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Adolescents & International Transition

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« Growing up as Brats: The Journey to Home and Self | Main | TCKs as the "New Normal" Prototype »

November 16, 2007


Paulette Bethel


Thanks for joining in on this discussion regarding what (if any) culture codes might be universal to the TCK experience.
Also thank you for providing the link to your blog.

I read your Friday, May 6, 2005 Children of Globalisation post with great interest, especially your discussion on deep culture elements. I think that it dovetails quite nicely with this topic, and also relates to my May 8, 2007 post on this blog.

In giving more thoughts to Rapaille’s concept and your comments, I wondered if it possible that your ponderations re: finding it “interesting how some would prefer to determine their mother tongue as the language they speak with their classmates/friends, and as the main emblem to connote their belonging to a specific society (i.e. the multicultural/third cultural one), rather than the language which they spoke within the family…” might somehow be a variation on the theme of these culture codes.

As you may recall and was somewhat covered in my original post, the psychology of imprinting - - the term used to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning that occurs at a particular age or a particular life stage, and assumes that learning does requires an emotional connection to the experience being learned -- is at the base of Rapille’s cultures codes concept. According to him, they are that the “the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing - a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country - via the culture in which we are raised.” These codes typically be distilled to a one to three word phrase to characterize the belief system or meaning attached at cultural level, i.e., airports for TCKs or “the sound of rain falling on the roof of our car” for you.

You also pointed out that for you, you still “feel a close affinity to the English language” and that for you it usually means that you are “ “in [your] my element, the third culture environment.”

Could it be that English is an imprinted relationship or linguistic culture code that is associated with the early experiences of being in international schools?

Perhaps in this sense, it might provide a means of understanding why English seems to have been a connector that helped you and your peers to anchor your experiences of being TCK?

Again thanks for stopping by and adding valuable insight into this discussion.


Hi Paulette,

I have thought about the same thing and tried to approach the subject when I wrote my MSc thesis. I had this idea of interviewing TCKs in my surroundings and trying to collect cultural artefacts, ideas, language that would reflect and pinpoint a common third culture, universal to all TCKs and which could in some way be recreated on the web. But I found it extremely difficult to pinpoint mutual cultural artefacts, because materially, our experiences are so unique and individual. I also assumed that the use of the web would be a good place to start pinpointing common behavioural patterns as reflective of all members of third culture, and yet, that didn't really seem to prove true either...

So unfortunately I can only give you my own, personal answer which is probably not universal to all TCKs at all. While many TCKs for instance, seem to connect airports with their TCK experience, I connect it with the sound of rain falling on the roof of our car, as my family would always drive for days around Europe rather than fly (this was before air plane tickets in Europe were so cheap!), and Europe is so compact that in my case, it would take 12-14 hours to go from our host country Northern Italy to Copenhagen (native/passport country) which we would manage in one day.

However, speaking of culture codes:
One thing I did find out though through my research attempt, was that many felt that English was their mother tongue, even though neither the passport nor host country was an English speaking one. I don't know if that is surprising or not to TCKs and the like, but when I presented this finding to my professors they seemed to find this idea amazing and somewhat unthinkable. But then again, that would probably be more a reflection of many international schools having (American) English as their education language rather than necessarily a TCK language - pupils who have frequented Spanish or French speaking schools equally have a "right" to determine those languages as third culture languages...

But I find it interesting how some would prefer to determine their mother tongue as the language they speak with their classmates/friends, and as the main emblem to connote their belonging to a specific society (i.e. the multicultural/third cultural one), rather than the language which they spoke within the family. To this day, I feel a close affinity to the English language, as to me it means that I am in my element, the third culture environment, and it is the language in which I can best express my TCK experiences.

I don't know if it's of any interest to you, or whether you've already seen all of this theory, but I did try to document my research while I was writing my thesis, and you might find some of the first posts on my blog interesting: (link is to the earliest posts, which reflects the theories that inspired me - the actual research and findings are in the later posts)

Unfortunately, I had to give up updating the blog as time was running out and I felt it was more important to write on my thesis, (anyway, I couldn't really come up with any satisfying conclusions), but I personally think that a lot of postcolonial and globalisation theory is really interesting, especially with relation to the idea of cultural codes/artefacts as reflection of identity and belonging...

I look forward to following the comments on your post! I just found your blog through tckid and I'm already hooked! :)

Ruth Van Reken

Paulette, you ask excellent, excellent questions re: the possibility of a culture code for TCKs. Perhaps here is the beginning answer, at least, to "what is it that connects us so strongly when we've never met before?" I've always assumed (and still believe) it is the shared place of common internal experience such as knowing what it is to love a world others might not define as yours, to know the feelings of not being able to gather all your worlds together into one place at one time, and so on, but can these somehow be given language as common "culture codes" to help us name and use these commonalities in our interactions wtih one another and others more effectively? See if someone can translate the following into a "culture code."
Paulette mentioned how the smell of coffee evokes for her what the smell of tea might for a person from Japan. For me, the smell of harmattam...the dust in the air that comes from the Saharan desert in the dry season...evokes an incredible sense of "home." Growing up in Nigeria and the harmattan season coming in December, it is associated with all the holidays I cherish around that time of year. TCKs from other countries may not share the specific response to harmattan that I do (in fact, they may dislike it for all the dust it produces on the table!) but they seem to be able to understand me there as well, not thinking it is very odd to like the smell of dust in the air, as they give me some other equally unlikely example of what might be "home" to them. Maybe this is nothing more than affirming what Paulette has written about tea/coffee with other pictures. Anyway, good thoughts, Paulette. I look forward to future responses here. picture/smell/taste

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