Mindful Ed Blog

Third Culture Kids in Dubai

September 27, 2016



The benefits and the price they pay for being raised in a country that is not their own.

My four year old son Jamie, just had international day celebrations at his school. When asked where he comes from he happily replied, "Dubai", which earned him a laugh from those asking as he was dressed in his national dress, a kilt and an All Black t-shirt.

He was quite right as he has lived in Dubai his whole life, however the person asking was actually expecting to hear Scotland or New Zealand the countries his parents are from and the passports which he has. For Jamie, these countries are places his Grandparents live and tend to feel more like holiday destinations.


Jamie is a 'Third Culture Kid' (TCK), which means he is spending his developmental years living in a country different to the one his parents come from. While Jamie does live in Dubai he is also not a part of the local Emirate culture either. The group that Jamie relates to more than any other is the ex-pat culture which tends to have its own rules, customs and ways of being. This in itself is Jamie's third culture.


Jamie's father Graham was also a Third Culture Kid as he spent his formative years living in the jungles of Malaysia where his father worked as a planter. While his parents had a real affinity with local Malaysians as well as an immense pride at being Scottish, they, along with their sons became part of a third culture, that of the ex-pat planters. Their sons were born in Singapore and attended boarding school in Scotland, two common experiences for TCK's 20 or more years ago. Graham and his brother are now known as 'Adult Third Culture Kids' (ATCK) and many ATCK go on to continue what they experienced by giving their own children a similar life experience.


I'm sure Graham, Jamie and the hundreds of thousands of other TCK can list the many numerous benefits of being raised in a third culture, but they have also paid a price and for some ATCK this price has had a profound impact on their lives. For many just being able to realise they have a name now and they belong to a group can be enough to end the struggle of feeling they never belong or fit in anywhere. Two of the realities that help shape the life of a TCK are that they are raised in a cross cultural and highly mobile world.


In Dubai the majority of children are third culture kids. Unlike in Graham's time, the vast majority of TCK's are now able to attend an international school in the country they are living with their families. If you go into any classroom in an international school in Dubai you feel like you could host your own mini United Nations forum. There can be as many as 15 different nationalities sitting on one classroom mat. If you were to ask each of these children to then bring their passport to the mat you would see just how confusing it can be for a child trying to identify with one culture. For example, a child whose parents tell her she is from India, register her at the school as British (as her passport says) yet raise her in Dubai. Or a child whose mother is from Brazil and father is from France yet the family emigrated to the UK before the company sent them to Dubai for a few years, could very easily struggle with their own identity. TCK are also being raised in a highly mobile world. For some, Dubai is only one stop amongst many during their childhood years and for others they will spend their whole childhood in Dubai yet those around them are constantly on the move.



The benefits for TCK , to name but a few can include: The ability to be adaptable and flexible and have confidence in change, to be independent and self reliant and show a high level of empathy and sensitivity to others along with having a sharpened world view. Some TCK have listed the challenges as: a sense of rootlessness or lack of belonging, a delayed adolescent rebellion, a confusion of loyalty, grieving a loss of their childhood. For many the overriding challenge to overcome is that of unresolved grief, as with every loss there is grief involved.


Even though I myself have spent most of my adult life living away from my home country, my whole childhood was spent in New Zealand, my country of birth and that of both of my parents. As much as I try to understand what it is and has been like for my son and husband I do not walk in their shoes as I did not grow up between cultures. Many of us, as parents in Dubai, can work towards trying to understand both the benefits and challenges for our children growing up between cultures and then we can help them to enjoy these benefits and work towards overcoming the challenges.


By Carmen Benton

Mindful Ed Educational Consultant


If you would like to book an appointment to discuss any third culture kid issues, you can do so by booking an individual personalized assessment session or a couple assessment session.    Carmen Benton is available for appointments in Dubai or online via Skype.







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