Third Culture Kids (English)

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her 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. (Pollock, David C.; Van Reken, Ruth E. (2009). Third culture kids: growing up among worlds, Rev. Ed.. London: Nicholas Brealey. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-85788-525-5, page 13)

Struck by above definition, I looked at the first edition of this book published 1999 trying to relate as an adult child of deaf immigrant parents. However, I did not go past the first chapter. I put it down because obviously the term TCK applies to childhoods vastly different from ours, leading an „internationally mobile lifestyle“ (14): Children of professionals living in countries far away from the parents’ home for what ever reason, be it military and foreign service personnel, missionaries or managers of global corporations. Had I read into the following chapters, I would have found many similarities between Codas and TCKs, simply by applying the Third Culture Model (14) to the Coda experience:

Pollock and van Reken, 2009, p. 14.

The Home or First Culture would be Deaf Culture, the Host or Second Culture would be Hearing Culture and the Third would be Coda Culture, the shared commonalities of those going back and forth both cultures in our significant developmental years.

Whereas the traditional definition of TCKs is still limited, the second edition from 2008 encompasses all kinds of cross-cultural childhoods in ist so-called „petri-dish“ in want of continuous study. In the years between the editions the authors obtained rich feed-back from their readers and subjects of study: On the one hand, the stories related to them exposed the complexity of traditional TCK categories. On the other, readers who identified with the experiences written about in the book sent in their own cross-cultural childhood biographies. This lead to the expansion of the TCK model to the Cross Cultural Kid Model including traditional TCKs (31) and showed the significance of her research. CCKs „were the prototype citizens of the future. In other words, a childhood lived in, among, and between various cultural worlds would one day be the norm rather than the exception“ (XIII).

Pollock and van Reken, 2009, p. 35.

„A cross-cultural kid (CCK) is a person who is living or has lived in – or meaningfully interacted with – to or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during childhood (up to age 18)“ (31). For van Reken, it does not matter in what countries the CCKs grow up, her „definition focuses on the multiple and varied layering of cultural environments that are impacting a child’s life rather than the actual place where the events occur. . . . [CCKs] are interacting with more than one culture in ways that have meaningful or relational involvement. “ (32).  She wants to go beyond traditional categories of diversity like nationality, class, race or ethnicity and „rather look at the shared commonalities of the experience.” The pages on which TCKs testify about their awakening to their own third culture the first time they went to TCK retreats much reminds me of our Coda retreats.

The long but not exhaustive list of CCK examples given in the Model does not mention Codas or even disability, there is no clue throughout the book. However, we may find ourselves in several of the categories suggested (31f), especially those of us who add yet another culture to our identity map:

1. „Children from bi/multicultural homes: Children born to parents from at least two cultures. May or may not be of the same race.“ Whereas the definition hits the nail on the head, the explanation fails to account for the childs own Otherness as a hearing child with respect to the deaf parents. Even if both parents are profoundly capital D Deaf, the regular intrusion of close family members who are hearing would turn the home into a bicultural one. Since deaf culture is collective, the nuclear family idea does not apply naturally and since deaf culture is global, deaf parents with differing nationalities are no exception.

2. „Educational CCKs: Children who may remain in their home or passport country but are sent to a school (e.g. an international school) with a different cultural base and student mix than the traditional home culture or its schools.“ „My First Day in Daycare“ is a an established Coda storytelling motif as an initiation into the hearing world. We would continue to enter the hearing world in our school and return to the deaf world at home.

3. „Children of borderlanders: Children who cross borders frequently, even daily, as they go to school, or whose parents work across national borders.“ Although here, van Reken is talking about national borders, this category would be a perfect fit if „national borders“ would be „cultural borders“.

4. „Children of minorities: Children whose parents are from a racial or ethnic group that is not part of the majority race or ethnicity of the country in which they live.“ Whereas all Codas are children of minorities and therefore none of us are really „white“, there are those of us who are not „caucasian“ or have an additonal cultural background labeled with a much lower status than co-existing cultures. This might lead to a double or multiple minority identity.

5. The same goes for multiracial Codas. „Children from bi/multiracial homes: Children born to parents from at least two races. May or may not be of the same culture.“

6. „International adoptees: Children adopted by parents from another country other than the one of the child’s birth.“ This category might be far-off, but: The conviction of being adopted by our deaf parents seems to be so common in Kodas that it again, is a storytelling motif. No other motif expresses as poignantly the representation of the Other in the face of a parent. Of course, the adoption of a hearing child is hardly an option for deaf couples viewed as handicapped and incapable by the majority culture. However, the parent-child relation is under institutional threat since, as I know from my own experience, hearing officials and social workers tend to separate deaf parents from their children with a strong sense of entitlement, a poor sense of judgement and disasterous cultural insensitivity.

7. Codas of refugees: Children whose parents are living outside their original country or place due to circumstances they did not choose, such as war, violence, famine, or natural disasters. Sadly, I doubt that those who would identify with this group are actually among my readers although I remember meeting Codas who survived the wars in the Kosovo and Bosnia and interpreting for deaf refugee families in Germany.

8. „Domestic TCKs: Children whose parents have moved in or among various subcultures within that child’s home country.“ This is where disability comes into play since it may be considered a subculture (if you want to use the term at all, it can be understood as a labelled group generated in common defiance toward a dominant culture which classifies them as „not normal“). I would call the Deaf Club where many of us spent a considerable amount of time a subcultural space, especially since here in New York where the deaf community seems to be integrated fairly well, that means lost their „abnormal“ label, do not meet in deaf clubs anymore. It could happen in your country too.

9. Immigrant Codas: „Children of immigrants: Children whose parents have made a permanent move to a new country where they were not originally citizens.“ Although those parents who inhabit Deaf Nation clearly dont even have full citizenship in their UN resolutionized and/or ADA supported host country, they would not call themselves immigrants, would they? However, there are those of us whose deaf parents immigrated into another country, like my own.

In the Ankara of the 70ies, when Sartre and Socialism was in the air and you would not see women in head scarves out on the streets, I was born to a matriarchal extended family. My mother nursed me there and left to Germany where she and my father worked as immigrants. At the age of 11, my father was sent there by his own hearing father, a mining professor, set out to get the proper education for his only deaf son. The German oral education system was praised to be the best at that time (now considered a traumatizing, criminal method). My father prides himself to be the first deaf Turk in monocultural and Catholic Bavaria. He was entirely cut off from his parents and 8 siblings at age 11. He can not sign beyond small talk, neither does he know German or Turkish. He excelled in wood work, on downhill skis and in making us laugh. My mother married my father to get out of the confining patriarchal structures in her home country. She went to the local deaf school and then to boarding school before the reach of oralism. She read and wrote Turkish, was an exceptionally gifted signer and story teller and became a painter. She had two other siblings who were deaf and the whole family signed. In this family I grew up multilingually raised by my grandmother who had, back then, thrown out her adulterous husband to single mother nine children, who was a chain-smoking poet and a womens’ rights activist. With us lived my schizophrenic language-genius aunt who taught me German, English, Russian and French in addition to the Turkish and the Turkish and German sign languages I was fluent in pretty early. My parents came to visit in their holidays and took me to Germany after my sister was born. I had been there many times before to visit them, too, and I remember nights spent in airports on my grandmothers lap. There, at the age of six, my life radically changed: not only did I learn that my parents’ deafness is something to look down upon, but being Turkish and Muslim was, too. I learned to interpret upon landing and have been mediating the discrimination aimed at us ever since. And next in the storyline would be my first day in a daycare run by Catholic nuns – a sharp memory when I took my own CCK daughter to her first day in her Queens Montessori daycare. In a more profound way than ever, as a parent, I am now facing my own challenges and skills brought about by my bioghraphy. Many of these challenges and skills I have never seen spelled out in literature,  I concisely found in Third Culture Kids.

It has been hard for me to separate the consequences of immigration from the consequences of having deaf parents. I assume that those of us who add another culture, race or ethnicity to the deaf and hearing antagonism in our identity would have similar issues. I would like to read Third Culture Kids together with you, on this blog, chapter for chapter. TCK is, as Tom Bull pointed out in the Miami CODA international conference 2012 a worthwhile read for all Codas. I think that it is an excellent backdrop to start a discussion with multicultural codas, those this blog is intended for – what do you think?

One thought on “Third Culture Kids (English)

  1. Wow, Oya.
    What a text on this blog about TCK and your CCK daughters.
    The paragraph in which you insist that your father was the first deaf Turk in liberal Bavaria, your aunt and the associated airport scenes, you really took the reader with you. A really tangible paragraph. You surely have what it takes to write more biographical stuff.
    Good luck.

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