Celebrating festivals and traditions for third culture children

Michelle Dickinson
Updated on
August 19, 2020

The term "third culture" was coined by the late sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in the 1950s and refers to children who grow up in a culture different from their parents. These children are typically immersed in the local culture but maintain some vestiges of the culture of their country of origin. They often identify with a "third culture", a unique blend of traditions from both cultures, which can influence how they commemorate various holidays and festivals. Many children at OWIS identify as having a “third culture” and it is this diversity which makes our school so special. We love to celebrate and learn more about the different festivals and traditions that our students enjoy with their families.

Maintaining Familiar Customs

It's not uncommon for expat parents to attempt to replicate their home countries' traditions and celebrations. For instance, American and Canadian parents may still celebrate Thanksgiving abroad with turkey. Families must sometimes go to great lengths to find the symbols associated with a particular festivity. Procuring Christmas trees, for example, can be difficult in places where pines aren't plentiful, but expat families often strive to maintain familiar traditions as a way to teach children about the culture of their country of origin. It is sometimes the case that these traditions have to be adapted depending on the location that they live in, and it can be these adjustments that may lead to new family traditions being built, such as decorating a native palm in the garden rather than bringing a traditional fur tree into the home.

children-carving-pumpkins

Celebrations in the Host Country

In Singapore, international children also have ample opportunities to celebrate the city-state's public holidays, such as Singapore National Day. Many of these occasions are celebrated in other parts of the world, too, such as the Christian Good Friday, the Chinese New Year and Diwali (Festival of Lights), which traces its origins to India. These third culture children may continue celebrating these holidays as adults, even if they move back to their country of origin or relocate somewhere else altogether. Being able to celebrate these festivals allows children to learn more about their history and cultures, while also educating their peers for whom these festivals would be unknown. It gives them the opportunity to immerse themselves into these different ideas and celebrations to further their knowledge, which helps them as they take a step into adulthood when they could potentially work with people from many different backgrounds.

Traditions Evolve

Many cultures celebrate some of the same holidays but in different ways. Consider Halloween, which is recognised around the world, but with some variations. In most places, the late October festival is associated with haunted houses and scary costumes. While the Singaporean version of the event is likely to include torchlight processions and firework displays, these Halloween rituals are virtually unheard-of in the United States. These differences allow our students to understand different opinions, thoughts and understanding of traditions. It makes them more open to other ideas and ideologies and allows them to analyse how these traditions link together, even though at times they may appear different.

sparkler-held-by-child-hand

Family Customs

Other traditions embraced by third culture children and adults are not necessarily associated with a particular culture but have their roots in family customs. For instance, an adult child of American missionaries serving in Romania noted in her blog that she associates Thanksgiving with a late November retreat in Germany which she attended annually while growing up. That's not how Thanksgiving is typically celebrated, but that family tradition became a part of her cultural identity. In so many aspects of life, these traditions can be built by the family and passed on over generations. It may not be a generalised tradition, but it is something that becomes second nature to that family group, for instance watching the same movie and having a special meal on Christmas Eve before putting out mince pies and a carrot or carving pumpkins together for Halloween.

Multicultural Education

Attending an international school introduces children to a variety of traditions; those of the local culture and the different backgrounds of the diverse student body. Students are also encouraged to explore their own culture and their unique experiences within this third culture. It may sometimes be the case that the students have previously not learnt much about one of their parent’s cultures, or their third cultures due to factors such as where they grew up or the school they previously went to. Being immersed in an environment that is so diverse allows the students to fully appreciate and experience all of these traditions. International education fosters global-mindedness, helping children find a sense of cultural identity in an increasingly multicultural world. It makes them open-minded to others' experiences and backgrounds and allows them to treat those who may come from a different background with compassion and understanding. It helps them integrate into the dynamic, multicultural and diverse world of the 21st century. At the same time, it brings enjoyment and fun to the school curriculum, as OWIS promotes experiencing a range of traditions. This is something that is integrated into our ethos, and we strongly encourage our students to ask questions, get involved with experiences and teach others about their own history.

If you'd like to know more about how OWIS fosters international mindedness in our students and nurtures them to be future-ready global citizens, please Contact Us today for more information, or to Book a Campus Tour. 

About Author

Michelle Dickinson

Head of School

Michelle has a BA (Hons) in History and South Asian Studies from North London University and PGCE from Middlesex University. She began teaching across all three primary key stages. Michelle began her school leadership career in 2002, when she became the Deputy Head Teacher of a large primary school in North London and spent four wonderful years there before relocating to India in 2005.

Her first international position was the Head of Primary of a local/international school in Bangalore in Southern India, where she introduced the Cambridge International Primary Programme and Checkpoint. Michelle then spent 6 years in China and 3 years in Ethiopia developing curriculum and assessment practices.

Michelle believes that children learn best when they are having fun and are engaged in practical, real life activities. While she recognises that outstanding academic achievement is the ultimate goal, she feels it is just as important to build self-esteem, instill character and encourage a global outlook in every child. Michelle believes that learning transcends the classroom environment and is passionate about educational visits and extra-curricular experiences.

Michelle is married with four children - Ana, Hindya, Bille and Markos. The Dickinson family have a sense of adventure and love of life. They particularly enjoy the outdoors, family holidays, making friends, good weather, camping and exploring and are delighted to be at OWIS.

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