Growing up in another culture as an asset in a globalising world

How does it affect you when you grow up in a culture that is also new to your parents? In her dissertation, Monika de Waal of Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences mapped out how this shapes people, what makes them feel at home and whether this influences their behaviour in the workplace. And what turned out? People with this background are more open to other cultures, can deal better with diversity and prefer a different style of leadership.

Growing up in a country where neither of your parents were born. A growing group of people can relate to this, for instance because their parents are expats or because they work for an NGO. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) is the term for people who spend a large part of their childhood in a country other than their parents' passport country. Due to globalisation, more and more people live and work internationally and, as a result, more children grow up abroad.

How do these experiences affect the development of TCKs and does their background make them the ideal employees of the future? This is what Monika de Waal has mapped out in her thesis "Third Culture Kids as Unique Sources". "Previous research emphasised the negative side, such as a permanent feeling of being uprooted. I am curious about the positive contribution that TCKs can make," she says. To interpret the effect of cross-cultural experiences, de Waal introduces the concept of Cultural Fusion Identity (CFI). The connecting speech during the inauguration of Obama, who himself grew up in different cultures, was an important trigger for the researcher to investigate this.


De Waal herself also grew up partly abroad: "When I returned from Pakistan at the age of seven, it was difficult. I thought the people were weird and I fell down some stairs, because we didn't have any over there.” Nevertheless, she is happy with her background that makes her enjoy working in an international environment and that she can deal more easily with cultural differences (intercultural sensitivity). This is not only a personal experience, as her research shows. The responses of 1400 (of which 550 were TCK) respondents showed that they are more open to other cultures. "A friend of mine who also grew up abroad aptly calls herself a 'Worldaholic'."

Twenty in-depth interviews revealed that most TCKs have a positive attitude towards the culture in which they grew up. Their feeling of home is not so much bound to a particular place but is much more connected to people. These respondents also appear to be more often bridge builders, both between cultures and between different groups. "One participant grew up in three countries, including the United States. She has always worked hard for greater inclusiveness of different groups. She worked for the Institute for the Deaf, for example, where she dedicated herself to increasing the inclusiveness of the deaf and hard of hearing," illustrates the PhD candidate.

Globalisation requires different competences

But why is it important to investigate what growing up in a 'third culture' does to someone? "This group will only increase in the future and increasing globalisation also requires different competences at work, for example when it comes to the type of leadership skills needed. Teams are increasingly diverse and previous research has shown that they can only flourish with good leadership." By this she means, among other things, transformational leadership, which is characterised by an inspiring and motivating style of leadership. A style of leadership that Third Culture Kids in particular seem to prefer, according to the research.

More information

On 24 September 2021, Monika de Waal will defend her thesis, titled: 'Third Culture Kids as Unique Sources' at the Erasmus School of Social and Behaviour Sciences (ESSB).

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PhD defence M.F. (Monika) de Waal

On 24 September 2021, M.F. de Waal will defend her PhD dissertation, entitled: ‘Third Culture Kids as Unique Sources'.

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