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Confused or multicultural: Third culture individual's cultural identity

Moore and Barker, 2012

A b s t r a c t

•This study examined the cultural identity of third culture individuals, defined as people who lived outside their passport country during their developmental years.

•A qualitative approach utilizing in-depth interviews with 19 participants from six different countries and with varied intercultural experiences was employed in order to explore their perceptions of identity, sense of belonging, multiculturalism, intercultural communication competence, as well as positive and negative factors attributed to their experiences of a life on the move.

•Results show that third culture individuals are more apt to possess multiple cultural identities or a multicultural identity than a confused cultural identity, as previous research had indicated.

Additionally, results suggest that while they lack a clear sense of belonging, they are competent intercultural communicators and perceive their experiences as mainly beneficial.

Quotes from TCKs on Multiculturalism Identity

From the article

Authors: "Third Culture Individuals (TCIs) possess a multicultural identity as a result of having blended different cultural aspects into a single identity...Some of these TCIs have incorporated two cultures, while others have incorporated three or even more. This does not mean that they have a confused identity; they are very well aware and sure of their cultural  identity, it is just different from most people’s single-culture identity." (p.555)

•  “I have one identity, but I understand both cultures. I know how to put them together in one piece which is me. I know how to mix both of them in a way that I can adapt wherever I’m at.”

  • Sparrow (2000) related this experience of one of the women she interviewed: “I think of myself not as a unified cultural being but as a communion of different cultural beings. Due to the fact that I have spent time in different cultural environments, I have developed several cultural identities that diverge and converge according to the need of the moment” (p. 190).

    Sparrow, L. (2000). Beyond multicultural man: Complexities of identity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24(2), 173–201.

• I’ve never really felt like I belonged in any of the countries.”

"I don’t feel like I belong, I feel like a tourist when I go to my home country. Yet, I feel like I can fit in and adapt easily without having that sense of belonging or attachment to that culture. That’s what’s incredible about this lifestyle, that you can be sitting at a table with somebody from Brazil, somebody from Argentina, and somebody from the States, and switch languages in two seconds, and it’s not even a conscious effort."

  •     "I don’t feel like identity has to be you pertaining to a country. I see how you can pertain to several cultures, and feel identified with several cultures. I have sort of combined and blended different cultures into shaping my identity now. I definitely have a mix of cultures, and I think I like it more that way."

  • Only one TCI appeared confused about her cultural identity, expressed in terms of “not wanting to just put aside a certain culture,” and that she did not reconcile the Hispanic and European cultures experienced.

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