TCKs of Asia


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Language & Power

Stories from Asia

Have you ever felt uncomfortable that people around you perceived you as superior for speaking a certain language or inferior for speaking it with the ‘wrong’ accent? Have you ever heard someone at school accusingly ask, ‘Why are all the Korean kids sitting together in the cafeteria?’ Or have you ever wondered why your mom didn’t know how to make brownies when everyone else’s did? And why all the characters in the novels your English teachers made you read had blond, brown or red hair but not black? Or perhaps you changed your name to, say, 'Jay' or 'Erika' to make it easier for your teachers and classmates to remember?

As children, we start life without any understanding of why things are the way they are or why things like language, culture and race matter. But it doesn’t take long before we begin to internalize the messages we receive from the cultural hierarchies we see around us, which can have a lasting impact and take a long time to unlearn. Even those with an international upbringing are not immune to it.

In this forum, we learned and talked about the experiences of Third Culture Kids who went to schools where the dominant language and culture were different from home and how it affected them.


Isabelle Min, a former radio host and television broadcaster for KBS, is a diplomat kid and one of the first generation of Koreans who grew up overseas in the 1970s and 80s. When she repatriated in high school, Isabelle was fully aware of the privilege that came with her international experience and fluency in five languages, especially English. Yet, with it came an even stronger awareness of the way cultural hierarchies interfered with her relationship with others as some saw her as being inferior for not being westernized enough and others saw her as superior for being able to speak English. Isabelle has spent the last two decades as founder and CEO of the TCK Institute to help break down these hierarchies.

Danau Tanu is an anthropologist and author of Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School, which is based on her PhD research. To write it, she went back to high school for a full year at 30-something to collect data by observing Third Culture Kids on an international school campus in Indonesia. Danau was born in Canada to an Indonesian father and Japanese mother, and attended both local public schools and international schools in Indonesia, Japan and Singapore. Like Isabelle, it bothered Danau that cultural hierarchies seemed to have a negative impact on children, which led her to research the way 'race', culture and class shape popularity, friendships and romance among TCKs.


Aiko Minematsu is a university lecturer in Tokyo, teaching English for academic purposes. Aiko is now residing in Tokyo, Japan, but as a child she enrolled in seven elementary schools in Japan and the USA. She holds an MA in TESOL from Teachers College Columbia University and a secondary school teaching license for teaching English in Japan. She has taught English to returnee students in Japan for over ten years. Her life goal is to empower TCKs in Japan through education. Aiko is also a Co-Chair for the FIGT Japan Affiliate.


Edited by Karen Tan

Design by Asako Noda

LEARN MORE. Publicly available resources by the team that are close in theme:

And here's something fun about multilingual living among TCKs. Family speaking 5 languages ... in which language do they dream and argue?? It's in Korean with English subtitles. 5개국어로 대화하는 가족.. 어느 언어로 싸울까??? 🇰🇷🇬🇧🇫🇷🇪🇸🇨🇳한국어로 즐기세요!

The background story goes something like this: Josh went to an international school in China where the majority of students were Koreans. He wanted to hang out with his classmates but he couldn't speak Korean. Much later, he befriended a Korean, learned Korean, and moved to Korea at a time when it was unusual for a guy who looked like him to speak Korean. So, he started a YouTube channel, as you do, in Korean and it became a hit in Korea. Gabie in the middle was a chef who auditioned for a cooking contest and started doing YouTube later, as you do. Josh & Gabie met as YouTube celebrities, got married and moved to the UK. The adorable Esther on the right is Gabie's sister. Enjoy!

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