Five reasons to hire ‘third culture kids’

Often referred to as cultural chameleons, TCKs can easily build relationships

Five reasons to hire ‘third culture kids’

I was born in France to French parents but grew up in international schools across Cambodia, Malawi, the Philippines and Tunisia. I then went on to complete an undergraduate degree between the United Kingdom and Australia and a master’s degree in the United States, all while visiting my parents in Côte d’Ivoire from time to time. Now, I find myself in Canada, a cultural mosaic that makes me feel right at home.

Once out of the international school system, I spent the better part of my adult life discounting that part of my identity. But that’s where I was wrong. It wasn’t until recently, after re-reading David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken’s Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds that I realized the tremendous value third culture kids (TCKs) can bring to the workplace.

Third culture kids are defined as individuals raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport (where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years.

Cultural intelligence

At its most basic level, cultural intelligence is defined as being able to function and communicate efficiently across cultural barriers and differences.

The expanded worldview and, ultimately, open-mindedness that comes with a multicultural upbringing allows th to be able to understand, relate to and work within different cultures and systems.

Third culture kids can be looked to to bridge culture gaps in the workplace with their tolerant, understanding and diplomatic points of view.

“Because they often develop an identity that’s rooted in people rather than places, TCKs tend to be more open-minded and sympathetic,” says Peggy Smith in her “Why third culture kids make great employees” article in People Matters.

Sensitivity to diversity and inclusion

Fundamentally, this cultivated, cultural intelligence produces individuals who are highly sensitive to diversity and inclusion.

International schools are a breeding ground for multifaceted kids desperate to feel a sense of belonging — something a lot of them carry into their adult lives and, ultimately, their professional careers.

They spent their childhoods surrounded by cultures that weren’t the ones they were born into, having the opportunity to intimately interact with people from diverse backgrounds as their friends.

With that, they developed a deep commitment to making sure everyone finds their place in social situations and are naturally drawn to finding commonalities between people to bring groups closer together instead of focusing on differences.

“TCKs truly believe that people of all backgrounds are full and equal participants in any given situation,” said Pollock and Van Reken.

They are ambassadors for strength in unity and believers that cultural diversity unites differences.

Interpersonal skills, relationship building

TCKs are constantly being uprooted and placed in environments where they are forced to meet new people from different cultures and create bonds, despite differences — it’s the very nature of the international school system.

As a result, third culture kids trend higher for interpersonal skills, especially as it relates tor elationship building. I greatly attribute this to the two points brought up above — finding commonalities and being great crosscultural communicators.

It is no secret that communication is king (or queen) and skills such as problem-solving, troubleshooting, brainstorming and engaging team members lead to higher productivity and efficiency in the workplace.

Additionally, as our world is becoming increasingly globalized, individuals who have been intensely exposed to multiple cultures will find it easier to navigate a diverse workforce with their global perspective.

Adaptive and high tolerance of ambiguity

This was the first skill that came to mind when brainstorming ideas for this article. TCKs are often referred to as “cultural chameleons,” meaning they can easily build relationships by interacting meaningfully across different cultures.

Beyond relationships, their ability to navigate through a broad spectrum of cultures, environments and personalities, and to adjust to unfamiliar spaces and experiences, makes them excel when it comes to adapting to workplaces.

This ability to adjust, with relative calm, often means that thrid culture kids “can generally approach various changes in their life circumstances with some degree of confidence because past experience has taught them that given enough time, everything will fall into place. This sense that they’ll be able to manage new situations often gives them the security to go take risks others might not,” say the authors of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.

And the cherry on top? Flexibility is one of the top traits CEOs look for. 

Innate curiosity and problem-solving

It is true that TCKs tend to be rootless — a trait that can often be seen as having a negative impact. However, in his 2019 article “8 Reasons Third Culture Kids Have the Potential to Be Great Leaders” on Lifehack, Lewis Humphries finds a silver lining in this rootlessness:

“This lack of a fixed cultural identity tends to encourage curiosity and empowers individuals to seek out their own sense of belonging. As a result of this, third culture children are constantly seeking out knowledge and understanding, as they look to carve their own unique place in the world. This translates well into leadership, where those with the responsibility for others must embark on a path of relentless self-improvement and constant learning.”

In short: TCKs focus on finding new ways to create value. They are constant seekers of knowledge and understanding.

On top of that, they have a “move forward mentality”: By the very nature of their upbringing, they have the capacity to focus on where they’re going rather than where they’ve been.

This translates to the workplace as employees who rapidly evolve and waste no time finding their bearings.

So, with that, a note to all TCKs out there: Leverage your strengths. That melting pot of cultures that makes up your identity is unique to you and will take you places.


Based in Golden, B.C., Alice Sergent is an associate account manager for the marketing agency MKTG. She can be reached at www.linkedin.com/in/alicesergent

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