What is Home? Thoughts on Being a Third Culture Kid

What does being a third culture kid mean to me? It means where I’m from and what culture I identify with are not clear-cut answers. Although it might be challenging to ‘find your place’ there are benefits to it as well. | https://passportandplates.com

What is home?

This is a question I’ve been wrestling with a lot with over the last few years. I don’t say this in the literal sense of course. The idea of home is such a challenging concept for a third culture kid, and, frankly, I’m not quite sure I have the answer to this one.


What is a third culture kid?

For those of you who don’t know, a third culture kid refers to “children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their developmental years.” The complicated answer to where I’m from: I was born in Ireland, my parents are Egyptian and Sudanese, and I’ve lived in the U.S. since I was four years old.

One thing I realized growing up is that most third culture kids find comfort with people who are just like them. More often than not, you’ll find that folks tend to hang out with people of their own race. It’s not a conscious, purposeful, or racist thing. They’re simply seeking out the comfort of spending time with people they perceive to be similar to them; many times these similarities are racial.

Through a series of circumstances, I was never one of the kids who hung out with other Arabs in the U.S. I had moved 7 times by the time I turned 15, and found myself in predominantly African-American, Hispanic, and Asian cities respectively. There were a brief few years when I happened upon a group of Arabs, but I was always a bit of an outsider even then, due to religion. I’m not pointing fingers or blaming anyone, but religion plays a role in being a third culture kid, too.

My sister and I in traditional Arab galabeyas

I’ve always prided myself on being a “multicultural mutt”. My best friends are Hispanic, White, and Asian. My close Arab friend(s) don’t live in the United States. I’ve always liked it that way. I like that I can pick up little cultural pieces from my friends and their families. I like that I have the opportunity to dig deep and understand a culture through and through simply via constant multicultural exposure. What makes people tick? What ideologies do they have? There is no right or wrong way of thinking, eating, or living. There is simply humankind, and the way we approach life based on what we’ve learned from others and our experiences.

By chance, I was born into this third culture life. It was evident the first time I visited Egypt and Sudan that, despite my parents’ best efforts, I am very Westernized. But I think traveling has the possibility to turn anyone into a third culture kid adult as well. Traveling shows you how people eat, learn, dance and LIVE in other parts of the world. It teaches you that around the world, people still value religion, tradition, and family life. It teaches you that cities and countries are more than what the media will ever portray. That kindness runs rampant despite horrific politics, war, and poverty. Every new city will change you, even if it’s just a tiny bit – hopefully for the better.

Whether I like it or not, the more I learn and absorb from other cultures, the more diluted I become from my own. The more I see, the more I experience, and the more I travel means the more I drift away from the many small nuances that make my identity wholly Arab. Or even wholly Arab-American. I can choose to reject the bits of the culture that I don’t like, and instead replace them with ideologies I do like. Which begs the question: where in the world is home? Where do I fit in, if anywhere? Where do I choose to live and how do I find my tribe?

My friends and family will always be my friends and family – there to support me, advise me, love me, and, hopefully, grow with me. But as I drift further and further from the grasp of what is defined as normal life, normal culture, normal rules and customs of the society in which I grew up, I ask myself – what is home? And the answer might just be – I have to create it.


Do you identify with being a third culture kid? What does home mean to you? Share in the comments below!

What does being a third culture kid mean to me? It means where I’m from and what culture I identify with are not clear-cut answers. Although it might be challenging to ‘find your place’ there are benefits to it as well. | https://passportandplates.com
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22 thoughts on “What is Home? Thoughts on Being a Third Culture Kid

  1. Shayan Naveed says:

    Another great article that hits home with me because I always had a hard time explaining people who/what I am. After talking to a travel blogger the other day in Bangkok, we agreed we are what you called third culture kid.

    I moved to Thailand when I was 10 from Pakistan and I feel exactly how you feel. Where is home? Where do I belong? I don’t fit in the norms of Pakistan and I don’t fit in with the Thais either. I have a lot of Indian friends though because I can relate to them better since their ideologies are a bit lax than Pakistanis (religion-wise).

    It’s definitely made me susceptible to other cultures and open-minded towards other religions. I actually love being 3rd culture kid/adult.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Oh yes, you are definitely a third culture adult! It definitely has its benefits – I like to think that most people who are exposed to many cultures are a lot more open-minded. But it can be a challenge sometimes to “find your tribe” so to speak.

  2. Hung Thai says:

    Great insight and one that I’ve experienced myself. I grew up in California in an immigrant family. We were surrounded by Asians and i could have done what the typical asian kid did back then: group myself with other Asians. I made a conscious decision, though, to assimilate and immerse myself in the American culture. Yes, perhaps I’ve lost a bit of my cultural heritage, but I feel that when you move to another country, you should really try to be of the mindset of that country; otherwise, why would you move there?

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      I grew up / live in California so I’m extra impressed that you didn’t group yourself with other Asians – that’s definitely challenging since there’s such a huge Asian population here! I do think it’s important to understand your family’s culture although I do agree that you should do your best to understand / live the cultural identify of the country you’re living in as well!

  3. Megan Indoe says:

    Wow, loved this read! I love what you said about how adults can be third culture as well just by traveling and seeing how others live their lives and what values others have. As you are exposed to more and more, you are in fact diluted more. Even though I had the same culture as my parents, I am constantly traveling and haven’t been back to that “home” to live in over 10 years. So where is my home? I think it’s exactly what you said, you create it yourself. Again, beautiful read and thanks for sharing.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Glad you liked it! And yes, I know what you mean. Sometimes even frequent travel allows you to pick up some of the nuances that make up “third culture” – especially if you live / travel abroad for an extended period! It can be challenging to create “home” but in the end I think it’s beneficial as travel teaches you so much! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  4. Sally says:

    A very interesting insight into how your location determines your identity. I feel like my first home is Australia having being born here and lived here my whole life, second home is Italy having done student exchange there twice when I was 16 and 17 and my third home would be NYC as this is where my heart lies.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Yes, I think you gain a little part of the culture of each country you spend extended amounts of time in! I’m sure that with two student exchanges in Italy, you retain certain aspects of Italian culture that you might never change. It’s truly fascinating!

  5. Janna C. says:

    Great read! Although I’m not a third culture kid per se, I can identify with some of the things you mentioned above. I came to the US when I was 18 and it didn’t take long before I got accustomed to the life here. When I came back to the country where I was born, it felt weird. I then realized that I can no longer call that place my home. Home is where my family is and that is here in the US.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Thanks! And yes, I do think that family plays a HUGE role in determining home. I think if my family moved somewhere then that place would also be a home to me because it’s where the people I love are. It’s fascinating.

  6. Wander With Jo says:

    Okay I am learning so much today – I didnt even know what third culture meant. I believe having Egyptian and Sundanese parents is a lovely mix of cultures. My folks are both well Hindu/Indian and same sub-religion to the T and I have seen so many differences just by changing of a language is a religion. SO, I am sure this has so many cultural impacts. To me, home is where I have been born and brought up – my parents house and it is still the only place in the world that feels like home and the place I lived longest.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      I’m not sure it’s a super popular term so I’m glad I explained it in the blog posts! And YES agreed. Language and religion both play huge roles in determining culture – something I don’t think people realize if they only speak one language or aren’t particularly religious. I do think that where your family is (no matter where it is) is always a home in some sense – because the idea of home is about people just as much as location 🙂

  7. Miriam - londonkitchendiaries says:

    What an interesting blog entry – I feel that I have learned a lot just from reading it. I can understand that being with people with similar experiences is comforting. I love to travel and soak in other cultures, believes and environments. What I love about living in London is that it is such a melting pot of cultures and beliefs, where it just does not matter where you are coming from – it is just home to anyone who wants to call it home.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Thanks Miriam! I agree! London, like Los Angeles, is an excellent melting pot of culture. It’s these type of cities that make people more open-minded because of the constant exposure to world culture, which I absolutely love. I really like that – it’s home to anyone who wants to call it home :). Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. Roo Reiziger says:

    Amazing girl!!! I’m Persian but grew up in New Zealand all my life ,I also lived in Australia and now live in Italy …I’m totally with you on this journey of finding and creating your own home .. As they say home is not a place it’s a feeling. As I travel more I start to understand my home is forever changing but what I am rooted in and getting more aware of that its important for my state of being to be grounded regardless of my change of location.

    Keep searching ..keep learning and keep discovering . You will have one of the strongest homes of all man kind and that is a good heart. With love and soul like that you can make and share your home with anyone as well as the comfort of your own living.

    From one traveller with a desire to build their home to another x

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Yes, everything you said is SO on point! And thank you, that’s so true. I really think that home will always be about feelings and people rather than a physical place and I’m totally okay with that. I may never be 100% grounded in one place but that’s one of the beauties of travel :). Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  9. Natural Homeschooling says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. I often wonder how my children will turn out as they have lived in 3 different countries and travel abroad quite extensively. I see a difference already in the way they talk and interact with people. They think about things that I never thought about as a child, teenager, or young adult. It is hard for the to relate to many of their cousins back home because they have had such diverse experiences. It’s almost like they have lived a lifetime, but they are only 9 and 11 years old.

    Sometimes I wonder if it is for their good or will they grow and wish that they had lived in one place.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Thanks for reading and for your comment! In all honesty, I didn’t travel a ton when I was younger, but we did move a fair amount. I think both have their benefits, but I find that I adjust to new places and things and am much more open to new experiences than friends who have lived in the same place their whole lives. I may have missed on having a community that has known me for my entire life, but I don’t think that’s something I need personally – I have great friends that live all over and I’m happy with that :). It has its pros and cons for sure but I wouldn’t have changed my experience for anything!

  10. Natalie McKee says:

    I really loved this! I have been struggling with the concept of home since leaving for college, but for entirely different reasons! I actually lived in the same place forever (my mom is white and my dad immigrated to the US from the Cape Verde Islands, but I never really adopted that culture as much), and then I started moving a ton — to college, to D.C., into different apartments, and now all the way in Scotland. In that time I got married, and now my husband and I have our own “home.” I guess choosing a nomadic life does that in a lot of ways, but then you offered a whole new perspective with being a third-culture kid/adult. I wish I had been exposed to more cultures in my life, and I hope as we continue on in our travels we will see what all the world has to offer us! Thanks for writing this!

    • Sally E says:

      Thanks for your comment, Natalie and for sharing your experience! That’s interesting the you’ve experienced it more as an adult rather than when you were younger, but traveling definitely does that to you :). Nomadic life definitely has its cons in finding “home” but I think the benefits ultimately outweigh the cons because it makes people so much more open-minded, which I love! Enjoy Scotland and travel! Being “lost” can be a great feeling sometimes!

  11. TCK Goes Home says:

    It really is hard to define “home.” What is interesting though, is that I’ve returned to my birth country 4 years ago, and I couldn’t identify this place as my “home” for the longest time. It was all very confusing. I want to say home is where the heart is, but there are pieces of my heart in multiple places! I love reading about other TCKs’ struggles (?) with this, because it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Thanks for this post! 🙂

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Thanks for reading and sharing your story! I know EXACTLY what you mean. I have little bits of me everywhere and I have no idea where home is…I really don’t think it’s one physical place for TCKs. You are definitely not alone!

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