Photo by thetruthpreneur,

Third Culture Kids: Calculating Friendship

I am Third Culture Kid therapist, who is also a Third Culture Kid. Which means that I frequently find myself returning to the same tools I share with my clients… Today this tool was a list. A list of my friends.

Let’s back up. So through my research, my own experience and working with clients, I can say with confidence:

Third Culture Adults often find long-term friendships challenging.

This doesn’t mean that the challenges exhibit identically. Instead there are two main characteristics of TCK friendship making.

One: TCKs can go deep, quickly.

They are gifted at quickly assessing friendships that are going to be most responsive, and will be ‘worthy investments’. After all, TCKs moved so often they have an inbuilt aversion to small-talk, aware that friendships need to establish quickly so that they can embed quickly into the new environment and get established before the time to leave comes around again.

Two: TCKs can find adult friendship-making particularly hard.

What emerges in my analysis of many of TCK life story is the link between growing up in ‘community’ and the deep sense of isolation often felt in adulthood. This link is under-explored in many TCK discourses, but provides the key to understanding why adult friendship-making can be so hard for some TCKs. These TCKs grew up in community, where membership accorded belonging, and friendships were multiple and communal.

For those who find themselves in the first group, who find making friendships easy, keeping friends may be the challenge. Hence my list. For these TCKs, friendships may move through cycles; first there is an overflow of new friendships, new relational opportunities, then follows a period of perceived isolation, where the TCK feels alone, with no-one to call on, and loneliness sets in. They are tired of reaching out, and feel an absence of intimacy in their lives, craving that sense of belonging that gives comfort. This is where my list comes in.

Calculating Friendship

Photo by thetruthpreneur,
Photo by thetruthpreneur,

This list has two columns; in the first I wrote down the names of friends who live at a distance from me – both close friendships and ones I’d like to see become closer. In the second column, I noted down friends who live nearby, again including both those close friends and those I’d like to get to know better/do more with. Then I diarize when I’m going to reach out to these friends.

Someone once asked me if this felt ‘calculating’. Yes, it does. The biggest gift we can give ourselves as TCKs, is to dispense with the myth that ‘real’ friendships will ‘just happen’. While our membership to community is no longer automatic, we can build it. We can prioritize it, be intentional about it, and yes, be calculating about it 🙂

For those who find themselves in the second group, finding it hard to make friends in the first place, we need to find our tribe(s) locally. Yup, I said it. Local matters. Even if you hate where you are living and can’t see you share anything in common with anyone there. Find a place where you can share an interest with those around you. If you have a hobby, join a group to practise it in community.

If you don’t have a hobby, make one up! Who knows, you mind end up loving watercolour painting (!) And if you don’t, then you mind find yourself at the back of the class with the other attendee who has no idea why they are there 🙂 And you grab a coffee with them afterwards… If hobbies sound too forced, volunteer. If you can’t find a group you want to volunteer with, start one. Find people. Find people who like what you like. And find where they are. Then go there.

Then make a list 😉 Of all the people you’d like to get to know better. Then email/text them. You can do this. You can build a tribe.

If you want some support exploring the friendship challenges you are facing, and encouragement as you reach out to your tribe, get in touch. Email me here, and I’ll meet with you for a free consultation to see how Life Story can help and empower you!




  1. Dan Elyea says:

    Very interesting point to consider, Dr. Rachel.

    Certainly, at my stage of life, friendships don’t just happen.

    Several of my best friends date back to elementary school days.

    Church seems to be a present potential place to develop friendships.

    Well worth thinking about . . .


    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Thanks for reading, Dan! Shared history makes friendship easier for sure, but it can be difficult when those memories are shared with people all across the globe. Faith groups are an excellent example of communities of shared interest and experience, and can be wonderful groups to ‘plug into’ when feeling isolated. Thanks for sharing!

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