certain category, making you confused as to what makes you so different to everyone else. 

There were definitely points in my life, especially as a child where I felt degraded and weird because I didn’t think the way others did. I ate different food at home and spoke a different language with my parents. 

It’s a big topic for a child to understand. At a young age, most children don’t understand why they are so different. They don’t understand why they can’t be categorised into a culture like everyone else.

So if you’re a third-culture kid, chances are you’ve experienced this too. You might think that you’re odd that you can’t identify to just one culture, but it’s not a bad thing. 

You’ve probably merged cultures over the years. You’ve created your own individual culture that encompasses all the lifestyles you’ve encountered. It’s not a bad thing. You don’t need to identify with just one culture. It would be hard to completely erase a culture just so that you can identify with one. Embrace it. Embrace your mixed cultures. It makes you stand out.

I know it’s hard for some people to accept that they don’t identify with one specific place but that’s okay. It takes time to build your mixed culture and it takes time to adjust to it. Not everyone understands your lifestyle, but there are always people that do. There are people in the same boat as you. Don’t try and change yourself to follow the crowd. It’s not worth it. 



as you can tell, being a third-culture kid is not always easy. You need to understand your cultures and lifestyles to be able to embrace how being different is a good thing. You may not be able to identify with just one culture, but you can relate to more than one. This makes you more approachable because you can understand others better. 

Being able to speak more than one language is an advantage for you in the long run and shouldn’t make you feel odd. And don’t feel like you can’t make mistakes. Differentiating languages is very difficult. Being unique is good – it makes you stand out. Don’t feel like you need to change yourself just because your upbringing was different from everyone else.

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