Transnational Education
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Thoughts, research, current events, and instructional models -- for accredited degree programs delivered internationally

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Meeting the Higher Education Needs of the World's Third-Culture Kids

Wow, the article When no place feels like home from today's Christian Science Monitor really struck a chord with me. Having lived for at least a year in two different countries, and having worked in an international school like the one mentioned here, I have a real affinity with third-culture kids (TCK's) and how they feel about their identity.

I did not grow up overseas, but rather gained my experiences abroad as part of the transitional period of my life between childhood and adulthood. Does that make me a third-culture adult? I don't know. But I can attest to the anxiety and loneliness felt by these kids and also the resilience they show in "starting over" after each time their family moves. These kids truly become the global nomads that work to bridge cultures, that feel at ease surrounded by people of numerous races and ethnicity. They are in many ways the ideal candidates to lead out in a global society.

These kids are also prime candidates for transnational education and independent study because unlike international students who flock to prestigious Western institutions for the campus life, these students would really rather be somewhere else. They are well educated and competitive at top institutions, but in attending them, they feel more acutely separate than ever. If TCK's had the option of getting degrees from credible universities while living overseas with their families, many of them would stay there. Many may wind up in Europe getting the education they seek while maintaining a lifestyle they know. Good news for European universities. Others could pool in places like Singapore, attending Australian or US universities via distance ed while living with kids from other countries who understand them better.

But while this article is centered on US students and families, the issue really is a global one. Children of Danes, Koreans, Indians, and any other nationality living overseas because of their family's employment are TCKs in their own respect. And these kids have just as difficult a time going "home."

While working in Uzbekistan I became well acquainted with some Korean families associated with the school. They had mapped out their children's future educational journey with great detail because they knew some of those obstacles. One mother claimed that her oldest daughter, though fluent in English and her mother tongue and a good student in the American curriculum-based school, would not pass the rigorous Korean college entrance exams. If she was abroad until her senior year of high school, the Korean schools would administer a different, easier test assuming that she had not been through the challenges of Korean K-12 education. This was her only hope in admittance to a Korean university.

But I'm not so sure she would even feel comfortable there. Though she tried to keep up on Korean pop culture and fashion trends, the first time she mentions Timur, the Silk Road or Uygur people, the first time her "field trips" to Bangladesh and Kyiv come to light, she will be literally a world apart from her Korean peers. She is a great candidate for the US Transnational Education market. She could stick with the life she knows well and get her education from a university in the country where her family is stationed. But if that country's higher ed system is not widely respected, she would be better off pursuing it from a transnational education provider.

Many parents of TCKs don't want their kids forgetting their heritage, culture, and ancestry living abroad. A compromise for parents of such children might be in returning to their homeland so their children can be reintroduced to "their culture" but allowing their kids to study through a TNE provider at universities with students not of their own culture, who may accept them better than their own peers. Would, for example, Korean children raised all over the world be better off living in Korea and getting their education from Australia, the US, or Singapore? Or are they better off staying in a third culture as international students?

posted by Mark at 8:13 AM | Link | Comments

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Tom Nickel
TNE Lead Blogger
Guangzhou, PRC
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