Third culture kids: implications for professional school counseling.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Student guidance services (Methods)
Educational sociology (Research)
Authors: Limberg, Dodie
Lambie, Glenn W.
Pub Date: 10/01/2011
Publication: Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409
Issue: Date: Oct, 2011 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research Canadian Subject Form: School counselling
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 270374113
Full Text: The increase of international business, military placements, and immigration has led to an increase in students attending schools in a country other than where they were born: third culture kids (TCKs). TCKs have unique educational needs, necessitating the support of their school counselors. This article (a) defines and introduces the needs and characteristics of TCKs, (b) reviews interventions for school counselors working with TCKs during transitional stages, and (c) presents a case illustration of a middle school counselor employing the suggested strategies.


The cultural demographics within schools are changing and appreciating the implications of these changes is important for school counselors in the delivery of an effective, comprehensive, developmental school counseling program (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2005; Owens, Bodenhorn, & Bryant, 2010). However, school counselors are challenged to gain knowledge and understanding of the ever-changing cultural differences among students and stakeholders and modify their counseling skills and delivery of services to match their students' diverse needs (Holcomb-McCoy, 2004). Therefore, the development of school counselors' multicultural competencies and ability to employ culturally sensitive and creative counseling strategies is paramount to the delivery of an effective school counseling program (Alexander, Kruczek, & Ponterotto, 2005; ASCA, 2010; Popadiuk & Arthur, 2004).

A population of students about which limited research has been published in the counseling field is third culture kids (TCKs). The term TCKs was originally developed in the 1950s by sociologists John and Ruth Hill Useem (1976), who worked with children living away from their home country for an extended period of time. The children's identity development was influenced by exposure to cultures other than their own. TCKs are defined as students raised in a culture different from that of their parents or primary caregivers. More specifically, a TCK may be further characterized as:

a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having flail ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001, p. 19)

Therefore, the first culture for TCKs is their parents' home country (or countries); the second culture is the one they are raised in during their primary developmental years (Gilbert, 2008); and their third culture (interstitial culture) is an abstract culture that is created from their shared experiences and relationships with people from other cultures living the same lifestyle (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). "The 'third' culture refers to a created culture that is neither the 'home' culture nor the 'host' culture; it is the culture between cultures" (Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009, p. 755). Hence, defining the first two cultures is simplistic, but conceptualizing the third culture is complex and unique. The third culture is an abstract definition; however, understanding and appreciating these three cultures is valuable for school counselors in their work with this student population.

The purpose of this article is to (a) provide school counselors with knowledge regarding TCKs, (b) describe the transitional stages TCKs experience, and (c) discuss practical school counseling strategies to support these students' academic achievement and holistic development. School counselors may transfer information regarding TCKs to immigrant students, as many qualities and educational needs of these two student populations are similar. This article also provides a case illustration of a middle school counselor working with a TCK and employing the suggested school-based strategies.


A broader definition of TCKs includes immigrant children who live in a culture that differs in economic status, educational resources, or political views (Lee, Bain, & McCaUum, 2007). The term TCKs may be applied to all social classes and includes immigrant and refugee students (Dewaele & van Oudenhoven, 2009). A distinction between immigrant students and TCKs is that immigrant students remain in the country to which they immigrated more often than TCKs (Lyttle, Barker, & Cornwell, 2011). However, the experiences of TCKs are similar to new immigrant non-western students' experiences when they relocate to western countries (Cockburn, 2002). Hoefner, Rytina, Baker, and Monger (2010) reported that approximately 1.7 million immigrant children (legal and unauthorized) under the age of 18 were living in the United States. Additionally, an increase in immigration, globalization, international business, and military placement has resulted in families relocating to other countries (Dewaele & van Oudenhoven, 2009). Many families relocate temporarily or immigrate to a new country for professional opportunities; therefore, growing up in another culture is prevalent (Cockburn, 2002). The children of these families can be defined as TCKs because they are living and receiving education in a country that differs from their first culture. The number of TCKs in schools has increased; homogenous cultures in schools are an exception (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). School counselors working in International Schools and Department of Defense Schools often work with TCKs, and counselors in the United States work with TCKs entering or re-entering schools due to a family's relocation. Therefore, school counselors need to possess the awareness, knowledge, and skills to support the diverse needs of TCKs in new academic environments (Holcomb-McCoy, 2004).

An Ethical Obligation to Third Culture Kids

All educators (e.g., administrators, teachers, counselors) have both an ethical and professional responsibility to promote a safe and culturally competent school climate to support the holistic development of all students (ASCA, 2010; Buffer, 2003). For the purpose of this article, competencies are defined as a set of skills, dispositions, and behaviors that support counselors in promoting effective services to all their students and stakeholders (Parham, 2002). Multicultural counseling competencies include school counselors' (a) awareness of their own beliefs and attitudes toward diverse cultures and people, (b) knowledge and appreciation of diverse cultures, and (c) counseling skills to address the diverse needs of their students and stakeholders (ASCA, 2010; Sue, 1992). Thus, school counselors require knowledge and understanding of TCKs, self-reflection when working with TCKs, and counseling strategies that foster these students' functionality and achievement.

All school counselors have an ethical obligation to provide competent and effective services to their students. Specifically, the American Counseling Association (ACA, 2005) Code of Ethics state that "Counselors actively attempt to understand the diverse cultural backgrounds of the clients they serve" (p. 4). Additionally, the ASCA (2010) Ethical Standards for School Counselors advocates that ethical counselors "monitor and expand personal multicultural and social justice advocacy awareness, knowledge and skills. School counselors strive for exemplary cultural competence by ensuring personal beliefs or values are not imposed on students or other stakeholders" (Standard E.2.a). Furthermore, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP, 2009) Standards note that a competent school counseling student "understands multicultural counseling issues, as well as the impact of ability levels, stereotyping, family, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual identity, and their effects on student achievement" (p. 42). Therefore, school counselors and school counselor educators have a professional responsibility to learn about TCKs and their diverse needs.

TCKs have common characteristics in their identity development and experiences during transition between cultures (e.g., Cockburn, 2002; Fail, Thompson, & Walker, 2004; Gilbert, 2008; Hervey, 2009; Pollock & Van Reken, 2001; Useem & Downie, 1976); however, these qualifies are generalizations that should not be used to label or categorize individual students. Nevertheless, understanding of TCKs' identity development and transitional experiences is necessary for school counselors to provide both ethical and effective services to these students.

Third Culture Kids' Identity Development

Students' culture influences all aspects of their development. Students come to school from diverse cultures and subcultures, impacting their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Buffer, 2003). Adler (1977) defined cultural identity as "the symbol of one's essential experience of oneself as it incorporates the worldview, value system, attitudes, and beliefs of a group with which such elements are shared" (p.

230). Culture effects the development of value systems and how students conceptualize significant feelings such as love, happiness, and safety (Greenhohz & Kim, 2009). School counselors need to recognize both the positive and negative impact of globarization on students' development and design their school-based services to address the diverse needs of all students and stakeholders (Paredes et al., 2008), including TCKs.

Two characteristics of TCKs are cross-cultural living (riving within more than one culture in their lifetime) and high mobility (moving frequently from one culture to another; Grimshaw & Sears, 2008; Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). TCKs have an increased global understanding and can adapt to new situations quickly as compared to non-TCKs (Hervey, 2009); however, they may find establishing a sense of identity in new environments to be challenging (Cockburn, 2002; Hervey, 2009). The identity development process for TCKs is unique and involves the formation of personal values, beliefs, and behaviors; it is an unstructured pattern compared to students who spend their developmental years in their "home" culture (Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009). When TCKs transition into a new culture, they may view themselves as a temporary resident or identify themselves as a member of the country in which they are currently riving and not identify with their first culture (Cockburn, 2002). Therefore, TCKs may experience dysfunctional identity development (e.g. inaccurate self-image, caution towards developing relationships) due to their focus on adjusting to their changing environment rather than their intrapersonal identity development (Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009). This can affect their academic achievement and social-emotional functionality. Therefore, educators may need to pay special attention to the changes and maintenance of a student's personal identity (Grimshaw & Sears, 2008).

Negative changes occurring during TCKs' identity development decrease their ability to be aware of the here-and-now. Their identity is grounded in their future goals and aspirations; for example, their future career path, instead of their current surroundings or their background (Fail, et al., 2004). Limited awareness of the here-and-now negatively impacts a TCK's ability to identify with his or her current environment. TCKs connect on an emotional level to their first culture, or identify minimally with both their first and second culture, but have a limited connection to either (Gilbert, 2008). An idealized view of their first culture could be developed even if they haven't been to that culture recently, which can lead to feeling disconnected when they do visit or return (Gilbert, 2008). TCKs connect more with the country in which they reside than the country that issued their passport (Hervey, 2009). Consequentially, many TCKs have an unrealistic connection with their first culture, and their identity development is more complex than simply their current geographic location.

TCKs struggle to develop a strong personal identity and depth in interpersonal relationships (Dewaele & van Oudenhoven, 2009). But they may create an appreciation of their diverse backgrounds and they may use skills learned through their diversity to their advantage in new situations (Fail et al., 2004). Lyttle, Barker, and Cornwell (2011) found that TCKs have a higher ability to examine social situations as compared to non-TCKs. For example, TCKs may be accustomed to meeting new people frequently and feel comfortable assessing social situations; however, developing depth in these relationships may be a struggle. TCKs are more open-minded, but have less emotional stability compared to non-TCKs, negatively impacting their ability to fit in (Dewaele & van Oudenhoven, 2009). Waiters and Auton-Cuff(2009) found that female TCKs hesitate to develop relationships and have less emotional affect as compared to non-TCKs. Furthermore, female TCKs' identity development was delayed because of their focus on adjusting rather than creating a sense of belonging (Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009). Fail and colleagues (2004) found that TCKs' sense of belonging correlated with their interpersonal relationships more than where they were riving or had rived. TCKs appear to feel at home in most cultures, but a true sense of belonging, comfort, and reassurance occurs when they are with people who have had similar experiences (Green & Kim, 2009; Pollock & Van Reken, 1999). Sense of belonging is challenged when TCKs are not surrounded by others with similar experiences; thus, they need increased support during these periods (Hervey, 2009). Therefore, a stable emotional connection needs to be developed to facilitate lasting relationships for TCKs.

TCKs who share a common experience of growing up in another country, regardless of their first culture, relate better to each other than to others from their first culture (Peterson & Plamondon, 2009). When TCKs connect with other TCKs, it forms an effective support system during transitions because of an empathetic understanding of shared experiences (Gilbert 2008). However, TCKs struggle to create connections with others, especially non-TCKs, and establish strong relationships (Cockburn, 2002; Hervey, 2009). Hervey (2009) found that when TCKs maintained a connection with peers from their parents' culture, they experienced an easier transition. Furthermore, Dixon and Hayden (2008) found that, for TCKs, leaving friendships and developing new ones was a significant worry during periods of transition. Consequently, TCKs should connect with other TCKs and sustain friendships from their "first" culture; however, they should also be encouraged to develop new friendships during transitions.

Impact of Transitions on Third Culture Kids

TCKs have significant needs during periods of transition that should be identified by school personnel; specifically, school counselors. Transition is defined as the physical mobility from one location to another, and the personal change that occurs from the perspective of the one who is moving (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). Physical mobility between cultures is a significant descriptor of TCKs (Grimshaw & Sears, 2008). Anxiety and depression are prevalent diagnoses of individuals who transition into a new culture (Koteskey, 2008). High levels of stress for TCKs are common due to the amount of grief and loss they experience during transitions, which may result in feelings of vulnerability and loss of control (Davis et. al., 2010). Students' sense of belonging is developed during their primary education years and affects their understanding of self and interpersonal relationships (Fail et al., 2004). Sense of belonging for TCKs is distorted as a result of their different transitions, impacting their personal-social development and functionality (Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009).

More families are relocating to other countries, and limited research has investigated the impact of these transitions on children (Dixon & Hayden, 2008). Pollock and Van Reken (2001) described five stages of transition TCKs experience: (a) involvement, (b) leaving, (c) transition, (d) entering, and (e) reinvolvement. For the purpose of this article, the authors modified the five stages of this transition model (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001) to magnify the transitional stages that occur in a school setting and have the most impact on TCK students. TCK students experience three stages of transition at school: (a) transition, (b) entering, and (c) leaving. The transition stage is defined as when TCKs arrive at a new school in a culture other than their own, and/or when the same TCKs return to school in their first culture. The entering stage is when TCKs are adjusting to their new culture, school, and environment, and are figuring out how to become a part of their new surroundings. The leaving stage is when TCKs go to another school in another culture, or they go to return to their first culture. Not all TCKs experience the leaving phase because their families may not return to live in their home country; specifically, immigrant students. Each transitional stage may be experienced at different durations and multiple times, depending on the number of times the student's family relocates. Schools need to be aware of the three transitional stages discussed here and provide appropriate supports (Dixon & Hayden, 2008).

TCKs relocation frequently creates a negative emotional shift when they have to say goodbye to friends and mentors; this transition may evoke feelings of loss and grief(Gilbert, 2008). Students experience high levels of grief during transitions and their grief may not be taken seriously by adults because they are children and their feelings of grief are not related to a specific death experience (Gilbert, 2008). However, Pollock and Van Reken (2001) identified that TCKs experience greater levels of grief during their developmental years than do non-TCKs. TCKs may experience different types of grief; including (a) loss of friendships and relationships with family members, (b) loss of a certain lifestyle in which they are comfortable, and (c) loss of important possessions that could not be taken during a move (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). If TCKs' feelings of grief are not recognized and processed, these unresolved feelings may reemerge during adulthood (Gilbert, 2008). Feelings of grief are common for TCKs, particularly feelings of loss of what they left behind; thus, they require assistance to work through the stages of grief (Dixon & Hayden, 2008). Schools have a responsibility to support TCKs' emotional needs, including grief engendered by transitions.

Typically, TCKs do not have a choice about their moves because the parents make decisions about moving based on personal or professional reasons. Constructing a definition of "home" may be a challenge for TCKs because of their transitions. A question such as "Where are you from?" does not have a simple answer for a TCK and may be a dreaded question. The complexities of a TCK's answer include considerations such as parents' origin, birthplace, and where parents and relatives currently live (Hervey, 2009). TCKs experience rootlessness, which is a lack of connection to a "home," and they don't feel they belong anywhere (Fail et al., 2004). Gilbert (2008) stated that TCKs "maintain an ongoing state of uncertainty about safety and trust, identity, where they belong, and where their home truly is" (p. 107). TCKs' personality development is affected by their environment, acculturation, and the process of immigration (Dewaele & van Oudenhoven, 2009). Transitions evoke stress, disorientation, and anxiety because transitions are change equated with the unknown (Dixon & Hayden, 2008). Therefore, during periods of transitions, TCK students require a safe and comfortable school environment to mitigate the uncertainty of the change they are experiencing.

The Role of the School Counselor with Third Culture Kids during Transitional Stages

Schools serving TCKs should be able to identify both the negative and positive impacts on TCKs when two cultures combine to create a third culture (Cockburn, 2002). Attending a new school in a student's own country is difficult enough, but this challenge increases and becomes more intimidating for students transitioning to a new school in another country where the language of instruction may be an additional change (Dixon & Hayden, 2008). The concept of change becomes an expectation and is one of the few constants in TCKs' fives (Gilbert, 2008). School provides an environment for TCKs to increase their social skills and provides students with a consistent social community (Cockbum, 2002). This article identifies and reviews general descriptors of TCKs (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001; Useem & Downie, 1976); however, empirical support for specific interventions for TCKs is limited (Davis et. al., 2010). Nevertheless, counselors need to be equipped with school-based strategies to support TCKs' academic, personal-social, and vocational development.

School counselors' awareness of the negative impact transition may have on TCKs is crucial. Fail and colleagues (2004) found in their qualitative investigation that TCKs reported feeling like outsiders at school in their first culture, and had no real sense of belonging. When students return to their first culture, they experienced reverse culture shock and questioned their sense of belonging (Fail et al., 2004; Hervey, 2009). American-born TCKs who moved back to the United States identified that their transition was difficult due to their unmet expectations of how their return to their first culture would be (Hervey, 2009). The lack of understanding of cultural context may impede TCKs' creative problem-solving skills in social and academic situations.

Lee and colleagues (2007) suggested providing TCKs with explicit instruction in the classroom in order to enhance their creative problem-solving skills. Davis and colleagues (2010) found that TCKs showed a decrease in levels of depression, anxiety, and stress and an increase in levels of functioning when they participated in a school-based transition program. Hervey (2009) compared transitions during TCKs' childhood and their adjustment to college, and found that previous negative transitions negatively impacted TCKs' ability to adjust to college. Therefore, school counselors need to be an integral part of TCKs' transitions and appreciate the potential influence of these transitions on their students' academic achievement and holistic development. During each transitional stage, school counselors may employ intervention strategies that align with the ASCA (2005, 2004) National Model and National Standards, as presented in Table 1.

Transitional Stage One: Transition

The first transitional stage that TCKs experience is arriving at a new school for the first time or returning to a school in their first culture. School counselors are often a family's first impression of the counseling profession as a whole (Paredes et al., 2008). Students' and parents'/primary caregivers' understanding of the expectations in the new school is important, as is knowing that the school has information regarding the students before they begin school (e.g. previous academic history, behavioral history; Dixon & Hayden, 2008). Specifically, counselors have a responsibility to provide TCK students and their families with an explanation of a student's educational choices and the resources available in the school setting (ASCA, 2010). The school counselor may arrange for a meeting with the TCK and his or her family, providing an opportunity for the counselor to define his or her role (especially for the family who is not familiar with what a school counselor does) and the type of resources that may be available in the school setting. The meeting can also address and clarify student and parental expectations. The counselor should arrange for an interpreter, if one is needed, and not rely on the student to fill this role (Goh, Wahl, McDonald, Brissett, & Yoon, 2007). The goal of the initial counselor-student-family meeting is for the parents/caregivers to view the school counselor as a liaison, and to make their transition to the school and community easier.

A TCK's return to his or her first culture (e.g., an American student returning to school in the states), is also considered part of the transition stage. When TCKs relocate or transition back to the United States, they may have unrealistic expectations about the values and social norms that are present in the American culture; therefore, developing structure during transitions may provide TCKs an outlet to realign their expectations with reality (Davis et al., 2010). Inquiring whether the TCK had frequent visits to the first culture is important for the counselor, because frequent visits decrease the difficulties of the adjustment. When a connection with peers from their parents'/caregivers' culture is maintained, it creates an easier transition back to the first culture (Hervey, 2009). School counselors should not assume that students' adjustment is easy because they speak the language and physically look the same as the other students (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). When students return to their home countries, they experience reverse culture shock and question their sense of belonging (Fail et al., 2004). The counselor may conduct weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with TCKs to assess their adjustment to their new school and culture, validating the existence of their third culture.

School counselors have an ethical obligation to provide faculty with information about a student that will benefit the student's personal/social and academic development (ASCA, 2010). Teachers and other school personnel should have knowledge regarding TCKs before the students begin school (Dixon & Hayden, 2008). The counselor may provide the TCK's teachers with a fact sheet including relevant academic and social needs of the student, and include strengths and interests of the TCK to enable connections with faculty. If teachers are available, such as their ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, the counselor should introduce them to the TCK students to establish a connection. The entire school community has the responsibility to help students from other cultures transition into the new school, and the school counselor should facilitate faculty trainings on multicultural issues and specific needs of these students (Goh et al., 2007). A valuable approach may be focusing professional development meetings with faculty on the needs TCKs and the transitional stages that they experience (Dixon & Haydcn, 2008).

Transitional Stage Two: Entering

The second transition is adjusting and living in the new culture: the entering stage. The goal dining the entering stage is to allow TCKs an opportunity to embrace the new culture (i.e., the second culture), keep a connection to their first culture, and understand and develop their third culture. Counselors should infuse cultural awareness into a comprehensive school counseling program to promote a welcoming school environment to students from other cultures (Goh et al., 2007). TCKs may be provided with opportunities to express themselves and let their "voice" be heard through storytelling, possibly in the classroom or during an assembly (Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009). Sears (2011) found that TCKs want opportunities to express their experiences in a narrative format in order to maintain their sense of self. These storytelling opportunities may be valuable during holidays that are unique to a student's first culture or during a diversity week. School counselors can organize a diversity week or month to encourage cultural awareness, with a culminating event to allow students to display their cultures (Goh et al., 2007).

TCKs need opportunities to establish connections and develop friendships with others who have experienced similar transitional stages, or someone who is a native of the second culture (Davis et al., 2010). School counselors can develop a buddy program to pair TCKs with current students (TCKs or non-TCKs) at the school to provide the TCK with a peer to assist with transitions academically and socially. All current student buddies should be trained, and the school counselor must coordinate the program (ASCA, 2010). The buddy program can be a valuable transition tool if implemented and monitored correctly (Dixon & Hayden, 2008).

Activities that can enhance positive relationship development include informal group experiences, social events, or outings that provide time for TCKs to interact with other TCKs (Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009). One way for TCKs to develop friendships with other students is during field trips. The destination of these trips could be places that represent the second culture (i.e., the culture in which the TCK is currently living), and should be an educational/experiential trip that allows the TCK to be exposed to the second culture. The itinerary for the field trip may include museum tours, eating at local restaurants, and exploring the environment in an active way, such as hiking or biking. The conclusion of the trip should include an assigned self-reflection for the students of what they learned about the second culture and themselves. The school counselor can facilitate continued reflection in a small group setting. A structured group setting may be valuable for TCKs to connect with other TCKs to discuss common characteristics (e.g., transition, identity, and relationships; Waiters & Auton-Cuff, 2009). School counselors can lead small groups focusing on culture shock and transitional issues that immigrant students experience (Goh et al., 2007).

Transitional Stage Three: Leaving

The third transitional stage TCKs experience is leaving their current school and going to another school. Not all TCKs experience the leaving phase because they may remain at their current school for a longer term and may not return to their first culture country permanently (e.g., immigrant students). A significant challenge TCKs face during the leaving stage is saying goodbye to friends and negatively anticipating creating new friendships when arriving in another country (Hervey, 2009). TCKs are accustomed to their friends leaving and new friends arriving (Sears, 2011); however, during the leaving stage, providing the TCK with time for closure is still important. The counselor may arrange for TCKs to spend time in the counseling office or classroom and invite their closest friends or anyone who would like to say goodbye. It is important for the counselor to inform teachers when a student is leaving, allowing the teachers time to say goodbye. If the TCK's departure is abrupt and not expected, the school counselor should encourage students to stay in contact with the TCK through social networking or e-mail, and classmates can sign a card for the counselor to send to the TCK.

During the leaving stage, students may show resistant behavior or have limited ability to portray strength and not make their grief visible (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). Counselors may make contact with TCKs' parents to make them aware of and prepare them for the negative impact of transition. Hervey (2009) suggested that parents/caregivers play a crucial role in transitions and parents should work to establish open communication within the family system, encouraging their children to maintain connections with friends to increase depth in friendships. TCKs are less stressed during transition if they have a strong connection to their parents/caregivers (Peterson & Plamondon, 2009). Furthermore, parents'/caregivers' level of anxiety during transitions influences their children's anxiety and ability to adapt to the move (Dixon & Hayden, 2008). Therefore, helping to prepare and educate parents during transitional periods is important for counselors.


The first author, as a middle school counselor, had the opportunity to work with TCKs and immigrant students in Europe, the Middle East, and public schools in Florida. The following case presents a counselor (the first author) employing the suggested school-based interventions with a student named Camron (fictitious name). He came to school from Peru in the middle of his 7th-grade year due to his parents' employment. He was enrolled until just before the end of his 8th-grade year. The case illustration presents school-based interventions used at each of the three transitional stages; however, the case does not portray all the strategies that school counselors may implement when working with TCKs.

Transition Transitional Stage

The first contact I had with Camron was a prearranged student and family meeting, lasting 30 minutes, with Camron and his parents. Camron's first language was Spanish; therefore, I invited an interpreter to the meeting. During this initial meeting with Camron and his parents, I (a) discussed the resources available in the school and community; (b) clarified the type of instruction and curriculum used in the school; and (c) reviewed logistical school procedures, such as school policies, attendance, classroom behavior, and extra-curricular activities. We also discussed and clarified student and parental expectations. I invited Camron's ESL teacher to the meeting, briefly, to allow them time establish a connection.

Next, I created a brief fact sheet about Camron, including where he lived previously, his likes/dislikes, his schedule, any academic and/or social concerns, and anything else Camron and his family wanted his teachers to know. The fact sheet was approved by Camron and his parents then provided to all of Camron's teachers and the administration before Camron's first day of school. The faculty at my school had already received professional development training on multicultural issues and TCKs.

Entering Transitional Stage

The second transitional phase that Camron experienced included adjusting to and living in the new culture. The goal during the entering stage was to allow Camron opportunities to embrace his new culture (the second culture), keep a connection to his first culture, and understand and develop the third culture. On Camron's first day of school, I assigned him to the buddy program, which was a peer-to-peer program to develop connections between students to make the transition easier for TCKs. Current students (TCKs and non-TCKs) were nominated by a teacher to be a buddy and, after being nominated, would choose whether to participate in the program. All buddies completed a two-day training co-led by a teacher and me, and I was responsible for all aspects of the program. At the beginning of the year, the program held a buddy day trip to a location that exemplified the local culture. Unfortunately, Camron arrived in the middle of the year so he was not able to attend the buddy trip. Throughout the year, buddies were assigned to new TCKs when they arrived, and I would host buddy luncheons. I also encouraged Camron to join the Friendship Circle, which was a group of TCKs and students dealing with friendship issues that met every other week during lunch.

I was part of the leadership team for events that allowed Camron to keep a connection to his first culture and be exposed to the second culture. One event was International Night, an exhibit event in which each student or group of students had a table to display items from his or her first culture. The exhibits included food and music from the student's first culture. Non-TCKs also participated in this event by contributing with their ancestors' culture. International Night was an evening event partnered with a choral and band concert, and was a fundraising activity for the school. Another opportunity for students to educate their peers about their first culture was during scheduled school assemblies. I asked Camron to do a small presentation about his culture, with other TCKs, at the upcoming assembly. I was also part of the committee that organized a diversity week to promote cultural awareness within the school.

With other school leaders, I co-led a cultural trip. These semi-structured trips consisted of one or more days and all students (TCKs and non-TCKs) were invited to attend. Camron attended a multi-day trip that included camping in the national park, a tour of many famous sites, and dinner at traditional restaurants. All students who went on this trip were assigned to complete a self-reflection of what they learned about culture and themselves. The funding of this trip was provided by the district, the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), and SGA (Student Government Association). Parents/caregivers were also asked to donate, but were not required to financially support the trip.

I was involved in a unique program called the Faculty Family Program, which replaced an advisory class. In the program, each member of the faculty was paired with another faculty member and was in charge of eight to ten students. The faculty members were the "parents" and the students were the "children." The "families" would meet once a week for an hour to discuss academics and, more importantly, social and personal issues. The families would also celebrate birthdays together, have family luncheons together, and sometimes travel together on a day trip. The Faculty Family model provided TCKs a consistent and stable group that they could use as a resource. The Faculty Family also allowed students from many cultures to interact and be exposed to different cultural family dynamics and traditions. The Faculty Family may not be pragmatic in all schools, but was a significant experience for myself and my students.

Leaving Transitional Stage

The final phase Camron experienced was leaving our school and going back to Peru, his first culture. Before his departure, I arranged for Camron to spend time in my office during homeroom and lunch with his closest friends or anyone who would like to say goodbye. I provided Camron with a school t-shirt and journal in which students could write farewell notes or their contact information. If this goodbye meeting ran over into class time, I allowed extra time because it magnified the importance of closure. I informed the teachers that Camron would be leaving, allowing them time to say goodbye as well. Camron's homeroom teacher and Faculty Family gave Camron a simple going away gift. I called Camron's family to say goodbye and encouraged his parents to be aware of the possibility that Camron would experience grief as a result of leaving and transitioning. I suggested that Camron's parents encourage him to keep in touch with friends, and arrange visits if possible. Camron was returning to Peru and reentering his previous school.


School counselors work with TCKs and immigrant students; therefore, counselors and other school personnel require sound information regarding the unique characteristics and needs of these students in order promote a culturally aware school environment. School counselors require knowledge concerning the common identity development challenges TCKs experience and the influences of transition to their holistic development. Counselors need to support TCKs during their transitional stages, fostering their academic achievement and personal-social functioning. The suggested school-based interventions are for school counselors' use in their work with TCKs and their families, promoting a supportive and culturally competent educational environment.


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Dodie Limberg is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational and Human Sciences, University of Central Florida. E-mail: dlimberg@knights.ucfedu

Glenn W. Lambie is an associate professor, also with the Department of Educational and Human Sciences, University of Central Florida.
Table 1. Third Culture Kids' Descriptors, Observable Cues, and
Potential School Counseling Strategies

                                                 School Counseling
                                                 Strategies to
                                                 Support TCKs'
                                                 Development and
                                                 Achievement Aligned
                                                 with ASCA National
                                                 Model Delivery
                                                 System (2005) &
General Descriptors     Observable Cues of       ASCA National
of TCKs                 TCKs during              Standards for
                        Transitional Stages      Students (2004)

Strengths               Transition Stage         Transition Stage

* Expanded worldview    * Resistance to make     * Orientation with
* Adaptable               friends                  family (School
* Cross-cultural        * Overconfident of         Guidance
  relationships           academic skills          Curriculum, A:B2,
* Often multilingual    * Constant comparison      PS:A1, PS:C1)
                          to old school          * Fact sheet for
                        * Bragging about           faculty
                          previous experiences     (Individual
                                                   Student Planning,
                                                   System Support,
                                                 * Teacher meeting/
                                                   training (System
                                                   Support, PS:C1)

Common impacts of       Entering Stage           Entering Stage

* Identity              * Decline in grades      * Buddy Program
  development issues    * Frequent absences        (Responsive
* Lack a sense of       * Parents enable poor      Services, System
  belonging               student behavior due     Support, PS:A2)
* Commonly experience     to their own guilt     * Friendship Circle
  grief and loss        * Isolate themselves       Group (Responsive
* Friendship/             or only surround         Services, A:B1,
  relationship issues     themselves with          PS:A1, PSA2)
* Reverse culture         people who speak       * International
  shock                   their first              Day/Diversity Week
                          language                 (School Guidance
                                                   Curriculum, A:A1,
                                                   PS:A1, PS:A2,

                        Leaving Stage            Leaving Stage

                        * Increase in poor       * Student t-shirt
                          behavior/discipline      & book (Responsive
                        * Withdraw from            Services, PS:B1)
                          friendship groups or   * Time to say
                          extracurricular          goodbye
                          activities               (Responsive
                        * Parent against school    Services, PS:A2,
                        * Decrease in academic     PS:B1)
                          performance            * Visits
                                                   Services, PS:A2)
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