Third Culture Kids Who Made it Big

I’ve found, in my work with students, that one thing that can sometimes give them inspiration and hope, is to find a well-known success story of a person who may have experienced some of the same challenges they are experiencing, and who was able to survive and thrive.  This knowledge that people can take adversity and turn it into strength, has proved helpful in cases of bullying, divorce, learning challenges and body image.  Knowing full well that many of our kids are greatly influenced by celebrities and people in the media, I thought it would be helpful for this unique population to also have some role model Third Culture Kids who have made it big.  So here are a few names you might want to drop with your TCKs.

1. U.S. President Barack Obama: The 44th President of the United States is half Kenyan.  He also spend part of his youth living in Jakarta with his mother and her second husband, who was Indonesian, before returning to Hawaii to live with his grandparents.  Obama has traveled extensively and has ancestry from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and more. This “big picture” look at the world wins him some fans, and some enemies.

2. Yoko Ono: The performance artist and wife of Beatle John Lennon was born to a Japanese banking family and lived in the U.S. , due to  her father’s work, for much of her youth.  After going to high school in Japan, she went to Sarah Lawrence College in New York City, and met John Lennon while in London.  Like many TCKs, she was comfortable with travel and found artistic ways to explore her identity.

3. Viggo Mortensen: For all the Lord of the Rings fans out there, the actor who plays Aragon was born to a Danish father and American mother, but spent much of his youth living in Argentina. This environment is where his love for football, or soccer, as Americans know it, grew strong.  After his parents divorced, he moved to Copenhagen with his father, but went to a university in New York for his Master’s degree in Spanish.  His love and knack for languages, like many TCKs, is a life-long strength.

4. Isabel Allende: This famous writer, who is considered the most widely read Spanish author, writes in a style that combines myth and realism.  She was born in Peru, where her father was a diplomat, then spent time in her native country of Chile before moving to Bolivia and Beirut with her mother’s second husband, also a diplomat.  She attended private American and English schools. Later, she worked for the United Nations and as a translator.  She also lived and worked in Venezuela and Spain and finally settled in California, USA.  Like many TCKs, this much-traveled TCK also showed a propensity for setting up residencies in many locations throughout her life, and writes about many of her personal experiences within the pages of her novels.

5. Khaled Hosseini: Also a famous writer, Hosseini  penned the best seller, The Kite Runner, telling the story of the former beauty of his war-torn birth nation, Afghanistan. Hosseini’s father was a diplomat in the Afghan Foreign Ministry, and, at 11, Hosseini moved to Paris for four years.  Due to return to Afghanistan, war prohibited the family’s return, and they were granted asyllum and moved to San Jose, California. Like many adult TCKs, Hosseini’s experience with many cultures of the world led him to service.  He served as a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency on a trip to Afghanistan, and, soon after this visit, started a foundation to help Afghani women, children and refugees.

6. Christiane Amanpour: This leading news correspondent for CNN with a self-titled evening program was born in London to an English mother and Iranian father.  She was largely raised in Tehran, but returned to England for boarding school from age 11 on.  She chose Rhode Island in the U.S. for university, and found her way to radio stations and then CNN.  She became known as a war correspondent during various conflicts including the Bosnian War.  Like many Third Culture Kids, Amanpour became more comfortable with risk, parachuting into conflict areas and professionally reporting from various dangerous locations.

The above list gives some examples of Third Culture Kids who have made quite a name for themselves, and also some of the strengths that this lifestyle can offer.  Other Adult Third Culture Kids, with whom young people might be familiar, are actress Reese WItherspoon, Secretary of State John Kerry, Actor/Director Scott Foley and Musician/Actress Milla Jovovich.  It would be great to hear from others who can supply examples of successful individuals with the Third Culture Kid experience who we can share with young people experiencing this lifestyle.


1 Comment

  1. Uma Thurman is too, apparently. There would be lots of examples. TCKs are faced with problems and have advantages as well. Though they can learn a lot through their multicultural experiences, they usually find it difficult to grow their roots in one place and therefore they end up being successful in very unconvential fields.
    Thanks for the post! I love Viggo Mortensen particularly. Hehehe

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