The Multigenerational TCK Family

11 Mar 2020 2:40 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

2020 David C. Pollock Scholar and international educator Jacob Daniel Huff shares some insights on TCK identity development from some interviews with a multigenerational TCK family.

2020 David C. Pollock Scholar and international educator
Jacob Daniel Huff is currently interviewing members of a multigenerational TCK family to look at TCK identity development over generations of a globally mobile family. We asked him about the project and to share with us some initial insights.

Please tell us a bit about your project

I’m looking at a specific group of TCKs — the multigenerational TCK family — through collecting oral histories in a series of case studies. By ‘multigenerational TCK family’, I mean a family in which more than one generation has experienced a globally nomadic life and more than one of these generations fit the TCK definition.

Currently, I’m interviewing a family with French nationality and Asian ethnicity who have been living an internationally mobile life over four generations. Each generation has moved at different ages to different countries, but all have a strong connection to France (with different generations having lived in France at some point in their lives) and carry the French passport proudly.

The interviews have been with the second-generation patriarch (now living in retirement) and his four children. This third generation is now in their prime and live in three different countries, having lived in four to six countries while growing up and in more countries as adults.

I started this project out of personal interest while working on my doctoral degree at the Liberty Graduate School of Education. My plan is to complete the interviews with this family, do supplemental research and analyze the histories, and have a paper for publication ready later this year. Eventually, I would like to repeat this process with four or five more families, but will likely begin in about a year when my doctoral dissertation is complete. 

Why are you looking at multigenerational TCK families?

According to the UN International Migration Report (2019), more families are living internationally than at any other time in history. We can infer that the number of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are also on the rise. More families are also globally mobile over multiple generations, but so far, we don’t know much about the dynamics of TCK identity development for such families. This is what I hope to shed light on through my project: How do the globally mobile generations of one family develop/maintain their personal and family identities? What does that mean for TCK identity development?

What have you found so far?

While I am still conducting interviews and hope to talk to more families, the members of this family shared some common messages — much of what confirms what David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken elaborated in Third Culture Kids: Growing up among Worlds.

>A sense of culture inherited through close family ties

The members I interviewed expressed a deep respect for the family, both as a unit of support and as an inculcator of culture. When talking about how the kids learned their culture and developed a sense of who they were, storytelling played an important role. One sibling shared: “For us, it was that everything came from my parents. All of it. There was no internet, there were no history books; it was just my parents, ...what they told [us], and what they did. That was our culture.” 

Another referred to family activities and the time spent together as a family as sacred. (For more on how family can be a “place” that helps create a sense of stability and of belonging, a “home,” see Anastasia Lijadi and Gertina Van Schalkwyk, “Place Identity Construction of Third Culture Kids: Eliciting Voices of Children with High Mobility Lifestyle”, 2017.) 

They felt the experience of a “third culture life” has ingrained in them a deep appreciation for time together and the enjoyment of one another. They referred to this as one of the great gifts of third culture life. 


Another element of this family’s experience was that they all spoke of being able to adapt to any situation. As one sibling put it, she had always felt like she was a chameleon, that she could always become the person she needed to be in that situation. This concept of feeling like a chameleon is not uncommon for TCKs (researcher Agnieszka Trąbka talks about the use of the word ‘chameleon’ by TCKs in her 2014 paper “Being Chameleon: The Influence of Multiple Migration in Childhood on Identity Construction”).

The father spoke of the changes in his life and how he was able to adapt, first as an adolescent leaving his homeland and learning new languages to communicate, then in a university settling into a French identity, and finally taking on the international life in what he called the third civilization.

This, I think, is the key to how this family sees the world around them and the relationship they have with it. It is a life of growth and a life of change while always remaining the same person. That is what they say life is “living overseas and in different countries where we adapt, we even adapt our names”.

>The need to move

Mobility is one of the gifts of the TCK life that can sometimes also be a curse. Many TCKs report feeling a “call to move”, perhaps because TCKs often only feel a true sense of stillness when they are on the move (as discussed by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in Third Culture Kids. I also found interesting Laia Colomer’s 2017 article “Feeling Like at Home in Airports: Experiences, Memories and Affects of Placeness among Third Culture Kids”). This family is no exception to the rule.

One sibling spoke of the joy he feels when he moves to a new place and feels the sense of discovery. Another spoke of the idea of staying in one place as inconceivable, comparing himself to a shark: “if I stop moving, I die”.

However, it was their father that had the most beautiful statement about mobility. He said, “We used to say that we are like a turtle. We carry our home on our back. So the home is where I have my kids and my wife. That is my home”. 

>A desire to share the international experience with the next generation

The final insight that I would like to leave with is that when asked what they hoped for their kids and their grandkids, the dominant theme was an intense desire to make sure that the next generation experiences a continued international life, “this life full of mobility.”

“I hope for my children that I'm able to pass on everything that has been passed on to me, through my grandfather, my parents, my own experiences….I wish that I am a guide for them and [I] want them to take their own journey,” one brother said.

One of the sisters put the entire multigenerational TCK experience together:

“I wanted my children to grow up being open-minded, being able to think out of the box, and being multicultural and multilingual (like I) was....I think that those were the biggest positive points of who I am today. And I wanted my children to have that”.


Jacob is looking for potential participants as he expands his multigenerational TCK study. If you are an adult TCK with one or more parents who were also TCKs and would be interested in participating in a series of interviews about your experiences, please contact Jacob (mrjacobhuff@gmail.comLinkedIn). Jacob would like to continue this study with TCK families of many different backgrounds. Families with multiple members who would like to participate are most highly preferred.  

ALSO: Read more about Jacob Daniel Huff

This post is part of this month’s FIGT focus on TCKs. Please join us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to access more engaging stories and videos (publically available for the month and then archived to the members’ only section of this website). 

[Edited by Ema Naito; reviewed by Anastasia Lijadi & Danau Tanu]

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