TCK SUMMIT - Families and Relationships with Lesley Lewis

Lesley's expertise is not only theoretical, but is also grounded in her own personal experience. She was born in the US to bi-cultural family but has lived in Hong Kong for 30 years. She is the mother of two Adult Third Culture Kids.

She has been in the forefront of crossing global boundaries and is passionate about helping people embrace and bridge different cultures within their life and work. She works with organizations and private businesses across the Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and the Middle East. Culture3Counsel specialises in executive coaching, leadership training and cross-cultural development for organisations and individuals. She is quoted regularly on cross-cultural adaptation and has published many articles on the topic.



One of her passions is Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) and Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCK’s). She is a regular guest speaker internationally on the topic of TCK’s and ATCK’s. Currently she is working on a book about ATCK’s entitled “You Couldn’t Make it Up: Decades of Time with Adult Third Cultured Kids”.

You can watch the full (15 minute) video here


I have been working in the TCK field for 35-40 years. I have been working in Hong Kong for over 30 years and I now split my time between Hong Kong and North America. I have been working with TCK families and I am speaking today about third culture kids and adult third culture kids and relationships.

For many years, the words restlessness and rootlessness are prevalent to TCKs even if they haven’t moved as much; it may still be their friends. Saying hello and goodbye, families moving constantly, dealing with change. What happens to our feelings with those hellos and goodbyes sometimes leads to a wall that is put up in regards to having long term relationships. The wall is about the hurt of saying goodbye. As we get older, this wall can create some real issues.

One is the avoidance of being in love or maintaining a long-term relationship – does the restlessness start to come it? There is a high percentage of non-existing long term relationships amongst adult TCKs. However, many do have long lasting relationships, it does exist.

I say, look a the long term relationships that you do have, perhaps from when you were 4 or 6, with your friends, family relationships and so on. Think back to the people that you have had relationships with and figure out how come? Why are those people in my life? And yes I do and I can have these types of relationships.

Being afraid of intimacy is another topic. Usually people are afraid because they don’t trust. As adult TCKs, one of the tings we learn is to mask our feelings or lifestyles. We tend to hide, we mask in order to fit in. The important thing is to unmask, be able to communicate the life that you have lead, the feelings you have had and what that meant to you. Often we are afraid that it comes across as bragging. Own up to who you are, don’t be afraid to speak out and be true and honest to others. How people interpret your lifestyle is up to them. You can tell them the pros and cons. Please make that very clear in your relationships.

Everyone needs to sit back and think about what we are wanting in the relationships we have. It is an ongoing exercise that we all need to do. You may have different life expectations to your non-TCK partners but you have to be able to make them understand where those feelings come from. Introduce them to others who have lead your TCK lifestyle. The values that you hold may be very different to your non-TCK partner, you have to think about how you express these.

Be yourself, be real, don’t mask yourself. If you need support, talk to other TCK people and see how they deal with their relationships. Secondly, get help if you need it. Avoidance of feelings and who you are is something I have had a lot of professional experience with. If you can find a group of TCKs and form some groups where you are able to talk about what you are going through, how you are dealing or not dealing with issues in your life, this can be extremely helpful. You are not alone.

I think whomever you are talking with, don’t be afraid. Talk about why and where your feelings are coming from so that you can be heard and you will be able to compromise and trust that you can love. You can have wonderful long-term relationships – you already have done so throughout your life.