Third Culture Kids/Global Nomads

When I hear details of other people’s lives, I often think “How do people live?” This can be about mundane stuff, like how do people watch several movies per week but it’s a major victory when my Lovely Spouse and I can carve out one hour in a week to watch the next episode of A History of Scotland together. Fascinating series, by the way.

For several years, I’ve followed Reddit’s relationship subreddits, trying to understand how people’s lives work. Reddit’s comment system allows for the OP (original poster) to come back and respond to questions people have posed for clarification to better understand the situation, in a cycle that sometimes produces fascinating insights.

At first I was aghast at people’s situations. Some percentage are probably trolls but I tend to believe most of the self-reportage I see, especially when the OP’s answers to follow-up questions seem credible. Before discovering the relationship subreddits, I thought families’ throwing crockery at each other was strictly fictional, something Hollywood invented to amp up drama in movies and TV shows. Nope. Turns out, this actually happens. When I mentioned my shock to friends, some reported that they, too, had experienced flying dishware. Having grown up in a household where physical violence was completely unknown, this was incredibly strange.

A few weeks ago, an unusual one crossed my path. This breakup story got posted and I found it fascinating. The thing that drew my attention was the concept of the Third Culture Kid (a/k/a Global Nomad). I’d never heard of this and to the best of my knowledge have never met anyone from that culture.

Having read a ton of material online about this culture and the comments in the Reddit discussion, I find these global nomads intriguing. I totally get the allure of the kind of freedom one commenter describes. They talk about their time as an intern in Geneva and it does sound dazzling and fascinating for someone in their early 20s. When I Google “Geneva internships” and see all the opportunities there, I start to get the appeal. There’s even a Geneva Interns Association, and their website emphasizes a kind of carefree and glamorous partying lifestyle reminiscent of the Jet Set in the ’60s. I have been to Geneva briefly to visit CERN, but that didn’t take me anywhere near the heart of where these international interns cavort.


The global nomad’s life also seems a little sad. Most people sometimes realize that everything in life is temporary, including ourselves, but most people also by choice or accident end up pursuing relationships and living arrangements that are we tell ourselves are “permanent”. We buy houses on 30-year notes. We marry and reproduce. We live in the same town for decades at a time. But these TCKs can’t do that. Their early experiences make permanency a foreign concept.

I totally get the glamor and the attraction of pulling up roots every two or three years and moving someplace that seems like it would be more fun — or at least different from where you are — but it all strikes me as such a hassle to carry out such plans. On the other hand, if everything important to you fits in a suitcase, maybe that’s not such a sacrifice.

I do wonder if global nomads eventually run out of steam and settle down, or do they keep wandering their whole lives until they die sick and alone in some faraway hotel room?

Do you consider yourself a global nomad or TCK? Do you know anyone who fits into that category? What’s it like to live like that? What triggers you to move on? What makes you stay in one place as long as you do?

2 thoughts on “Third Culture Kids/Global Nomads

  1. I might fit this description. I get antsy to move after 2 years in one place. Like move across an ocean. It’s expensive to give away everything, because you won’t believe how much money goes into little necessary knick-knacks around the house. But it felt liberating, like getting out of a shower or getting past a bottleneck on the highway. I buy a few expensive things that wear well and pack well, and take some specialty kitchen items with me everywhere. And I mooch a whole lot.
    This wasn’t as much of a problem when I was 20, 22, 24, and 26. After kids, it got more difficult. While I can fit my life into two suitcases, my sons can’t, so I had to leave some of my treasure with the in-laws for the next overseas visit. I don’t know anyone who moves frequently with kids unless the government or an employer is covering the cost of shipping everything.
    And yet, I don’t think I’ll give it up anytime soon. With my sons, we were five years in one country, and now 2 years back in the States. I still get wanderlust, but I know that it’s better for them to stay in the same school system for a while. So my husband and I are counting down the years and negotiating where we’ll move to next.
    I’m not promoting this lifestyle – we have no equity and barely any savings. I bought my first car at 33 and have very little idea how to actually take care of it. My house looks nothing like my pinterest board, and cereal boxes make up a large part of my desk and kitchen storage decor. It’s an unhealthy addiction, the extreme sports of lifestyles, with the danger of breaking the bank instead of breaking bones. But once you start, you just can’t stop.

    • Thanks for taking the time to write that. I found it really interesting because my experience is so different. I’m like some medieval peasant who lives within 3 miles of where they grew up. I’ve traveled a little, but never lived anywhere but Nashville — didn’t even move away from home for college, but that’s another story entirely.

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