Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Jeffrey Applegate, PhD

Second Advisor

Allison Werner-Lin, PhD


BACKGROUND: Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are those who have been raised in a culture outside of the culture of their parents, usually in a host country that differs from the country of their birth, because of their parents’ work or religious endeavors. Some of the groups that identify themselves as TCKs include children of military service members stationed overseas, children of members of the Foreign Service, and the children of missionaries. These children are growing up in a culture and society that is different from their parents’ passport country and may vastly differ in language spoken, religious beliefs, and cultural norms. Pollock and Van Reken (2001) explain TCKs as being between cultures, stating that the third culture is developed by the child to explain an identity that is different from that of the host country or the parents’ home country. This retrospective narrative inquiry explored the undergraduate college experiences of Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) to understand the risk and protective factors associated with repatriation and collegiate engagement.

METHODS: This study employed a qualitative approach combining heuristic analysis and procedures of grounded theory during data collection, analysis, and interpretation of findings. Twelve semi-structured interviews were conducted face-to-face with individuals who self-identified as ATCKs and had completed a four year undergraduate program earning a degree.

RESULTS: Concepts related to understanding the self, and meaningful connections and relationships emerged from the data revealing how repatriation can be simultaneously volatile and emotionally grounding. Themes uncovered during data analysis included perceptions of self-identity, investment, the concept of home, uneven development, and factors contributing to college choice.

DISCUSSION: Research findings suggest the need for culturally informed administrative practices to mitigate psychosocial challenges associated with academic engagement. Interventions related to student identification procedures, supportive resources, and campus life programs should be incorporated to support multicultural students starting at the time of application and continuing through to graduation.

Included in

Social Work Commons