Third Culture Kids


User Research

Interaction Design

Visual Design



Time Frame

6 months


Concept Video

High Fidelity Prototypes

Interaction Flow

Presentation and Pitch


Mai Bouchet

Emi MacLeod

Madison Zeller

How might we help Third Culture Kids share their experiences so they feel less isolated when returning to the U.S. for college?

Target Users

What is a Third Culture Kid?

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are a group of people who are generally categorized as having spent a portion of their formative childhood years in a culture that is different from their parents' culture.

The blend of several cultural influences, paired with a high-mobility upbringing, cultivates a unique set of skills and perspectives in these individuals.

Problem Space

What is the Problem?

Due to their highly mobile upbringing and blended cultural values, Third Culture Kids feel alienated when returning to the U.S. for college, and lack a perceptible community to empathize with their emotional transition.

Why Do We Care?

Third Culture Kids are an interesting group of people because they're frequently unrecognized and undocumented. For us, they represent a group of people who are skilled at navigating different cultures and could be a source of knowledge to help figure out new or more effective ways of cultural exchange. Despite being a very interesting and important part of our communities, they generally lack support and understanding from mono-cultural individuals. Some people view Third Culture Kids as "petri dishes" of the future and believe that eventually many people will identify as either a TCK or a Cross-Cultural Kid.

Expert Interviews


  • Gain insight on our problem space and demographic quickly
  • Leverage the knowledge and network of these experts

In conjunction with our secondary and primary research, we also spoke to several experts in the area. Their knowledge and understanding of TCKs was valuable for moving forward beyond our secondary research and literature review and helped us prepare for our primary research with our participants.

Ruth Van Reken is considered one of the leading experts on TCKs. She pioneered research on TCKs in the early 90s and continues to work with TCKs today. Having a chance to talk to an expert that has been working with this group of people over a span of decades gave us an opportunity to explore how things have changed over time, as well as gave us access to a network of other TCK experts that have been working with Van Reken over the years.

Michael Pollock is the Founding Executive director of Daraja, an initiative based in Muskegon, Michigan that creates and delivers programs and resources to care for, encourage, and equip young adult TCKs and other cross-culturals as they transition into adult life. Michael leads workshops and retreats on TCK identity and transitions and coaches TCK care providers. Michael’s father, David Pollock, was a TCK expert and co-authored the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds with Ruth Van Reken.

Rachel Cason is a sociologist and founder of Life Story, a service that evolved from an interviewing technique she used during her research. Life Story is an alternative to traditional therapy that helps TCKs unpack their own histories, something they rarely get to do. We wanted to interview her as someone who has an academic lens to her research. We were interested in asking Dr. Cason about the way TCKs' highly mobile childhoods influenced their interpretation of identity and belonging, as well as any trends she may have seen across different TCK subgroups.

Tina Quick is an expert on TCKs and works with schools and families to ensure that TCK-specific needs are met during the college transition. Her work spreading information and awareness about TCKs gives us a look into how we may approach the same area. Her focus on college-age transitions works perfectly with our research question and she was able to give us key insights and questions to move forward with.

Primary Research

Participant Profile

Survey and Screener

We created and issued a “Cross-Cultural Research Survey” in order to gather quantitative demographic information and data on TCK attitudes. We posted a Google Forms survey online to our personal Facebook profiles, an expat student group on UW’s campus, expat and TCK Reddit forums, and various international school pages. We also leveraged our experts’ networks and requested that they pass our information on to anyone that may fit our target audience. There were 110 respondents, of which 69 fit our research criteria (U.S. citizens who had lived abroad between the ages of 0-18). The questionnaire primarily served as a recruiting method, as we sent interview requests to a narrowed subset (those ages 16-24 who spent at least two years of high school abroad and went to college in the U.S.). It should be noted that the survey respondent age range is accordingly skewed because we targeted participants of college age for the interviews.

Semi-Structured Interview

Our sessions began with a 45-minute semi-structured interview with the participants regarding their experiences. We aimed to build empathy with TCKs by hearing personal stories and examples from their highly mobile childhoods and their transition back to the U.S. for college. Questions focused on the notion of home, identity, the college transition, and family and social life. We also gathered data on problem areas and existing forms of support, found trends in the TCK experience, and determined how TCK experiences can vary. Interviews were conducted in person or on Skype.

Storytelling Activity

We asked participants to tell us specific stories relating to their TCK background and the college transition. We asked for three stories: a positive experience, a negative experience and a “wildcard” in which they could choose any particular story that resonated with them. As the participant told the story, a notetaker mapped the story on a diagram that captured the people, places, and feelings of the story. Once the participant finished recounting the story, we would present the diagram and ask if it was an accurate representation. The participant could then give us feedback on what to change, add, or remove.

The goal of this activity was to gain a better understanding of the repatriation process in the participants' own words and see how they viewed their own experiences. In addition, we wanted to create an activity that led to free-flowing thoughts from the participant rather than a question and answer dynamic. We had also learned from our expert interviews that it could be cathartic for TCKs to share their stories openly, and we wanted to encourage this. We chose this semi-interactive method partially because many of our sessions were held over Skype, and to mitigate any anxiety participants might have had regarding writing their stories themselves.


Lack of Preparation

TCKs choose colleges based on logistical factors, but tend to gloss over cultural factors (e.g., the realities of a small town life), which end up being crucial to adjustment.

Lack of Awareness

Despite the fact that large numbers of American TCKs repatriate to the U.S. for college, they are unrecognized by American universities and therefore lack the support provided to other groups such as international students.

Communication Hurdles

TCKs struggle to talk about their experiences with non-TCK peers, and frequently edit their story to make social interactions easier.

Skewed View of America

Because TCKs experience foreign cultures, they pride themselves on being empathetic and open minded. However, they fail to apply this perspective to American culture upon repatriation, making it difficult to adjust.

Coping Mechanisms

Young adult TCKs develop behaviors and attitudes from moving frequently (i.e., keeping friends at arm’s length and embracing a high-mobility lifestyle) and hold onto them as identity markers. However, these can turn into coping mechanisms lasting into adulthood.

Relationships as Stability

Interpersonal relationships provide a sense of stability and emotional support, which is especially crucial in a life otherwise characterized by frequent change (culture, schools, locations).

Identity Struggles

For TCKs, the struggle with identity formation during college is compounded by conflicting cultural norms that surface during repatriation.

Design Principles

Our solution should create a TCK community that is visible and accessible.

Our solution should help TCKs even when they don’t know they need it.

Our solution should facilitate communication between TCKs in times of social stress.

Our solution should highlight the shared experience of repatriation.

Our solution should provide TCKs with a foundation for self-reflective practices.

Our solution should offer threaded support throughout the college years.


After gaining insight from our research and creating principles to guide our ideation, we came up with over 100 concepts that we could have gone with. After narrowing that down to 3, we evaluated them via critique and using 2x2 matrices to gauge their value.

TCK Wearable Tracker

Storytelling Hotspots


After some critique and more disucssion about how both of these concepts would work, we narrowed it down to one concept that had features from both ideas that we would eventually prototype and test with users.


In order to clearly depict this product and concepts, we create a quick storyboard to get the concept of our idea across during presentation.


Feature Value Matrix

In order to really understand the pitfalls of each of these concepts, and what types of features that we would want to have moving forward, we create a value matrix that we each scored independently against each of our design principles. We wanted to uncover which ideas we thought were good, versus which ideas actually helped solve the problem.

We decided on which features we would be including in the second value matrix, where our scores were complied. The blue/purple features were "approved" while the red features were taken out as they didn't contribute to the overall goal of the project.

Negotiated Features

As you can see, there are some features in the middle that were approved even though their score is lower than that of some unapproved features. These features were negotiated by the team, prioritized based on our understanding of the technology and our users.

Interaction Flow

After creating our feature value matrix, we were able to better understand the interaction flow. At this point, we wanted to get a clear understanding of what the user journey would look like, and how we might be able to design for those interactions.

System Diagram

In tandem with the interaction flow, we also wanted to create a system or context diagram that would help depict who the users were, what would be moderated and how different stakeholders would interact with the entire product.

Prototyping and Testing Round 1


  • Current habits with online communities and social platforms
  • Understanding and efficacy of concept
  • Appeal of the product

Paper Prototype

Initially we just wanted to test that our concept was viable and interesting to our users. We went into ur first round of testing with a paper prototype in order to make sure that participants were not too invested in critiquing the UI. This yielded a lot of information for us to move forward, and helped us understand what we needed to change for our second round of testing.

Prototyping and Testing Round 2


  • Test flows and tasks
  • Gain understanding about users' social media habits
  • Learn more about what users would expect to see and do on this application

Digital Prototype

For this round of testing we wanted to get something that felt much closer to an app in fron of some users. By giving them a clickable, if still pretty low fidelity prototype, they were better able to give us their thoughts about how the actual interface is structured. We gained insight about the clarity or confusion of specific tasks and assessed the desire and interest of specific application features.

In Progress


  • Present and defend concept
  • Create concept video
  • Create final, clickable prototype

High Fidelity Prototype

We are currently working on creating our final, high fiedlity prototype. After lots of testing and iteration, we feel that we're now in a place where we can move forward with a final visual design language as well as creating final flows, interactions, and features.