Photo: Unsplash
Photo: Unsplash

Mentoring Third Culture Kids

A third-culture kid is one who grows up in a different culture from the culture that his or her parents grew up in.

Best Practices July 5, 2018

She sat across from me as we engaged in an earnest debate about life, philosophy, and the realities of marginalization that others seemed to ignore. I felt lost – I wasn’t a trained mentor, I was nearly twice her age, we were raised on different continents, and she was just exploring her boundaries while I had established mine, but in that moment I also felt a connection. She was a third-culture kid (TCK) and so was I, so we understood each other even if we didn’t always speak the same life language.

A third-culture kid is one who grows up in a different culture from the culture that his or her parents grew up in. Counseling, mentoring, and other support outside of the classroom is available to many students today. However, are the TCK’s particular needs being recognized and met? A TCK easily employs their adaptability to portray confidence. They often hesitate to ask for guidance even while they are questioning and searching for meaning. Their layered approach to life can complicate decisions such as which major to pursue, who to befriend, or how to establish their values. A TCK grows up believing their life is “normal” when it is actually unusual. Their experience with handling inordinate amounts of change in a short span of time, from schools to languages to cultures, may lead the TCK to feel they shouldn’t need mentors as they should already be equipped to handle life.

This is particularly seen in the struggle to maintain long-term relationships. The TCK learns to get close quickly and end things abruptly, rather than engage in the natural ebb and flow of bonding. Social media may keep the connection but doesn’t provide tools to handle conflict and be vulnerable without fear of rejection. Having a mentor who understands their particular set of challenges is important to help the TCK thrive emotionally.

There are a number of ways a mentor can address the particular needs of a TCK:

  • Let them talk about their world in relation to the wider world. Their need to stretch intellectually and emotionally requires a mentor who acknowledges their inner tension to adapt to peers while living in a complex world.
  • Get to know them with a sense of wonderment. Sit with them and listen to who they are. This is the greatest gift you can give a TCK, as they are so used to trying to fit in that they forget their special qualities.
  • Let them explore. Encourage their self-awareness. The more they develop their understanding of themselves, the more they will understand the world around them.
  • Affirm their ability to see gray in the black and white of monocultures. This perspective will help them build bridges between the worlds they understand fully.
  • Work together to pull their identities into a beautifully complex mosaic. This will boost their self-confidence and help ground them.
  • Above all—be present. This will invite their trust as they open up to you.


Maria Lombart, MA, always vowed she would never be a teacher. Now the highlight of her week is seeing her fun-loving and unpredictable students who keep her on her mental toes. She is the Executive Assistant to the President of Middle East University in Beirut, Lebanon.


  • | June 30, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Maria Lombart–Were you and your mother (and maybe a sister?) at Weimar a few years ago? My new wife and I were volunteering, she in the mailroom and I as librarian for a while in the fall of 2010, and we think we remember a lady named Lombart in the Business Office and maybe a daughter of two. I just read your article “Does God Cry?” in the July, 2019 Adventist Review, and it makes a lot of sense (even for a man!).

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