Top Ten TCK Quirks

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To continue with my series on quirks of different cultures, here is one on TCKs. The first one I did was Top Ten Lhasa Quirks.

If you enjoyed this, head over to part 2: Top Ten TCK Quirks Part 2
Here is a book about us TCKs that I also mentioned on my Me Page:
Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds
  1. Visas and passports
For the longest time, I didn’t know that there were two meanings to the word "visa". I thought it meant that thing in your passport that allows you to go to different countries. It wasn’t until I got a lot older (I’m embarrassed to say when), that I finally figured out that a visa was also a brand of credit card.

I also thought that all citizens of every country were given passports at birth. I didn’t know until I got a lot older than even when I realized what a visa was before I figured out that you actually had to apply for a passport. I will again decline to say how old due to embarrassment.

Mind blown
  2. Drinking

By the time university rolls around, drinking is old hat, especially if you go to universities in the U.S. TCKs are able to go to clubs and bars at the age of fourteen if not younger. As long as you look foreign, drinking areas in Asia tend to be really lax about age. While counterparts in the U.S. were guzzling PBR in basements, we were dressing up to the nines to go to the latest hip club. It is quite jarring to go from that to college towns where frat parties with their beer that tastes like water gone wrong are a big deal. This is the reason why U.S. university students who go abroad for the first time tend to go crazy. I have seen this firsthand.

"No open bottle laws?!" "We don't need fake IDs that might get rejected?!" "Let's drink and go out ALL the time!"

This doesn't apply to schools in Europe, although expensive drinks and cover charges are no fun. 
Drinking overseas


Drinking crappy beer in someone's basement in the US
  3. How well we know airports and airlines
TCKs can speak of airports and airlines with authority. Something of a necessity, it pays to know which airlines have the comfiest coach seats and which ones are most likely to give upgrades. I have been very lucky with Japanese airlines when it comes to upgrades. They also have amazing food, even in coach. Same goes with airports. If we are picking a flight, then it is always good to go through ones that have the best restaurants and entertainment. I am a big fan of Narita as well as Detroit. I actually had my first legal drink in the U.S. at Detroit's airport.

Flying through Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, or any other fantastic airport
Going through JFK, Chicago, Colombo, and other not-so-great airports


Booking a flight on Ryan Air, United, or any other airline riddled with delays and incompetence


  4.  The world is a tiny, tiny place
Have you heard of the game, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? Basically you try to link any actor with Kevin Bacon using movies that he has acted in and you have to do this with only six intermediary actors. Our lives are like, “Six Degrees of TCKs”. I have been shocked at the random people I have met in my life that either went to the same school I did but at a different time, or knows someone who I know. TCKs are a pretty small community and there are only so many international schools out there. The best example I have is this: one of my best friends from AISC (American International School Chennai) told me her cousin would be going to UVA too and that he graduated from AES (American Embassy School New Delhi, where I used to go when I was in elementary school). I didn’t think anything of it until I found out on moving day first year that he lived right below me. We became good friends all throughout college. 

Finding out one of your best friends from India's cousin is your hall mate in university (true story)
  5. Confused about our roots
TCKs have some of the most privileged lives. We have been able to live around the world and have seen more things than some people ever will. However, most TCKs that I have talked to (including me) have somewhat of an identity crisis. While our passports say one thing, our experiences say quite another. I spent more time celebrating Indian holidays when I was little than American. I literally went to the U.S. once a year, if that. My conception of what it was to be American was having the commissary and being able to buy fruit rollups and gushers. I am also a mix. When I am in Hong Kong, people call me gui mui (ghost girl. Gui is a somewhat derogatory term for Caucasians). When I am in the States, people think I am Chinese. When I am in the Philippines, people think I am Filipino and then get really insulted that I don’t speak Tagalog. I have even passed for North Indian (way north)! As frustrating as it is to have a shifting identify (even though it is handy at times), it is even worse when people assume things of you.

So you're saying you are "American"


  6. Spoiled and bragging rights
I am spoiled. I grew up having a driver, a maid, a cook, etc. I have flown around the world and gone to many exotic locations. To me, traveling is not a big deal and it is something that I cannot live without. Because of this, I have had to work on toning down a superiority complex and belief that travel is this easy for everyone. However, even with how spoiled I am, that is nowhere near as bad as some people I have met. One girl I knew was on a field trip and had Pizza Hut helicoptered to the mountains so she wouldn’t have to eat the food there (although I don't think you could consider her a TCK since, to my knowledge, she never lived in any place other then her home country, even if she did go to the international school). 

 Bragging is also a problem. Even when we are not trying to brag, it comes off as bragging. Listing a ton of places that you have been to or casually tossing out that you will be spending New Years on a beach in the Philippines tends to rub some people the wrong way. What we take for granted can be construed as arrogance and sometimes actually is. To be fair, it is hard not to sound like an @$$ when you rattle of a list of countries or say something like, “When I was in elementary school, one of my best friends owned a camel and we used to ride it.” (that is actually true)

How people view us


  7. Knowing some phrases in a ton of different languages
When you move around a lot, you tend to pick up things in other languages. These tend to be limited to swear words, thank you, and really random phrases that are no help whatsoever except for breaking the ice. For example, I can say, “No effing in my car” in German and “Run for effs sake” in Swedish. I hope I am never in the position where I genuinely need to say either one, especially the Swedish one. 



Other people


  8. Dread the question, “So, where are you from?”

TCKs are not fond of being asked where they are from, especially by unsuspecting people. If you ask this question you will get a laundry list of places. It also gets a little awkward when a TCK doesn’t know how to respond because our drawn out silence and confused expressions make people think we are idiots. If you see this look:

That means we are trying to figure out if you mean ethnicity, nationality, or where we grew up. One issue with this is when people are not familiar with this lifestyle. For example, the Boy got really confused when we first met and thought I was Filipino for awhile, even though the Philippines is one of the places that I lived the shortest amount of time... 

If another TCK asks the question, then we are actively excited since we can then compare whether or not we have friends in common or ever played against each other in a tournament. 

How most people react to our answers
  9. Talk about schools in abbreviations
As you might have noticed in quirk number 4, all international schools can be simplified into abbreviations: AES, AISC, AISD, ASB, ISM, HKIS, etc. These names usually have an international or an American in there somewhere. Sometimes even both. There are a ton of tournaments between different groups of international schools that are usually divided by region. Since it is a pain to have to say, “Yes, I go to the American International School of Dhaka, thank you for asking! Where do you go?” every time, we all speak in abbreviations. 

People overhearing our abbreviations
  10. Adaptable

Of course we don't have a monopoly on being adaptable but one of the key traits of the vast majority of TCKs is that we can roll with pretty much any situation you throw at us. We have had to develop this skill out of necessity. Depending on the type of TCK you are, you move every one to six years. My pattern was one, two, two, four, four, three, one. I never had any control over where I would be moving. It was pretty much where my dad bid and where the state department decided to send us. It can be difficult being the new kid over and over again but, especially when you go to international schools, everyone is the new kid or has recently been the new kid. It was the hardest for me when I moved to the U.S. for 4 years since most of the kids I met had known each other since they were toddlers. I seem to be extra adaptable in Southeast Asia due to my mixed heritage (see quirk number 5). Whatever country I am in, people think I am from there and then tend to get really upset when I don't speak the language! This has so far happened in Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, China... People have even thought north Indian and Tibetan!

The art of blending in

That rounds out this list! Let me know what you think. If you found some missing, you might want to head over to see part 2: Top Ten TCK Quirks Part 2. What would you add to the list? 
in General Hits: 11099 25 Comments


  • Guest
    Indu Shanmugam Saturday, 05 April 2014

    Hello there, I'm glad to see many other TCKs a...

    Hello there, I'm glad to see many other TCKs and to find a TCK blog. I'm a TCK myself and a fiction writer. I write fiction portaying TCKs and international experiences. We aren't represented in fiction. I realize that TCK isn't always the same as an immigrant such as my parents who grew up in India and then moved to the USA. They are still living there. So I am dabbling with the idea of TCK fiction thepenlife.wordpress.comI'm an Indian-American now living in Singapore and teach in an international school. I grew up in Dubai but never lived in India. It get confusing because there are Singaporean-Indians and Indian expats from India. I should keep a tally of how many times I heard comments like, "You look Indian but your English is different" and one person out of humor asked, "You're confusing me. You have a very Indian face but you sound very Western." I enjoy your posts and topics. Keep them posted.

  • Guest
    Cameron Martin Campbell Wednesday, 20 November 2013

    I went to kindergarden through 6th grade at AES, t...

    I went to kindergarden through 6th grade at AES, then to Jakarta International School, from 7th to 10th grade.

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Monday, 18 November 2013

    Glad you enjoyed this post! I'll put the word ...

    Glad you enjoyed this post! I'll put the word out on my Facebook page to see if there are any TCKs in your area. Were you an AES guy?

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Monday, 18 November 2013

    Hey Cameron! I am currently dating a non-TCK and...

    Hey Cameron!I am currently dating a non-TCK and it was definitely a struggle at first. A lot that I took for granted with my TCK exes became an issue in this relationship. I got lucky though in that my guy likes to travel and we have now lived abroad together which gave us more of a point of contact. Would you consider a mono-culture gal that likes to travel?

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Monday, 18 November 2013

    Really glad you enjoyed the article, Sam!

    Really glad you enjoyed the article, Sam!

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Monday, 18 November 2013

    Fair point! It was frankly easier trying to find t...

    Fair point! It was frankly easier trying to find these gifs. Anything you would add using a different cultural reference?

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Monday, 18 November 2013

    Really glad you enjoy my blog :) Haha, it's a ...

    Really glad you enjoy my blog :) Haha, it's a good thing you cleared up that misunderstanding about your school!

  • Guest
    Tck for life Monday, 21 October 2013

    Hello, I love your blog, it explains so much!!! I ...

    Hello, I love your blog, it explains so much!!!I get what you mean about the abbreviations, I used to go to Khartoum International Community School, KICS, so when people ask me about past schools, only 7 so far by the way, I'm 14, so I've got a few years left to rack up the numbers, I say kics and they think its kicks so for a few weeks after joining my lastest class, my classmates were scared of me because they thought I went to a special school for violent children, but now they're my friends so that was okay.Oh and the airport thing was brilliant, I have those reactions too, heheheI never quite realised how spoilt I am until I read your post, its really helped me, although pizza hut being helicoptered in is a new one... sheesh

  • Guest
    Jarence Friday, 11 October 2013

    Ima let you finish, but I just want to point out t...

    Ima let you finish, but I just want to point out that this post about TCKs uses exclusively US cultural references.

  • Guest
    Sam Sunday, 06 October 2013

    This is so perfect for my life. I have grown up ev...

    This is so perfect for my life. I have grown up everywhere and am certainly a TCK and this article couldn't be more true! Thank you for writing this :)

  • Guest
    Cameron Martin Campbell Wednesday, 02 October 2013

    Hey I wanted ask a question. Do you any of you fin...

    Hey I wanted ask a question. Do you any of you find dating non TCKs difficult? What are your experiences with relationships as a result of being a TCK. Personally I've found it hard to have long term relationships, because I still move frequently. I think I'll need to find a girl/wife thats a TCK. Any thoughts/stories on this?

  • Guest
    Cameron Martin Campbell Wednesday, 02 October 2013

    This is good one. Any TCKs in in the 25-35 age ran...

    This is good one. Any TCKs in in the 25-35 age range in Boston? Let's get together.

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Thanks for commenting Niki! I learned the hard w...

    Thanks for commenting Niki! I learned the hard way that it's better to pick and choose your background battles... Usually I get the follow up comment of, "Wow, your English is great!"Haha, I told people that I used to ride elephants to school and that we had only one community computer in the center of our village. By the way, we were rivals (ISM vs. JIS) ;) I used a fake Filipino driver's license. It actually worked a lot of the time, which shocked the hell out of me! At least yours was legit ;)

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Hi Ethan! I don't know about you, but it def...

    Hi Ethan!I don't know about you, but it definitely comforts me to know that as spread out as our community becomes, the odds are pretty high that we will still randomly run into each other :) By the way, we were rivals: ISM all the way! I was probably rivals with your friend too (AISC or AES!)Thanks for sharing your awesome example!

  • Guest
    Ethan Wednesday, 25 September 2013

    The most incredible example of how small the world...

    The most incredible example of how small the world is:After my graduating high school in Bangkok I went on a graduation trip to Koh Samui (an island in the gulf of thailand). One night we were out at a club and I ran into someone I had gone to school with in grade 6 in Azerbaijan. He was on his graduation trip from India!

  • Guest
    Niki Wednesday, 25 September 2013

    This is so great. Whenever unsuspecting people ask...

    This is so great. Whenever unsuspecting people ask me where I'm from it's hard to gauge whether or not they're interested in listening to my full story. If they don't really seem ALL that interested I just pass myself off as someone from California. I sound 100% American.I also told someone that we rode Sumatran Tigers to school once because we lived in Jakarta for 13 years. ... Because that TOTALLY makes sense. I used my Singaporean passport to get into a bar the other day - I didn't have any visas or any stamps or anything in it because I usually only use it when I travel to Asia. The bouncer gave me a hard time and was kind of an ass about it! I was like "Well, I have two passports. I'm not going to bring the one with all my visas in it out with me." Oops.

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Sunday, 18 August 2013

    Awww, that sucks! I hate it when teachers are @$$h...

    Awww, that sucks! I hate it when teachers are @$$holes... You'd like to think they are above that sort of thing. It drives me nuts whenever I have teachers/professors who have said, "Wow, your English is great! Where did you learn to speak?" Humiliating to say the least. I hope you explained to your teacher after class.

  • Guest
    bearcat Friday, 16 August 2013

    I read Quirk #8 and yelled "RIGHT??? RIGHT???...

    I read Quirk #8 and yelled "RIGHT??? RIGHT???". My World History teacher in 9th grade asked me this question and made fun of me in front of the whole class because I didn't know how to answer it. I'm so glad that I'm not alone.

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Monday, 08 July 2013

    So glad that you have found some common ground and...

    So glad that you have found some common ground and good for you for getting what a double standard this Swedish girl was setting for you. I had a dhobi, a driver, a cook, a housekeeper, and a maid in Delhi, so I get you! I got very lucky with my roommate in college and she was willing to walk me through the whole daunting laundry process. Keep reaching out!

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Monday, 08 July 2013

    Haha, SAISA was a blast even though, in my day, AI...

    Haha, SAISA was a blast even though, in my day, AISC was not the greatest... Getting absolutely destroyed by AISD opening day of the tournament in Dhaka was pretty humiliating. I simplify where I come from depending on who I talk to. It's an annoying extra process, but one of our strengths as TCKs has always been greater cultural awareness and that includes people who have maybe not been exposed to an international upbringing. Embrace the arrogance and learn when to use it ;)

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