Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Leadership and Policies

First Advisor

Christian K. Anderson


Amidst increasing interconnectedness and transmigration of the 21st century, a number of families are leaving South Korea for business, work, or education; their children are raised as Third Culture Kids (TCKs)—children who accompany their parents abroad. This study used the lens of cultural globalization to examine how Korean TCKs used their life experiences to inform their identity construction, especially during higher education. Participants were Korean students and recent alumni from universities in Korea, the United States, and abroad who had spent at least three childhood years living outside Korea with their families. Data were collected through a series of unstructured biographical narrative interviews with each participant; the conceptual framework and three themes (cultural context, politics of belonging, and identity) emerged from constant comparative analysis of the data. The data suggest that Korean TCKs construct their identity within the context of their home and host cultures and cultural globalization, that language functions as a currency with which participants negotiate their ability to fit in, and that ethnicity mediates their life experiences. Participant experiences reflect—and trouble—the distinctions of Korean culture in the marriage of education to family honor and coconstructions of ethnicity and national identity.

These findings suggest that the process of identity construction is not distinct to Korean TCKs—even while context fundamentally informs this process, implying broad applications within the context of globalization. Participants’ decontextualized English and Korean languages were devalued, and hybrid language emerged as way to assert a non-marginalized identity based on shared experience, language, and ethnicity. Finally, this study calls for special attention to Korean TCKs—and others who construct their identity in the wake of mobility across cultures—as they are uniquely positioned to assume key roles representing the world to Korea and Korea to a globalizing world.