Third Culture Kid~ Where Are You From?

When I was younger, there was a four-word phrase that sent panic to my mind… “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” Hmmmmmm… How to answer that loaded question? Most people can answer with a one-word response. My response is a paragraph:

Well, I am an American of European descent. I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, but I moved to San Francisco, California. I was raised in Massachusetts as a young child. I moved to Kuwait and then Bahrain with a short stint in Atlanta, Georgia that I would like to forget! I graduated from an international school in Bahrain. My legal address was in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, but I never really lived there. I went to university in Pennsylvania, but I left after two and a half years. I became a flight attendant where I was “based” in London, but I resided in Bahrain. Then I settled in Ocean City, New Jersey. (This was all before I was 25 years old) I got married and then raised my young children in Ocean City, New Jersey. When my children were 8 and 9 years old we moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I have been for 8 years. We return each summer to the USA and go to PA, NJ, and NY. Our legal address is now NJ, but we no longer own property in NJ. My family and my husband’s family are mostly living in that tri-state area. Hmmmmmm… You guess!?! Where am I from?

Now the questions begin to fly… Am I crazy? Do I have attachment issues? Am I an orphan? Do I exaggerate? Was I a military brat? Am I in the military?NO! I was a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who moved for my father’s work and now for my work. According to American sociologist David C. Pollock, “A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

TCKs usually answer the “Where are you from?” question with vagueness like, “Home is where the heart is.”  or “Everywhere, but nowhere.” Many of us cannot easily answer the question. I am living abroad again in Malaysia and for the first time in a long time, I feel truly HOME even though I am not Malaysian. For us Third Culture Kids and adults, “home” is not a place. It is a concept. Home to me is where I feel understood, accepted and comfortable with my life choices. Now that I am an adult and I can appreciate all the advantages of being a TCK, the question does not frighten me any more. I embrace it and look forward to hearing other traveler’s answers.

Are you a TCK? How do you answer the question, Where are you from?

My TCK World Map:

These are the flags of the countries that have influenced who I am.



  1. scintillatebrightly said,

    May 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I’m not a TCK but the from an immigrant family. My identity has changed at least four times. I find the best identity I really have is with the expat community in any given place. I’m not really American, I’m not really Polish, and I’m definitely not Taiwanese. What I AM is an expat. When is this gonna be an official category?

  2. globalanni said,

    May 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    I believe that term would be “Global Nomad.” The phrase is often interchanged with TCK. Other expressions I have seen are trans-culture and third culture adult. You have been influenced by USA, Polish and Taiwanese cultures. Because of these influences, you are not fully part of your passport culture and it is often more difficult to identify with people who are only immersed in their passport culture. So you don’t relate to Americans who have lived in only America in the same way that you can relate to other global nomads no matter where they are from. You have developed a “third culture” which is reflected in most expats. Most expats, global nomads, TCKs,… have developed their OWN culture~ one which is neither your home culture nor your host culture. The new culture merges the home and host cultures to make this “third culture” which we all relate to regardless of what our first cultures are. I guess that is why I call myself “Global Anni.” 🙂

  3. globalanni said,

    May 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    PS. Where did your blog go??! The link says, “File not found.”

  4. Expat Alien said,

    May 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    My answer always depends on who I am talking to. If it is somebody who might be interested or understand, I will tell them the truth, if it is a casual meeting, I will make something up, but for the most part, I am vague, “different places…..” Always nice to meet fellow travelers!

  5. globalanni said,

    May 15, 2012 at 12:15 am

    So true! We are very capable chameleons! We adapt very quickly to new and changing situations.

  6. May 16, 2012 at 1:18 am

    As a tck from a military background, I really appreciate your story – and relate! Very nice to meet you via the blogosphere:)

    • globalanni said,

      May 17, 2012 at 12:08 am

      Thank you. I enjoyed reading your posts. Nice to connect with you.

  7. tinafuss said,

    May 16, 2012 at 9:46 am

    I say my home is wherever my toothbrush is! 🙂 I’ve mostly given up labeling myself, but I usually tell people my family is Greek, but I’m American and my parents live in Atlanta. See, even the short version is long. Sigh…

    So glad to meet you!

    • globalanni said,

      May 17, 2012 at 12:21 am

      Well, that is a very original answer! I love it. Wonderful to connect with you. I enjoyed reading your blog! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. May 16, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I am a TCK. I pretty much wrote the exact same post

    It’s nice to know I’m not alone! That question always sent me into a panic. I was never sure how to answer it. Really love your blog 🙂

    • globalanni said,

      May 17, 2012 at 12:09 am

      I read many of your posts and really enjoyed them. I will have to check out that one. Thanks. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

  9. May 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Hello, thank you for following my blog -reciprocated! I’m fascinated by what I read here. In my first 21 years I lived in 21 different places but all in this country – it’s a long story. I do love travelling though, India and Nepal are next on our plan.

    I shall enjoy following your posts.

    • globalanni said,

      May 17, 2012 at 12:11 am

      I love the concept of your blog! Thanks for reciprocating! My big to do travel list is Nepal and Peru! Thanks for stopping by!

  10. May 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    This country being the UK! 🙂

  11. May 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Hi, and thank you for sharing your experience with culture shock on my blog, I appreciated hearing your perspective.
    As far as where I’m from, I have learned to just say Los Angeles. It’s where I was born, and where I returned to after spending my childhood in the Philippines. But we moved to Oregon, then to Germany, then back to Oregon (but a different city) briefly, and now we are in England. So, Los Angeles is just SO much easier!

    • globalanni said,

      May 17, 2012 at 12:14 am

      I do find that it is easiest to say the USA or New Jersey. But if I am with another global nomad, I can express myself better. I suppose that is why global nomads are all connected through our third culture of global culture. Loved your blog and I am looking forward to reading more!

  12. Megan said,

    May 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Annie! I’m also a TCK that grew up very similar to you. And I also lived in Bahrain and went to Bahrain International School!!! My parents were teachers there (still are teachers for the DoDDS system). When people ask me this question, I usually go into a long spheel about the fact that I grew up overseas and that kind of takes precedence over the inital question because either the people start to ask additional questions, or you get an “oh”….and nothing else.

    I’ve been back in the US now for 10 years this summer. I’m just now starting to wade through all the junk I’ve been dealing with. How long did it take you and did you find relief when you moved abroad again?

  13. globalanni said,

    May 18, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I graduated from The Bahrain School! My sister graduated from The American School of Kuwait. My brother went to Swiss boarding school. I married and started to raise a family in a small town/island in NJ. We lived there for 10 years and although I loved it there and I still love it, I was so restless! I still go back there every summer and keep in touch with lots of friends from there. When we had the opportunity to move, my husband agreed to try living overseas. He thinks like me now. We can’t imagine moving back to the USA. You know what it is like to be a part of a culture that nobody understands except other TCKs. Luckily for me, my family travels and understands my need to live this life. We will see what happens in the future when our 2 children go back to the US for college!

    Nice to connect with you. I so love the “oh….” and nothing else response!!!
    The relief was instantaneous as soon as I went back into my “third culture”.

  14. May 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I like your TCK world map! I’m glad there are an increasing number of blogs about TCKs etc. Nice to find your blog. I’m a TCK too, born and raised in Africa, but with a touch of Dutch (I mean a Dutch passport). Now as an adult I want to use by international, multicultural background to my advantage. I enjoy being surrounded by people speaking different languages, each with their own story. Just like us.

    • globalanni said,

      May 20, 2012 at 8:08 pm

      Amazing how TCKs are drawn to each other. I can really understand how our culture is a real culture. We thrive by being surrounded by other cultures, languages, points of view. I LOVE your blog. You have a fabulous photos and posts. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. May 30, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I specifically chose to get away from my parents’ culture, and my grandparents, and my siblings, and my aunts and uncles, and, and, and….. I’m much the happier.

  16. Susie said,

    June 6, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Anni, that’s a great idea, to do a personal map of what cultures/countries have influenced you. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
    Take care,

    • globalanni said,

      June 6, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      Thanks. Once I drew this, I could picture how different I was from someone who only had the American flag to represent what influences them. I have much more in common with people with maps with more than one flag. THAT is our third culture.

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