Communication Studies


Master of Arts (MA)


Faith Mullen


mixed methods, relational development, repatriation, self-disclosure, social penetration, third culture kids


Communication | Social Psychology


When American third culture kids (AmTCKs) return `home' to college, they experience reentry culture shock, face identity challenging questions, are often adjusting to larger schools than they are used to, and must adapt to new types of relationships with typical American collegians (TACs). Friendships are a part of the social support system that the literature suggests is vital to TCK reentry with positive outcomes. This study proposes several reasons why studying American TCK relationship development processes from the theoretical perspective of social penetration is useful: (1) theoretically, it promotes TCK scholarship; (2) as communication research, it extends the discipline into a phenomenon that has not yet been researched in this way; (3) pragmatically, it promotes TCKs' and TCK supporters' abilities to reenter or assist reentry and acculturation into American colleges. Three research questions informed the forgoing study: RQ1: Do American TCK collegians (AmTCKs) penetrate (depth and breadth) into relationships differently than typical American collegians (TACs)? RQ2: How do American TCK collegians self-disclose and penetrate (depth and breadth) into relationships when re-entering their home college culture? RQ3: Do American TCK collegians self-disclose and penetrate (depth and breadth) into relationships with other American TCKs differently than they do with typical American collegians? A review of relevant TCK, social penetration, and methodology literature informed the transformative concurrent embedded mixed methodology of the study. Per the methodology, the studies were conducted concurrently and were transformed through the application of social penetration to the discussion. The results of the quantitative analysis using modified versions of Miller, Berg, and Archer's Self-Disclosure Index and Opener Scale, as well as a modified version of Sidney Jourard's Self-Disclosure Questionnaire, were presented in association to three hypotheses developed out of RQ1. The Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR) portion of the study analyzed eight interviews to develop major and minor themes; 19 separate themes were identified in the interview transcriptions by coder consensus through cross analysis of the emergent categories (themes) within organizing domains. The four domains of themes after cross analysis were: (1) locus of identity; (2) American vs. TCK; (3) TCKs as adapters; and (4) depth. The results of the two studies were mixed and interpreted through the framework of social penetration; it was seen that American TCK relationships are unique (as self-reported by TCKs) along the lines of both topic and depth processes. American TCK with other TCK relationships followed a separate process than the American TCK with typical American collegian process; a theoretical explanation is provided. Practical implications are drawn out of the discussion for the purpose of empowering TCKs and TCK supporters. Limitations, suggestions for future research, and final conclusions are provided.