Negotiating third culture kid identity gaps: An (inter)cultural communication perspective

In the wake of globalization, a growing line of research has emerged to better understand individuals who grow up on the crossroads of national cultures due to their parents’ vocation known as third culture kids (TCKs). Scholars and counselors acknowledge the large need to better understand how TCKs negotiate their (inter)national cultural identity. Utilizing the communication theory of identity (CTI) framework, interviews were conducted with 17 missionary kid (MK) TCKs to examine if and how they experience identity gaps. A qualitative analysis revealed various intensity levels in personal-communal, personal-relational, and personal-enacted identity gaps. Multiple factors such as context, time, identity salience, relational closeness, and cultural similarity caused variation in the experience of these gaps. The notions of being a hidden immigrant and a cultural chameleon were emphasized through passive communication strategies of camouflaging, reactive revealing, and selective revealing. Additionally, the religious dimension of being an MK had identity gaps, which were also managed passively. This research affirms and extends TCK and CTI literature in numerous ways, providing unique theoretical viewpoints of a multifaceted, dialectical (inter)national cultural identity, as well as practical implications for scholars, counselors, and TCKs.