identity puzzle

Third Culture Kids: Learning to experience life with different lenses

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At ISP, our students are coming from over 60 different nationalities. Many of them share a common feature that strengthens their learning experience and will shape them for life: They are considered Third Culture Kids. Dr Jimena Zalba, Elementary School Associate Principal, tells us what it means to be a Third Culture Kid and how at ISP we help our students ‘know’ themselves and their identities. An example is the Grade 3 Unit of Inquiry, “What’s My Story?” where students inquire into their own identities and that of others classmates and friends.

What does it mean to be a Third Culture Kid?

A TCK is an “ individual of any age or nationality who has spent a significant part of their developmental years living in one or more countries outside their passport country because of a parent’s occupation…While developing some sense of belonging to both their host culture (s) and passport culture (s), they do not have a sense of total ownership in any. Elements from each culture and from the experience of international experience are blended, creating a commonality with others of similar experience.” (Hayden, 2012)

What are the benefits of being a Third Culture Kid?

  • TCKs build relationships with and to all of the cultures they experienced.
  • They are resilient, flexible, risk-takers and open-minded.
  • “TCKs have an expanded view of the world, adaptability, cross-cultural skills, social skills, observational skills and linguistics skills” (Hayden, 2012).

How does ISP teach Third Culture Kids to know themselves better?

Understanding who they are can be very challenging for the TCKs and that is why ISP focuses on helping them to know themselves better and build their identity puzzle, having a clearer idea of who they are.

Third Culture Kids

 “What’s My Story?”

TCK learn about their identity puzzle in a number of ways. One sample was the first unit of Grade 3 students, during the first months of the school year. TCKs learned to inquire into their own identities and that of other classmates and friends.  

The questions that guided this unit of inquiry were:

  1. What pieces of my life shape who I am?
  2. How do these pieces work together to form my identity?
  3. How does my evolving understanding (who I am) help me be a “good neighbour” and team member?

This unit was developed in a way that students could explore how their identities are made up of their memories, strengths, wonders, likes, and the groups they belong to. Students spent two weeks researching, thinking, and reflecting on some of the pieces of their “identity puzzle”.

Choosing one feature about their identity to present to their classmates was the last task to culminate the unit. This took place at a Grade 3 Identity Salon. During these presentations students shared how drawing, sports, pets, natures, and friendships were all part of who they are. 

What did TCKs learn from this unit?

This unit helped them not just to know themselves better but also to know each other better and have a better connection with their classmates.

Hayden, M. (2012). Third culture kids: The global nomads of transnational spaces of learning. In R. Brooks, A. Fuller, & J. Waters (Eds.), Changing spaces of education: New perspectives on the nature of learning (pp. 59-78). London: Routledge.