Expatria’s Children (part two): Difficulties & Crises in Child Migration

The boundless new opportunities awaiting an expatriate family is well advertised, the psychological problems and social issues experienced by migrating children is perhaps less known. The initial part of this investigation was spent exhausting the potential of Expatria’s children, of Third Culture Kids – those best versed in the interconnectedness of current times. This concluding article will examine the difficulties facing the children of Expatria, how crossing cultures can cause difficulties for individual and state. TCKs are often rarefied and sensitive individuals and whilst it has been noted that TCKs can provide a unique service in the contemporary age, this is not achieved without any issues.

‘Forgotten Children’ of the Commonwealth

Britain has a sustained and conscious history of child migration, part of a warped philanthropic strategy under the rationale or guise of empire’s ‘civilising mission’. The Child Migrant Trust is a charity set up for the purposes of reconnecting families fractured by the actions of British charities that sought a solution for underprivileged children, scattering them to the furthest corners of the commonwealth. According to a recent history of ‘Empire’s Children’, a £10 outlay by Barnardo’s to expatriate children saved the ‘charitable’ organisation a £16 a year expense. Remarkably, this practice continued after World War Two, British organisations still sent 3,300 children to Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe or Australia. From 1920 to 1970, The Guardian revealed that 150,000 far-flung children were despatched to institutions and foster homes across the commonwealth.

Experiences that ensued were marked by neglect and abuse, ‘forgotten children’ that two former Prime Ministers, Britain’s Gordon Brown and Australia’s Kevin Rudd, have publicly atoned for. Children found no home ‘in large, impersonal institutions or farm schools which accommodated up to three hundred and fifty children.’ False philanthropy put the needs of children secondary. In the land of milk and honey, the milk proved sour and the honey not so sweet, an aftertaste that the Child Migrant Trust has tried to placate.

‘The issue is that transition always involves loss, no matter how good the next phase will be. Loss always engenders grief…’ (Ruth van Reken)

The uprooting of youth can be a traumatic time for both children of privilege and those who lack the financial and familial support to ensure safe passage and transition between nations. The emergence of ECS (Expat Child Syndrome) has validated the existence of the emotional turmoil undergone by Expatria’s youngest members. Kate Berger, a child psychologist, appeared in The Telegraph acknowledging the significant and unique adjustment process children face in adapting to new environs. ECS and the challenges facing privileged expatriates is emotive, however, the trials endured by expatriates moving from and amongst developing countries is harrowing. In America, 2014 has been marked as a crisis in regards to child immigration and the UK has also struggled to provide for the unaccompanied and displaced youth of Expatria.

The inability to govern the Mexico-United States border, in regards to humanitarian and economic concerns, led the International Business Times to declare 2014 the ‘Year of the Child Immigrant Crisis’. Record numbers of unaccompanied children from Central America found their way to the makeshift detention centres of the southern states of the U.S. The New York Times reported that 68,000 children were detained from October 2013 to October 2014 leaving President Obama to proclaim a ‘humanitarian crisis’, an emergency fund of near $4bn to rectify it. Unaccompanied children of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, nations currently riven with gun- and drug-related crime are the primary contributors to the swell in child migration. The U.S. is not the only nation struggling to accommodate for the arrival of unaccompanied children. In Britain, legislation remains which enables border forces to detain children indefinitely, an abhorrent practice that one commentator has referred to as the ‘black hole at the heart of British Justice.’


It is at the fault lines of cultures and societies that one can gather an understanding of global migration. In the examination of the quality of the stitching between nations, made of separate religious and cultural fabrics let alone geopolitical colours, that the welfare of the haves and the have-nots can be ascertained. The events that centred on the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, U.S.A, the illegal passage between Central and Northern America, goes to show that both the developed and developing worlds are failing to guarantee the welfare of immigrant children. Even amongst developed nations, the phenomenon of ECS shows there is a need for resources to improve for children of movement. However, as the first part of this article suggested, Third Culture Kids are globally-equipped children tailored to the diversity of today’s business.

Awareness, education and co-operation are central to improving conditions for the global migration of children. As highlighted in the first instalment of this series, information gathering, in regards to those who live outside their country of origin, whether expat or immigrant, is not prevalent. Not only does the Expat Survey position itself to collate information that textures the understanding of people of global movement but also, through our Helpdesk, aims to provide a bridge between expat and the relevant resources that can assist.

Sources: BBC, The Expat Survey, The Guardian, Huffington Post, The Independent, International Business Times, Japan Times, New York Times, The Telegraph, Vice News. Credit to William Purbrick, Digital and Research Assistant at The Expat Survey.

Expatria’s Children (part one): Third Culture Kids

In the first exploration into the ‘imagined community’ of Expatria we established some of its key statistical contours, a rudimental mapping of a made-up nation. Its 232 million inhabitants make it the world’s fifth most populous ‘nation’, a population that has quadrupled in the last 25 years. Data provided by the UN and CIA Factbook projected Expatria as a nation befitting the developed world – an average age corresponding to Poland and South Korea and a GDP, although difficult to ascertain using remittance and tax avoidance figures, suiting other better fairing economies. However, these promising figures are brought together by glaring disparities. Polarisations personified by the divide between the South Asian migrant workers who build the pleasure palaces of Dubai and the multinational CEOs that occupy them.

This series aims to investigate all facets of life in Expatria, starting with its future – its children. Young migrants number 34.8 million globally, being proportionally greater in the developing world, which hosts 62% of migrants under 20. UN data produced in 2010 announced that there are over 13 million global migrants between the ages of 0 and 9, representing a significant proportion of immigrant populations in Africa and Central and South America. Child migration is as popular amongst developing nations as it is between developing and developed nations. Research stemming from the 1950s has conveyed expatriate children, referred to as Third Culture Kids (TCKs), as a unique group of growing global significance. In the Telegraph, Ruth van Reken acknowledged the exponential growth of TCKs and the ‘priceless gifts’ they have to offer.

Third Culture Kids: a global future?

Third Culture Kids, the adopted sons and daughters of Expatria, are children who have spent a significant part of their formative years living outside of their parents’ country of origin. Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem’s work, based on her personal experiences of raising a family in India, built the platform for understanding expatriate children as being of a distinct third culture. The third culture is inspired by parental cultures and host nation cultures; the third, a synthesis created in the Petri dish of expatriate life. Understanding of this border-straddling upbringing, was furthered by Ann Baker Cottrell who defined ‘global nomads’ as children ‘raised in third cultures, cultures which are created and shared by individuals in the process of relating different societies.’ Overseas job opportunities have increased and so have the number of globally-located children, it is estimated that there are as many bilingual children in the world as there are monolingual. In a survey conducted amongst American Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs), Expatria’s children were proven highly educated, four times more likely to achieve a Bachelor’s degree than non-expatriates, and over a third go on to Master’s level study.

Third Culture Kids have been a historical mainstay since the dawn of imperialism. The Child Migrant Trust charts the beginning of this movement to 1618 as London-born children were sent to Richmond, Virginia. Writers JG Ballard and Doris Lessing are examples of children of empire and their third culture experiences permeate through their work. After World War Two and America’s consolidation as a world power, professional migration, globalised companies, international organisations and military outposts expanded the number of school age Americans living overseas, numbering 300,000 in research conducted in 1976. The embodiment of this phenomena is Barack Obama, born in Hawaii and raised in Indonesia and Chicago, now the 44th President of the United States of America.


Third Culture Kids of Japanese origin, known as Kikokushijo, have posed both a domestic difficulty and a potential solution to a nation, like all, needing individuals with a three-dimensional worldview. In 2011, the Kikokushijo grew to 780,000 and have been a cause of periodic domestic issues due to their difficulties in reassimilation. In light of the current global climate, The Japan Times has called for this oft-marginalised group of bicultural and bilingual returnees to assist Japan, as its industries grapple with globalisation. Yasuo Ichimura, a representative of the Japan Foreign Trade Commission, questioned – ‘aren’t those who actually experienced living overseas better candidates for globalisation than those who have never left Japan?”

The formative make-up of Expatria’s youth appears an identikit for the future – an enriching cross-cultural experience generating an expanded worldview, children that embody the present day. In the globalised twenty-first century TCKs find themselves ‘increasingly relevant in the contemporary interconnected world’, according to Baker Cottrell. The potential of the bilingual and bicultural is vast, however, the second part of this segment aims to make clear the difficulties and crises that befall children of global movement, an attempt to answer whether the world-faring are destined for world-weariness.

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Huffington Post, The Independent, International Business Times, Japan Times, New York Times, The Telegraph, Vice News. Credit to William Purbrick, Digital and Research Assistant at The Expat Survey.