Coffee with MG: Diversity in a Third Culture Life

15 December 2023 | Coffee with MG, Community in Action

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Dear readers,


What is it like living in a country which is distinctly different from that of your parents?

How diverse is this kind of living?

In theoretical parlance and according to Wikipedia, the individuals who live through this diversity are called third culture kids (TCK) or third culture individuals (TCI). They live in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years.

They are typically exposed to a greater volume and variety of cultural influences than those who grow up in one cultural setting. The first culture of such individuals refers to the culture of the country from which their parents originated, the second culture refers to the culture in which the family currently resides, and the third culture refers to the distinct culture these individuals develop, which is generally a fusion of these cultures, –  and at times third culture individuals share no connection to the first two cultures.

Now these are theories.

I wanted to explore this deeply lived diversity with someone who is straddling continents and is a third culture individual. So, I reached out to

Kristina Koehler-Coluccia, Head of Business Advisory, Woodburn Accountants & Advisors

Kristina Koehler-Coluccia, a Hong Kong-born European who has over two decades of experience in helping foreign investors enter the China and Hong Kong markets.

I was curious about the “Koehler” in her name as well as the “Coluccia”.

“Koehler is from my father. He is German. Coluccia is from my husband… he is Italian. My mother is French,” she said.

Ooh… more countries in the medley! Now, we have a real multi-culti world here!

Then I was curious about her experience of growing up in Hong Kong, a far cry from the European roots of her parents.

“But Hong Kong is home for me,” she immediately said. “It does not matter what colour my skin is. I did not feel different while growing up”.

Her reply trashed the line from Wikipedia which said: “Third culture individuals are particularly adept at building relationships with other cultures while not possessing a cultural identity of their own”.

“How come?” I wondered aloud.

Kristina seemed different. She seemed to identify very clearly with the culture in Hong Kong, a connection so deep that her go-to food during sickness is still rice… a staple of that region… not a French or a German dish.

“I went to an international school. Many children were like me… from different backgrounds… blends of the East and West,” she answered.

That was a good explanation. International schools are like islands, many times a world apart from the world outside the physical grounds. For Kristina, she did not feel uncomfortable because she did not stand out as different in that island.

I had also read that third culture individuals tend to socialize with more of their ilk and this was verified by Kristina whose best friends are also third culture individuals.

“I didn´t know any other life to compare with,” she stated. “So, that was normal and that was home. And I loved it!”

Festivals, traditions, and food are some of the ways that people all across the world associate deeply their culture with. For Kristina, it was Christmas when their whole family got together and they got a fire going even though it was warm at that time in Hong Kong…to get the “Christmassy feel,” she said.

“Hmm… that sounds different from what I read,” I thought mulling over the subject of third culture kids. The term was coined by John and Ruth Hill Useem in the 1950s largely for children of American citizens when they moved frequently to different countries.

American sociologists David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken published The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds in 1999. Van Reken says TCKs are more likely to speak more than one language, have a broader world view and be more culturally aware. But she warns life as a TCK can create a sense of rootlessness and restlessness, where home is “everywhere and nowhere”.

In Kristina´s case, she was definitely not rootless or restless or confused about her identity, belonging and sense of home…perhaps because she was born and raised in Hong Kong and moved to multiple places later in life.

With her marriage to an Italian national, her culture spread has widened and her moving to multiple countries, including in the Middle East and now Luxemburg, shows more of an adventurous mindset than rootlessness.

Her clear longing for Hong Kong is evident in her pining for her eastern “roots” since she could not travel there during the pandemic.

She is also aghast at people´s reactions when they come to know that her parents have retired in Hong Kong and are happy living there.

“They have a better and more affordable support system there,” she charges back adding a question for the naysayers “Have you been to Hong Kong? Have you lived there? If not, don´t judge!”

Her patriotism to the adopted country of her parents is very clear. What remains to be seen will be the sense of belonging of her two young children who have already moved through several countries and are now exploring their identities.

“What about your value system?” I persisted, keeping in mind the general stoicism about a deep sense of independence in individuals in the West and interdependence in the East.

It seems that Kristina is very much a “we” person with family at the core of her value system and priorities.

I find families and how they handle diversity a perfect table for learning inclusion for future generations. What do you think?

An interesting mix, wouldn´t you say?

Are you a third culture individual? Do write in and share your experiences. We, at Curiously Intercultural are ever so curious!

Lots of love from cold Hamburg…Brr!

Meenu Gupta

CEO Vedas Shaakha

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