IE University brings people together from all around the world. This includes Third Culture Kids, who have moved around and feel like they are from everywhere. We spoke to Ivana Radivojevic, who shares what it means to be a Third Culture Kid, as well as her experiences of diversity and its constant presence at IE University.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Ivana Radivojevic. I was born in Serbia but I grew up in the US and Spain. I spent four wonderful years studying psychology at IE University in Segovia, and I’m now completing my PhD in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior at IE Business School in Madrid. Having moved around so much while growing up (my family and I moved every two-to-six years), I became increasingly interested in psychology and understanding how cultures shape us. Studying in the immensely international environment of IE University further spurred my interest in understanding culture and diversity, and this was when I learned about the term “Third Culture Kid.” Today, I am studying diversity in the workplace to foster greater inclusion and understanding of the many benefits diversity has to bring

Ivana Rdivojevic

Tell us about Third Culture Kids. Who are they? Are you one of them? Do you work or study with them?

Put simply, a Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has grown up or spent a large amount of time outside of their parents’ culture. That means that anyone who spent a significant portion of their childhood living in a different country can be considered a TCK. I am indeed a TCK, as are many of our peers in the IE University community. The central idea is that, since these individuals grew up within two or more cultural worlds, their development of a sense of identity and belonging is significantly impacted by this lack of a clear and consistent cultural environment. In other words, a TCK may frequently feel that they belong or fit in “everywhere and nowhere.”

What is “the invisible culture that binds us all?”

The “invisible culture” is the “third culture” part that the TCK term refers to. The third culture is not an addition of the person’s first and second cultures; rather, what researchers have repeatedly noted is that people who grow up in this highly mobile and cross-cultural world end up developing a lifestyle that they more closely share with others of a similarly mobile and cross-cultural background. In other words, TCKs may not share as much in common with people of their “home” and “host” cultures, but they tend to have a lot in common with other TCKs, regardless of where these other TCKs lived and grew up. So TCKs do have a certain culture they share, but unlike other national cultures, there are no external markers of these cultural members (e.g., regarding physical appearance, clothes, language, etc.). That is why this “third culture” is invisible. It is, nonetheless, something that we all share, as anyone who has traveled a lot or met people from different parts of the world can relate to parts of the invisible third culture.


What can we learn from the third culture?

Although getting to grow up in different parts of the world can be exciting and enriching, it can also be incredibly lonely and challenging. I think one of the greatest things about talking about this whole TCK phenomenon is seeing how people react when they realize, “Oh, that’s me! I never even knew there was a name for that.” This notion of TCKs is relatively new, but awareness is growing across the globe, especially as the numbers of TCKs are only increasing as people all around the world move to other countries, whether for personal choices, work, or to find a better quality of life. I think the number one takeaway from the third culture is this realization that, despite how different we may all look, we actually share a lot more in common than we may realize. It’s not just how you look or what languages you speak, but also you may come to share an openness to new experiences, a curiosity for understanding different perspectives, an ability to adapt to new or unpredictable situations and an understanding that people are different in all sorts of ways. There are no inherent “rights” or “wrongs,” rather it’s about understanding another person’s point of view and learning to value what these differences can bring.

What are some of the advantages and challenges TCKs are facing nowadays?

TCKs can enjoy a variety of advantages from this highly mobile and cross-cultural upbringing, with perhaps the most notable being the cross-cultural enrichment and expanded worldview that comes from growing up in different cultural worlds. On the flipside, though, TCKs may also feel conflicted loyalties between the different homes they grew up in, feeling that they relate strongly to their “host” culture despite not technically being from there. Even though they may have family and a history in their “home” culture, they may feel pained by the fact that they are somewhat foreigners or have little experience of the country from which their family comes. There is thus a paradox in the TCK experience, whereby the sources of their strengths are simultaneously the sources of their struggles. In particular, TCKs have been found to face difficulties when it comes to developing a sense of identity and a sense of belonging. For a TCK, answering these seemingly simple questions is likely to be something they’ve struggled with all their lives. TCKs may therefore come to build their sense of identity from the mix of values, beliefs, and practices that they grew up with, rather than just adopting the nationality and identity of their parents. Moreover, rather than feeling “at home” in any given house or city, they are more likely to derive their feelings of belonging from the relationships they form.

Third culture

IE University students and Third Culture Kids—do you feel that TCKs take on an important role at IE University? Do you feel that IE University has an important role in terms of diversity? What would you say is the link between diversity and TCKs?

I think that the TCK phenomenon is immensely valuable to IE University—this community is now home to a huge number of TCKs! As a worldwide leading business school, IE University embraced diversity early on, since any successful organization increasingly needs to be capable of collaborating with others and adapting to the changing forces of globalization and technology. Moreover, IE University also understood early on that, in order to find and develop the best “talent” in students, you need to cast a wider net to find bright students from around the globe. I think IE University’s focus on international students and treating everyone the same, regardless of where they come from, has been powerful in terms of fostering more diversity both within IE University as well as within the local communities. In my eyes, this has contributed to opening people’s minds and fostering awareness of the diversity of people out there, and how such differences can teach us a great deal about successful business and how we all relate to each other. Even for those who are not technically TCKs, after their years at IE University, they will certainly come to share some of the same parts of this invisible third culture. By being immersed in an international community and studying and working with a diversity of people, everyone at IE comes to develop a more expanded worldview and ability to look at things from different perspectives. I believe the next crucial step is to think about how we can harness these rich multicultural skills to develop our careers in the professions which each of us wants to pursue.

 What are some tips for personal and professional success?

Living in this international community can develop people’s cross-cultural skills, observational skills, social skills, and linguistic skills, each of which can powerfully contribute to professional and personal success. Verbal and written communication are naturally important for success in just about any profession and developing capabilities to communicate in different languages will not only help your CV to stand out, but will also provide you with a powerful way to connect with other people that just can’t quite be reached if you don’t speak a common language. The social skills that come from learning to get along with different people and adapting to novel situations can be a great asset when it comes to working in teams and establishing relationships with others, whether for work purposes or just in your personal life. Observational skills may seem less obvious, but a huge asset of learning to get by in new situations is honing the ability to sit back, observe and learn. When immersed in a new environment, it is almost always beneficial to first observe and figure out what the proper way to behave is or what the implicit norms and expectations are here. These observational skills can greatly facilitate work where you have to analyze information or investigate new issues.


Finally, the cross-cultural skills that come from this international environment can foster adaptability and flexibility, traits which are becoming increasingly crucial as we experience ever more rapid changes all around us and have to figure out how to react and continue moving forward. In addition to the sense of adventure that many may come to adopt, there is also a sensitivity and humility that comes from living in different cultural worlds. This can be key for understanding others, especially how it feels to be marginalized or different, as well as learning to reflect on one’s own values and the kind of person we want to be. Thus, when it comes to pursuing your career, I think everyone at IE University can benefit from remembering that their unique background not only helps them stand out, but that the cross-cultural enrichment they enjoyed can help them connect with other people and learn to be comfortable in new or unusual situations. These are all important assets in today’s increasingly multicultural and globalized world. We are all very fortunate to form a part of this diverse community, and we are in a unique position to harness our cross-cultural skills to develop ourselves personally and professionally and make a positive impact in our world.

I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Big Reset, IE University’s 2020 Sustainability Week, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Project, and the IE Center for Diversity. For any questions or comments, please contact me at iradivojevic@faculty.ie.edu.