On Being a Third-Culture Kid

Other Faculty Lectures This Spring

Jeannie Albrecht, associate professor of computer science: “Detecting and Predicting Occupancy in a Smart Home”

Lisa Gilbert, associate professor of geosciences and marine sciences: “Adventures in the Deep Sea: Rocks Younger than You”

Amy Holzapfel, associate professor of theater: “Acts of Seeing: Art, Vision and Realist Theater”

Jason Ananda Josephson, associate professor of religion and department chairman: “Dialectic of Darkness: The Magical Foundations of Critical Theory”

Ngonidzashe Munemo, associate professor of political science and chairman of the international studies program: “Elite Games, Institutional Choice and Stability in Post-Reform Africa”

What is it like to grow up as a “third culture kid” in a foreign land, far away from both your cultural roots and the country of your birth? Professor of Romance Languages Gene Bell-Villada knows firsthand.

The son of a Chinese-Polynesian mother from Hawaii and a white father from Kansas, Bell-Villada grew up in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Cuba before coming to the U.S., where he studied at the University of Arizona and Harvard University. He joined the Williams faculty in 1975.

Bell-Villada shared his experiences—and his research about third culture children— with the Williams community in February as part of the college’s annual Faculty Lecture Series. A spring-semester tradition now more than a century old, the series is an opportunity for faculty members to present their scholarlship to the campus and wider community.

In his talk, “Growing up Internationally, and How it Shapes a Child,” Bell-Villada explained that millions of American children have been raised overseas, yet third culture kids have only recently become a topic of study. Some are children of missionaries or soldiers. Others, like him, follow parents who work internationally. While such upbringings help children gain unique perspectives and fluency in multiple languages, he says they can also result in identity confusion and a lack of stable roots or steady relationships.

Bell-Villada has published two books on the subject: a memoir, Overseas American: Growing up in the Tropics (University Press of Mississippi, 2005) and Writing out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids, a collection of 30 essays co-edited with Nina Sichel (2011, Cambridge Scholars Publishing).