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Posted on Sep 1, 2008

Third Culture Students

Third Culture Students

How Do They Fit Into Our Schools?

by Marlene Bylenga, SCSBC International Education Coordinator ◊ 

One of the defining characteristics of Canada is that we are a multicultural society. We pride ourselves on the fact that as Canadians we are allowed to maintain our own cultural identity and yet be “Canadian”. Isn’t it often true that although we may live amiably side by side we often remain within our own cultural “comfort zone” and as a result learn very little about the diversity and commonalities the Lord has created within the individual cultures. Sadly, many towns and cities in Canada have cultural enclaves and for the most part very little interaction occurs. An important tool we can equip our students with is the ability to be effective communicators as they interact with others who may have differing cultural norms and beliefs.

An important role of Christian educational leaders is to be intentional in building school communities where intercultural understanding and positive interaction are interwoven into the “fabric” of the life of the community.

It would be naïve to assume that understanding and interaction will happen naturally. However, if we are intentional in making our students aware that differing values and norms exist within individual cultures represented within our student body we will enable them to develop healthy relationships across cultures and to become effective co-workers in God’s kingdom.

New students not only face challenges in learning English and adjusting to the change of school systems but need to adjust to differences in communication styles, expectations of the classroom teacher, issues of hierarachy and the pressures of straddling two cultures. The following poem is a poignant statement of the challenges young people face when they enter into a new culture.


I am caught between two different cultures;
And both are important for me to carry on.
But yet, I don’t know which one to grow up with;
for I am too young to distinguish the side effects.

Sorry my parents cannot help me academically
because they are busy to survive themselves.
Even when my parents have the time and heart
to help me, they can’t;
because they don’t speak English themselves.

Sure I can talk to my counselors and my teachers;
but how am I able to express myself to
them with my broken English?
Even when I find my counselors
and teachers who speak my language;
but then I find them to have so many to care for.
Sure, I have friends to turn to;
but I find many are in a similar situation like mine.

Suddenly, I realize I am lost;
because I have no where to turn into for help.
I can’t go back to the place where I came from;
because my whole family is here;
neither can I move forward to this new land;
because I am not yet able to let go of myself.

Yes, I need help! I need help with my homework.
Yes, I need help with my identity.
Yes, I need help in making the right friends.
Yes, I need sound advice to carry on my cultures.

Source: Ellen Lee, “Immigrant Youth” Journal of Undergraduate Research 2 (1), 1, Fall, 1995. Copyright by the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

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