Nurturing Global Citizens: A Family’s Journey Through the World of Third Culture Kids

17 April 2024 | Community in Action

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In an increasingly interconnected world, the concept of global citizenship has never been more important. My personal journey, intertwined with the upbringing of my children, Alexander and Elias, serves as a vivid illustration of nurturing global citizens. As a family, we have navigated the complex yet enriching path of Third Culture Kids (TCKs), a term popularized by David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken, and Michael V. Pollock to describe individuals who spend a significant part of their childhood outside their parents’ passport countries.

Born into a family with a rich cultural heritage—half Dutch, half Mexican—and raised across various countries, including Lebanon, La Réunion, and the Netherlands, my children have been exposed to diverse worldviews, languages, and social norms from a very young age. Alexander, for example, has developed impressive linguistic agility, as he spoke five languages simultaneously. This mastery reflects the depth of his cultural immersion and illustrates one of the benefits of a TCK journey. Elias, on the other hand, is growing up in an environment where his concept of ‘home’ is not tied to a single location. Their upbringing has provided them with extraordinary life experiences filled with rich cultural exchanges that foster a global mindset.

Alexander’s impressive linguistic agility reflects one of the benefits of a TCK journey.

As a parent, my goal has been to provide a stable foundation for the boys while celebrating their TCK identity. My dream is that they always embrace the diversity of their experiences and learn how to view the world from different perspectives. My background, which includes residences in seven countries and extensive travels for regional work roles, has heightened my sensitivity to the nuances of raising TCKs and developed a passion for exploring the dynamics of cross-cultural living.

Reflecting on my experiences abroad, I see they contrast with my children’s. While the essence of being immersed in different cultures is a common thread, the context, challenges, and opportunities encountered vary. For instance, during my childhood transition from the Netherlands to Mexico, I was bullied at school because I was perceived as ‘different’. On the other hand, my kids have experienced a smooth integration since their first school day abroad, blending effortlessly with peers of various national backgrounds. 

Among the factors that contributed to my children’s better adaptation are their multicultural family upbringing, multilingualism, and the growing diversity in schools due to globalization. Additionally, recognizing the potential challenges of transitioning to a new country and educational system, I took proactive steps to ensure their adjustment was as smooth as possible. For example, I chose to keep them within the same familiar Montessori schooling system across countries, while increasing their exposure to the local language, and we frequently visited their new school prior to joining it to enable them acclimatise to the new environment and prepare mentally for the change. 

These measures, combined with the inclusive atmosphere of their new school, enabled my children to adapt quickly. The differences between our experiences have been a source of reflection and learning, providing insights into global mobility’s evolving nature and impact on one’s sense of identity and belonging. These disparities highlight the continuous evolution of the TCK experience, which has been shaped by changing global dynamics.

As a parent, my goal has been to provide a stable foundation for the boys while celebrating their TCK identity.

Along with the numerous benefits associated with the TCK identity, it also has several challenges, such as, for example, the experience of losses due to a highly mobile lifestyle. Interestingly, David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken, and Michael V. Pollock mention the concept of vicarious grief – addressing unresolved grief by shifting the attention from one’s grief to the needs of others – and how it can shape professional choices. The decision to shift my career from the corporate world to the educational field, focusing on supporting immigrant children, is a profound response to my personal and vicarious experiences with the challenges of cross-cultural movement. It stems from my deep understanding of the emotional and psychological adjustments required in adapting to new environments. My empathy and firsthand knowledge of these challenges have been instrumental in smoothly guiding the children through these complexities.

Our family’s story is a testimony to the enriching yet complex nature of the TCK experience. It highlights the beauty of a life lived across cultures and the deep connections built across borders despite the unique challenges such a lifestyle can present. As my children grow and navigate their paths, carrying different cultures, languages, and experiences that shape their TCK identities, it is essential that I, as a parent, offer them empathy and support to assist them in their journeys. While sharing my experiences with others, I am exploring ways to help other parents learn and understand their phenomenal TCKs.

Author: Danielle Catan  

Currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, following her international living experiences and global corporate professional background, Danielle is deeply engaged with the benefits and challenges of cross-cultural experiences. With a major in educational psychology, she has developed interest and specialisation in immigrant children’s education and the ways to align educational systems and globalisation to bring positive social change.

If you are interested in the subject and would like to share your expertise and thoughts on the article and topic, you can reach out to CI editorial team at or connect with Danielle Catan via LinkedIn.

Feature image: Note Thanun




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