The JGM BitBlog: Reaping the benefits of an expatriate childhood – good for business and good for careers!

Journal of Global Mobility

Mireka Caselius, School of Management, University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland

Liisa Mäkelä, School of Management, University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland


Third culture kids (TCKs) are often keen on the idea of taking on their own international assignment due to them having an international mindset. However, we still know very little about Adult third culture kids’ (ATCKs) perceptions on whether or how their international childhood might relate to their adult work life. So, given that there is a need for internationally competent people across the global workforce, having people with the right talents in place is an important way for businesses and institutions to remain competitive.

Study data stemming from interviews with 34 Finnish ATCKs shows how they made sense of their childhood international experiences from career perspective. Overall, the study offers an understanding of the bridge that exists between an ATCK’s international past and their current career, and how they set goals for their future career. Especially, a TCK background might significantly influence ATCKs’ later educational and vocational paths due to their internationally developed self-efficacy. Previous studies have concentrated on how ATCKs might be an ideal pool of expatriate talent, but the findings of the current study show that they had confidence to pursue international work opportunities in a variety of ways, for example, by working in international teams and undertaking international business travel and foreign assignments. All of the ATCKs in the study mentioned that they were open for international work in the future, and some even felt that the international aspect of their career has been the most important factor when making job decisions or setting career goals for the future. Importantly, the childhood international experiences were found to foster high career goals and performance expectations, and their international background was seen to increase their international marketability due to their existing international skills and network.

These positive effects of an international childhood on later career choices are seen as significant, as families that are considering taking on an expatriate assignment often try to estimate the long-term effects it may have on their children. But the positive findings of the study recommend that ATCKs could in fact highlight the attributes gained from them having an international background (i.e. a high level of education, language skills, intercultural competence, social skills, and a strong willingness to work internationally) in job interviews, in order to stand out from other applicants. To help bring these results into practice, the study suggests that information about ATCKs could be included in international business course curricula, so increasing the recognition of the value and benefits of hiring these individuals who might need less training for working with different cultures in international positions.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:

Caselius, M. and Mäkelä, L. (2022), "Expatriate childhood as the first domino: does early international exposure lead to a later international career?", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 332-350.