Third Culture Generation

Retirees or near retirees who have spent their lives abroad discuss their place in the “Third Culture” phenomenon.

After 30+ years of service to women and children worldwide my Wisconsinite mother retired to Colombo, Sri Lanka, which had been her first post with UNICEF at the start of her career and was also the hometown of my Sri Lankan father. Four years post-retirement and their sudden divorce later, my American mum is still plunked down in Colombo trying to figure out where best to spend these Golden Years. Should she move to South Carolina where she has family? New York where she has a daughter and friends? Milwaukee where she has history? Europe to be nearer to her other two daughters? Somewhere else entirely?

My mother is not the only one in this predicament. Around the world former global civil servants, foreign service members and long-time expats reaching retirement age start wondering what comes next. Move back to their passport country even if it may not feel like home anymore? Move to the passport country of their partner or children? Set up a new life somewhere they always loved? Move closer to family or friends?

Volumes have been written about Third Culture Kids, cross-cultural individuals, bi-racial and bi-cultural families. The thousands of pages have always focused on how the parents of TCKs can better understand their children. But what about an understanding of these parents and their own experiences? Having a Third Culture Kid in the family affects all parties, yet we never hear about how the parents feel or the methods they used to cope.  And what of people like my mother and her peers: Individuals who have spent their adult lives outside their passport countries and are faced with the decision of where to settle after a lifetime of travel?

Third Culture Generation will focus on the stories of these retirees or almost-retirees, their dilemmas and the why, how, and where they are ultimately settling in their life abroad. This anthology will focus on deepening the understanding of the Third Culture Kid phenomenon by exploring the experiences and inspirations of the parents who created them. The paradigm of TCK-ness is rarely described from the perspective of the parents and as they near retirement these social, cultural and familial issues resurface.

However, Third Culture Generation is not only about parents. I would also like to explore the stories of those who spent their adult lives abroad and never had children. How did you change? What kind of partnerships emerged? Upon retiring, what drew you to one place over another? How do you define yourself in the context of “Third Culture”?

As a Third Culture Kid myself, I am looking for thoughtful and candid essays from the members of my mom’s generation who spent their lives and often retire abroad to places that have no connection with their heritage. These essays will attempt to fill the gap between Third Culture Kids, Adult Third Culture Kids and the situations that created them all, with an ultimate goal of establishing and defining a new paradigm in which to discuss TCK issues.

Third Culture Generation, with its focus on Baby Boomers, would be the first anthology of its kind. The final manuscript will be submitted to relevant agents and publishing houses.

Discussion points can include, but are not limited to, the following:

*Give us a brief bio. Where you grew up, your family background, education, your dreams as a youngster.
*What was your motivation for moving abroad right from the start? Family? Job? Adventure? Experience? Love? A combination?
*Give us an overview of where you lived around the world. Did you live in cities or rural? Were you in government housing or compounds? How did living on/off a compound affect your experience of the place?
*Some examples of positive and negative living experiences in these countries? How has this experience/experiences shaped your life? (Beliefs, attitudes, concerns, other)
*Is your partner from a different place or different race than you? How did this affect your life? If you had children, how do you feel it affected them?
*Did you retire to a place that is not your passport country? Why?
*If you returned to your passport country after retirement (or you plan to) what was your reasoning for doing so? Did it still feel like home upon return?
*How has your family or children affected location in your life?
*What did you gain from your life abroad? What did you lose?
*Did you have children abroad? How was their health and care easier or more difficult than it would have been in your passport country?
*Were you a Third Culture Kid yourself? How did this affect your partnerships, work and life  decisions?
*If divorce or separation entered into the mix, how did this affect your retirement decisions? How did this affect your experience abroad?
*Did you suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other emotional problems while abroad? How did you deal? Did any of the places you live exacerbate or even cause these problems?
*How did you deal with homesickness? Most Third Culture Kids will miss the favourite place they lived instead of a concrete idea of home. Did this every carry over to you after so many years abroad?
*Have social networking websites like Facebook changed your perspective on location? Have they helped you reconnect with people you may have lost touch with over the years?
*If you had the choice to do it again, would you have made the same choices about living outside your home country?
*An exploration of potential terms to describe this phenomenon. Cross-cultural adult? Inter-cultural retiree? Hybrid, “plain and simple”? Long-term expat? Transnational individual?

Submissions may be submitted anonymously or under a pseudonym if privacy is a concern. I am also happy to arrange interviews for those who don’t feel comfortable writing their own essays.


  • The deadline for submissions is ongoing;
  • Submissions should be saved in Word format, double spaced, size 12 Times New Roman;
  • 500 to 5,000 words;
  • Please include your contact information and a brief biography in your submission email;
  • Please send submissions to: sezin (at) sezin (dot) org.

About Zuzu, The Compiler/Editor:

I am a half American, half Sri Lankan Third Culture Kid who has lived in Sri Lanka, Zambia, Thailand, Pakistan, India, California, Switzerland, France, Spain, Turkey, Czech Republic, Germany, and am now repatriated to the USA. My educational background is in cultural Anthropology and I often contribute to magazines and websites writing about Third Culture Kid-ness as well as expat issues. A full list of my publications can be found here. Also, my first novel American Monsters, picked up by Ghostwoods Books, will be re-released in an illustrated second edition in 2011. In theory, I’m hard at work at its four follow-up novels, Crime Rave, The Secret Life of Stone, My Name is Norma Jeane, and Lighthouse Terror.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions, I welcome you to leave them below.

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©2011 Sezin Koehler

6 thoughts on “Third Culture Generation

  1. I am a daughter of an overseas foreign workers. My parents work abroad for almost 18 years. Now that they are retiring and ready to come home, they are having second thoughts of coming home to our country. Having been away for too long will disconnect you from your family and friends and usually hard to come back since the kids are already matured and have families of their own.

    I understand your mom’s predicament. Right now my parents decided to come home and spend the years of their lives near my mom’s side of the family.

  2. Have 5 weeks of dogsitting….so my target is to reflect, draft and hopefully send…..and as you are an experienced editor…will leave that to you! Again, great idea.

  3. Hey, yes! Great intro…..and yes, will send you some stuff….and will pass around. Good idea……mummy

  4. I’d love to respond, from a future looking perspective, as I WILL someday be an expat who has spent the majority of my life abroad, with no children….so will look forward to the anthology.


  5. What a wonderful project!! I work with TCKs in Beijing, China, and a lot of my acquaintances have lived most of their lives outside their passport country (even if they first left as an adult). I’ll be passing this info around 🙂

    1. Thank you, Tanya and Suzer!

      If you don’t mind I can add both of you to the email newsletter about the project so you can forward at will. Just let me know.

      Tanya, the individuals who first left as an adult are just the demographic I’m looking for, and if they are TCKs themselves then wow, we’re getting into some fascinating theoretical territory there.

      Suzer, that’s an interesting idea. Feel free to submit and we’ll see if that future-oriented perspective will fit in with the other essays.

      Thank you both for your interest and helping me get the word out. I’m really excited to see where this project goes!




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