Your Piece of the Tapestry: New Research on Adult TCK Experiences

I’ve worked with Third Culture Kids and globally mobile families generally for nearly two decades. I’ve heard so many stories over those years. Some of those stories are really similar to my own; some are completely different. Some TCKs had amazing lives and loved every moment. Some TCKs had traumatic childhoods and believe there was nothing worthwhile about the experience. Most fall somewhere in between those extremes – but there are some who moved from one extreme to the other within the same year!

My point is that there is no one way to be a TCK. Your story might look similar to the people you grew up with – and it might not. For most of us, childhood is a mixed bag – some good, some bad, a few great moments, and a few terrible moments. If your story was wonderful, it doesn’t mean people who had difficult experiences are anomalies or lying. If your story was difficult, it doesn’t mean people with good stories don’t exist. Every story is valid and valuable. Every story is part of the tapestry of what makes up the TCK world, and every voice matters.

I believe in the power of preventive care, that when families have strong and emotionally healthy foundations, their children do better – even when life is difficult. As a researcher, I want to know what preventive factors make the most difference and what difficulties are the hardest to overcome.

Past Research & Findings

There is a lot of great research available in this area when it comes to geographically stable families living in one country. But what about TCKs? What about globally mobile families? There is a gap here. In particular, there is little research that looks at the variety of TCK stories out there so that we can see the whole tapestry at once. This is where TCK Training works with our research. We invest in research – which we make available publicly, for free – because we believe this information is so important for all of us.

Our 2021 survey included nearly 2,000 responses from Adult TCKs. The resulting three white papers (released in 2022 and 2023) looked at Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), comparing what TCKs experienced to what individuals in various individual countries experienced. We also looked at a range of other potentially traumatic experiences to see how common they were in the TCK community. This groundbreaking research taught us a lot about what TCKs go through.

A lot of the work I do with TCKs, their educators, and other caregivers around the world is based on this research. Knowing what TCKs go through allows us to target resources to those specific needs. It allows us to share with caregivers what is really happening in their communities:

Current Research

Now we want to know more! In particular, we want to know more about what builds resilience in TCKs. In our 2024 survey we are comparing TCK experiences to two different series of research on resilience factors. We are also looking at wellness in adulthood. We hope to see connections between the presence of certain established resilience factors during a TCK’s childhood, even when difficulties are present, and wellness in that TCK’s adult life. Finding these connections will help us know which preventive care methods are most effective for globally mobile families.

You can help! If you are at least 18 years old and lived outside your passport country (or had more than one passport country) as a child, please take the survey! It is an anonymous multiple-choice survey, meaning you will be asked to tick boxes rather than talk about your experiences. If you know anyone who fits this description, please let them know about the survey! We would love to have their experience included.

An independent team of advisors with experience in mental health, education, academic research, and TCK care reviewed and revised the survey to ensure we provided care for all our participants. We include a list of recommended resources should anyone want to reach out for support at any time.

Every story is valid and valuable. Every story is part of the tapestry of what makes up the TCK world, and every voice matters.

Whichever country/countries you are from and which country/countries you lived in – we want to hear from you. We have over 60 passport countries represented so far and hope to have even more included in the final results. Whether your experience of life abroad was wonderful or terrible, your answers will be crucial in helping us understand what makes international life harder or easier for children. Not only that but contributing to the results of this survey will help you be part of the community of responses – to see that you are not alone. Others have shared the same experiences, have been through the same things, and have felt what you felt.

Learn more about TCK Training’s 2024 survey here!

Tanya Crossman is the Director of Research and International Education at TCK Training, a leading global provider of preventive care for globally mobile families and those who support them. She has lived in four countries on three continents and has worked with globally mobile families for 19 years. Tanya is the author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century (2016) and the lead author of TCK Training’s three white papers, which explore the data from their 2021 survey of nearly 2,000 Third Culture Kids. 

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