Accepted Papers:

Becoming 'Asian': hidden diversity among 'third culture kids' at an international school in Indonesia  


Danau Tanu (University of Western Australia)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper critiques the concept of ‘Third Culture Kids’ by analysing the diverse articulations of cosmopolitan identity among internationally mobile children at an international school in Indonesia. It focuses on Asian teenagers and their experience of mobility and socio-cultural hierarchies.

Paper long abstract:

Due to its methodological limitations, the literature on 'Third Culture Kids (TCKs)' hitherto focused on the impact of transnational mobility on children as individuals, and assumed a singular, Eurocentric understanding of cosmopolitan identities. Moving beyond binary categorizations of who is or is not a TCK, this paper uses methodological cosmopolitanism and postcolonial theory to contextualize individual experiences of mobility within transnational socio-cultural hierarchies. This yearlong ethnographic research of high school students at an international school in Indonesia brings into relief the diversity of cosmopolitan identities among TCKs.

At the international school, only certain student peer groups were recognized by the teachers (and some students) as practicing cosmopolitan engagement with the Other, and thus being 'real TCKs'. Students in these groups were of different national and 'racial' backgrounds but predominantly spoke English among themselves. Groups that used languages other than English were assumed to be homogeneous—and the students ethnocentric—due to the absence of 'racial' differences within these groups. On the contrary, many Asian students in the latter groups labeled the English-speaking groups as simply 'white' or 'western' based on their cultural practices. Likewise, the non-English speaking groups proved to be more heterogeneous than they appeared. In fact, many Asian students articulated their transnationality as 'being Asian', thus deviating from the traditional TCK discourse. This paper explores the social dynamics behind these diverse perceptions. By analysing the 'hidden diversity' among internationally mobile young people, it offers an anthropological critique of the assumptions underpinning the concept 'Third Culture Kids'.

Panel P096
Child migrants or 'third culture kids'? Approaches to children and privileged mobility (ANTHROMOB)