Stories for Third Culture Kids

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up as a missionary kid among the villages of northern Thailand. My earliest memories consist of rickety wooden houses, curious neighbors and stray flocks of chickens, all on a backdrop of thriving green rice paddies.

Between those years are uneasy memories of our travels back to the States, the land my parents call "home." Eventually I would move to Texas for college and learn to embrace it as well, but even after four years, I still miss my first home: Thailand.

Luckily, my parents have always been wonderful about discussing the challenges and benefits of being a Third Culture Kid. Personally, I LOVE being a TCK and enjoyed (almost!) every aspect of my unique upbringing. But many TCKs have not been as fortunate, and continue to struggle with their cultural identity and inability to pinpoint a place to call "home."

In recent years, however, there has been a wealth of research published and articles written about the dynamic of the global nomad. Finally, TCKs can start to learn why they are different and how their unconventional upbringing can actually give them an advantage in this increasingly global world.

As a TCK and a storyteller, one of my dreams is to write stories that resonate with cultural chameleons like myself. We often feel like we don't fit in anywhere and we hate it when we don't have a simple answer to the question "So where's home?" But when TCKs meet each other, an incredible thing happens: we finally realize we are not alone. I think something similar happens in stories. We see ourselves in other characters and feel a little less lonely or weird because we can finally relate. In the end, it brings healing.

With that thought in mind, I started compiling a list of stories for TCKs. Hopefully it will continue to grow as the years go by. Take a look and feel free to share with the TCKs you may know.

Some of Them Closer by Marissa Lingen: I never would have expected a sci-fi story to resonate so well with me, but this short story perfectly captured the poignance of the TCK lifestyle. When a woman returns to Earth after years on a distant colony, she discovers that generations have passed and "home" is a very different place than she remembered. You can read the story online here.

Superman: Yep, he's a TCK. Born on a distant planet and raised on Earth, Superman struggles with his origins and identity in a world that does not accept him as its own.

Cereal Aisle

The Hurt Locker: This Oscar winner is about a man addicted to the adrenaline rush of war, but it also does an excellent job of capturing the phenomenon of reverse culture shock. When he returns to the States on leave, he finds himself in a starkly different world of comfortable homes and an intimidating amount of breakfast cereal options.

The Black Stallion (book by Walter Farley and 1979 movie): This classic horse-and-his-boy story captured my imagination as a child. It also provides insight into the struggle of adapting to drastically different situations, especially during childhood. When Alec's ship capsizes, he manages to survive on a tiny island by forming a friendship with a mysterious black stallion. Eventually, he is saved by a passing ship and returns home to the U.S., where he must readjust to life after his experiences on the island.

The Secret Garden (book by  Frances Hodgson Burnett and 1993 movie): Another one of my childhood classics. Mary Lennox lives a neglected childhood in India with her British parents until she is orphaned and shipped back to England. Over time, she finds healing by embracing new friends and a new way of life on the Yorkshire moors.


X-Men: I first saw the parallel between mutants and TCKs when I watched X-Men: First Class. The moment that struck me most was when Magneto finds out he's not the only one. Many TCKs think something's wrong with them until they meet another TCK, but when they do, they learn that they're not broken – they're just different. Another great moment in the movie is when the young mutants start showing off their abilities to each other and finally get a chance to celebrate their unique identities (a.k.a. when TCKs get together).

The Road Home: This short film was created by a TCK and is currently in production as a feature-length film. It follows the story of a British boy of Indian heritage who is sent to boarding school in India. Despite his appearance, he doesn't fit in with Indian culture, so he sets off on a journey back to England. You can watch the short film here.

Outsourced: This comedy from 2006 chronicles the story of an American businessman who is forced to train his replacement in India when his department is outsourced. Classic culture shock story.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: This children's story and Newbery Medal winner is a bittersweet tale about missing one's roots, while putting down new ones. When a man named Jacob puts an ad in the paper asking for a mail-order bride to mother his two children, Sarah leaves her beloved sea in Maine for a tiny farm on the dusty plains. My favorite quote from this poetic book is especially relevant to TCKs: "There is always something to miss, no matter where you are.”

That's it for now. I'll continue adding more to the list as times goes on. Are there any stories you would add?