With the increased movement of people around the world, it’s becoming more and more likely that students in academic classrooms or church groups will have lived in more than one country during their lifetimes.
These students, known as Third Culture Kids (TCKs), spend significant parts of their developmental years outside of their parents’ culture and interact with the world a little differently than students who grow up in one culture. They might be children of missionaries or other expats. For that reason, they might need additional support in the classroom as they adjust to a new way of life.
Like any student, TCKs are individuals with unique characteristics and learning styles, but there are a few general characteristics to keep in mind. Many missionaries sent by Resonate Global Mission teach TCKs at international schools. They offer the following tips:
1. Check in with them during the first few weeks of class.
“Teachers need to be aware of how different the child’s school setting [is],” said Lorri Scholten, a teacher who serves with Resonate Global Mission at Oaxaca Christian School in Oaxaca, Mexico. “The child may have a lot of anxiety about a strange place and a lot of unfamiliar kids.”
TCKs are adjusting to a new home, meeting new people, and learning the expectations of an unfamiliar culture—and that includes classroom rules. Don’t assume they understand routines, procedures, and appropriate behavior. Check in with them regularly during the first few weeks of class to help answer any questions they may have or ease any of their concerns about school.
2. Encourage friendships.
For TCKs who return to North America from living abroad, things are a bit more complicated. They’re often accustomed to classrooms with a low student-to-staff ratio. As such, they’re used to closer relationships with both their teachers and their peers.
“It’s difficult for TCKs who are used to becoming [close] with everyone quickly to adjust to larger communities where people build trust more slowly, ” said a missionary who teaches at an international school in Central Asia.
No matter where students are coming from, it can be tough making new friends. Within the first few weeks, engage your class with team building activities that help students get to know one another so students have an opportunity to meet a lot of their peers early in the year.
3. Focus on their strengths.
“One of the identified characteristics of TCKs is that they want to avoid being categorized and labeled,”said Brian Vander Haak, a Resonate missionary who teaches at Morrison Academy in Taipei, Taiwan. “I try to emphasize with students their uniqueness based on their individual personalities and experience. I also try to promote the challenges of expat life and common quirks of TCKs as resources to be leveraged.”
Every student enters a classroom with his or her own background. TCKs are no different, and they certainly bring their individual set of strengths to class. Adjusting to a new culture is difficult and takes time, but help students focus on the positives of their experience, rather than the negatives.