Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Third Culture Kids: Implications for Professional School Counseling

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Third Culture Kids: Implications for Professional School Counseling

Article excerpt

The increase of international business, military placements, and immigration has led to an increase in students attending schools in a country other than where they were born: third culture kids (TCKs). TCKs have unique educational needs, necessitating the support of their school counselors. This article (a) defines and introduces the needs and characteristics of TCKs, (b) reviews interventions for school counselors working with TCKs during transitional stages, and (c) presents a case illustration of a middle school counselor employing the suggested strategies.


The cultural demographics within schools are changing and appreciating the implications of these changes is important for school counselors in the delivery of an effective, comprehensive, developmental school counseling program (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2005; Owens, Bodenhorn, & Bryant, 2010). However, school counselors are challenged to gain knowledge and understanding of the ever-changing cultural differences among students and stakeholders and modify their counseling skills and delivery of services to match their students' diverse needs (Holcomb-McCoy, 2004). Therefore, the development of school counselors' multicultural competencies and ability to employ culturally sensitive and creative counseling strategies is paramount to the delivery of an effective school counseling program (Alexander, Kruczek, & Ponterotto, 2005; ASCA, 2010; Popadiuk & Arthur, 2004).

A population of students about which limited research has been published in the counseling field is third culture kids (TCKs). The term TCKs was originally developed in the 1950s by sociologists John and Ruth Hill Useem (1976), who worked with children living away from their home country for an extended period of time. The children's identity development was influenced by exposure to cultures other than their own. TCKs are defined as students raised in a culture different from that of their parents or primary caregivers. More specifically, a TCK may be further characterized as:

a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having flail ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001, p. 19)

Therefore, the first culture for TCKs is their parents' home country (or countries); the second culture is the one they are raised in during their primary developmental years (Gilbert, 2008); and their third culture (interstitial culture) is an abstract culture that is created from their shared experiences and relationships with people from other cultures living the same lifestyle (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). "The 'third' culture refers to a created culture that is neither the 'home' culture nor the 'host' culture; it is the culture between cultures" (Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009, p. 755). Hence, defining the first two cultures is simplistic, but conceptualizing the third culture is complex and unique. The third culture is an abstract definition; however, understanding and appreciating these three cultures is valuable for school counselors in their work with this student population.

The purpose of this article is to (a) provide school counselors with knowledge regarding TCKs, (b) describe the transitional stages TCKs experience, and (c) discuss practical school counseling strategies to support these students' academic achievement and holistic development. School counselors may transfer information regarding TCKs to immigrant students, as many qualities and educational needs of these two student populations are similar. This article also provides a case illustration of a middle school counselor working with a TCK and employing the suggested school-based strategies. …

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