Canada’s reputation for multiculturalism has reached new heights with record-breaking immigration rates in recent years. The evolving demographic, shaped by people from diverse countries and cultures, is giving rise to a unique group known as ‘Third Culture Kids’ (TCKs), a term coined by American sociologist-anthropologist Dr. Ruth Hill Useem in the 1950s and famously associated with former U.S. President, Barack Obama. I, too, personally identify with this term, having experienced the profound impact of being raised in a culture different from that of my parents and navigating a mosaic of cultural influences during my formative years.
While multiculturalism has long been a hallmark of Canada, the surge in immigration is expected to elevate the number of individuals who resonate with the label of third culture kid. Projections suggest that racialized communities in Canada will comprise over 50 per cent of the population by 2050, emphasising the growing significance of understanding and appreciating the experiences and perspectives of TCKs and the benefits they can bring to Canadian society.
But what does it truly mean to be a third culture kid, and what value does this identity bring? We are commonly referred to as individuals who, often from an early age, have been immersed in various cultural environments and countries, usually growing up in a culture or society different from our parents, having to adapt to the influences of our parents while simultaneously acclimating to the societies in which we are raised. Childhood, for us TCKs, can be marked by a sense of confusion and feeling ‘different’ as we are constantly navigating varied cultures and customs. However, being raised as a TCK can have many benefits.
One of the significant advantages of being a third culture kid is the early exposure to many cultures, which often shapes our worldview and can even influence the trajectory of our lives. We find ourselves balancing the nuances of different traditions, languages, and social norms. This often nurtures a sense of open-mindedness and curiosity. We approach new experiences with a genuine interest in understanding and learning from the perspectives of others. This curiosity drives continuous personal and intellectual growth, propelling us to seek opportunities that expand our cultural horizons. This fluidity we’ve developed in understanding and respecting diverse cultural perspectives sets the stage for our unique skills, a driving force for our personal and professional lives.
I was born in London to Sri Lankan parents. My upbringing involved living in London, Sri Lanka, and India and eventually settling in Canada at the age of seven. Post-university, I was fortunate to embark on a 12-year journey, living and working between Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, France, and England, before returning to Canada and making Toronto my permanent home in 2012. Immersing myself in such diverse cultures and countries has proven invaluable in navigating the intricacies of multiple societies and the increasingly globalised business environment.
The ability to seamlessly accustom ourselves to different cultural contexts is a skill many third culture kids carry into adulthood. For me, this adaptability has been a key asset in my professional journey, allowing me to thrive in diverse work environments and connect with colleagues and clients from around the globe. Our heightened cultural sensitivity enables us to seamlessly navigate social landscapes, embracing diversity as a natural aspect of our daily interactions, making us adept communicators and collaborators in an increasingly interconnected world.
As Canada continues to evolve into a multicultural powerhouse, the growth of third culture kids and the experiences they bring will become increasingly relevant and a significant asset for our society. Many newcomer children will have been immersed in at least two cultures, and second-generation Canadians often navigate between their parents’ culture and Canadian society. Our cultural adaptability, global perspectives, and effective cross-cultural communication will contribute significantly to the social and professional landscape of the country. Understanding and celebrating the unique journey of third culture kids is not just an acknowledgment of our diverse backgrounds but an investment in the richness of Canada’s collective identity.