Understanding Third Culture Kids in the UAE
Bringing your children to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will change them forever. It’s not bad – it should be good, or even great! – but you do need to understand these changes.
Experience of a Third Culture Kid
Your child will be a Third Culture Kid (TCK), which is defined as a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture.Third Culture? What are the first and second cultures?
Culture One is your child’s home culture, in the town and country she or he comes from.
Culture Two is the host culture, in our case that of the UAE.
Culture Three is the one the child creates with new international friends.
They come from countries right across the globe, speak a variety of languages, and follow different religions. Their English accents frequently merge into a mid-Atlantic twang.Come the summer holidays, they usually fly off in opposite directions, though they stay close to each other via social media.
Prospects of TCKs at school
So what do TCKs look like in school? They tend to be academically successful.
They are good listeners, even managing to hold conversations with your adult friends.
They are likely to be geographically aware: when they watch the news, they often know something of the countries being discussed, and may well have friends from them.
They are adaptable and flexible, courtesy of that packing of suitcases and moves to very different places.
Older TCKs are often drawn to careers associated with service to the community and the world.
Post-school research shows that, in many cases, TCKs even marry each other! They just ‘get’ one other.
Developing a feeling of being ‘different’
However, there are further perspectives. TCKs often feel a bit different – hence this gravitation to each other. They are at home everywhere, yet a little detached from their original homes.
When back for the summer holidays, they can feel a little outside the tight circle of those old school friends, whose cultural references have moved on a year. An in-joke can make them feel an outsider. Later in life, as adults, a migratory instinct can take hold.
Is this good or bad? Should I worry? Should I have stayed at home and not undertaken this overseas adventure?Fortunately, there is now a good body of literature to inform and guide you.
It will advise you not to avoid the emotional events. Successful transition involves closure, so when friends leave, have goodbye parties. Similarly, welcome newly arriving children.
There will be plenty of these parties, and they are important both for those leaving and for those left.Get stuck into, and enjoy, the new culture – for example, taking abra (the traditional boats used for ferrying passengers across Dubai Creek) trips and desert safaris. And recognise that the move has created change; exposure to a new culture results in an altered person.
Most importantly, keep communication lines clear. Encourage open and honest talk: how are you feeling about being here? Best and worst things?
Reassure your child that it’s normal to have mixed emotions.As with anything in life, your overseas adventure is what you make it. The important thing is to acknowledge that it will change your child.
This article was written by Bill Turner, secondary headteacher at Kings’ School Al Barsha, Dubai.