Adult Third Culture Kid Research: The Heart Behind the Research

MORE Network
August 14 2023


This summer, we had the privilege of connecting with Shelly Lyons about her research on Adult Third Culture Kids. Listen in to hear more about the “heart” behind the research and her big picture dreams for how it will be used!

Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCK) are adults whose lives were shaped by mobility and cross-cultural experiences during their childhood. According to Merriam Webster, a “Third Culture Kid (TCK)” refers to "a child who grows up in a culture different from the one in which his or her parents grew up ... The 'third culture' to which the term refers is the mixed identity that a child assumes, influenced both by their parents' culture and the culture in which they are raised."

What is the “heart” behind your research?

To put it simply, I love TCKs! Although I am not a TCK myself, I am privileged to have many friends who are TCKs or have TCK children. I am excited to be partnering with MORE Network to do this research focusing on such an amazing group of people!

My passion began while I was working with a mission organization, meeting families who have served internationally or cross-culturally or both. As I listened to their stories, I realized that there was so much I could learn from them, particularly from their times of transition. I started on this path of research for my Master’s degree, as well as developing and facilitating programs for families transitioning back to Canada. 

Along the way, I met some amazing TCKs whose stories inspired me, while at the same time, broke my heart. I recognized the potential that TCKs have for impact in their homes, workplaces, communities, and beyond! The knowledge and skills they have gained through living cross-culturally are sorely needed, particularly as our country continues to become so richly diverse. However, I also realized that many TCKs are hurting, struggling with creating their identity and their feelings of not fully belonging anywhere, a result of their years of mobility and unresolved, and often accumulated, grief from saying goodbye too many times. I love that there are organizations like MORE Network who are offering transition retreats, resources, and support to TCKs. I also know that there is much we can learn from TCKs on how to do these things more effectively. 

What are some of the specific things you are exploring in this research?

The focus of our research is the Adult TCK’s experience.  We are exploring the broad themes of career, faith and spirituality, mental and emotional well-being, and relationships.  We have also added some demographic questions to better understand what experiences have impacted these themes.

Is there a specific question on the survey that you are especially excited to see the results?

I don’t know if there is a specific question I am most excited about as they are all such important subjects in themselves! I am interested to see how many of the themes may connect to the TCK experience. I believe the findings are what I am most excited about and seeing the impact of those findings on the practice of caring for ATCKs, as well as for ATCKs themselves!

In addition to this research project, I am also working on my doctoral dissertation research which focuses on how spiritual self-leadership can foster identity development and sense of belonging in ATCKs in order for them to elevate their potential and value contribution in the workplace. Many of the themes and questions in this survey flow into my dissertation research, so I am very excited to see how the answers may intersect. 

When you think “big picture”, how do you hope the findings from this research are used?

Wow … big picture … I am dreaming big for the impact of this research, as well as for my doctoral dissertation research!

First, and foremost, I hope the findings will have an impact on the lives of ATCKs. If even one person finds a nugget that they find useful in their journey, I will feel as though the research was worth it!  However, I hope it doesn’t stop there! 

I would also like to see the findings inform how we care and support ATCKs.  I want this information to be helpful to individuals and organizations who develop materials and programs for ATCKs. I would also love to have these findings be included in the academic literature and highlighted at academic conferences. I believe that the findings can have applicability beyond ATCKs to include others with cross-cultural experience.

Doing this research has been a desire of mine for many years and the primary reason for beginning my doctoral journey. I believe in the importance of this research and am confident that is why God has opened these doors, both for my doctoral studies and my partnership with MORE.

This is why I am dreaming big … I know God has a purpose and a plan in all of this and I am excited to join His plan in whatever way He sees fit.

If you are an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid), we are looking for participants from all backgrounds, all age groups (18+), from anywhere in the world. You can take the survey here: Adult Third Culture Kid Survey 

If you’d like more details on this research, check out this article: Adult Third Culture Kid Research 

Shelly Lyons and her husband Shane live in Oxford, Nova Scotia. She is Assistant Professor of Organizational Management at Crandall University and a Doctor of Business Administration candidate at Royal Roads University. She also serves on two teams at Outreach Canada. Shelly is the National Trainer and on the National Coordination Team for Simply Mobilizing Canada. She is also part of the MORE Network, where she has served as the Director for Classic ReBoot, a transition retreat for Missionary Kids transitioning back to Canada. If Shelly had a free afternoon, you'd probably find her either reading, or spending time with her husband & her dog!

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