Third Culture Kids
So I’m reading a book right now about TCKs- Third Culture Kids, a passing recommendation on Facebook by another missionary mom. What are Third Culture Kids? They are kids of missionaries or military personnel who grow up outside of their passport country. It’s like they grow up between worlds– adapting to, loving and probably more fitting into their adopted country, but never completely on the “in”, always a foreigner. On the other side, though they look completely like they should “know” (“respond”, “act like”, “fit in with”) their passport country, they often do not and the skills needed in their adopted country are often useless in their passport country, whereas the skills needed in their passport country are often lacking. Belonging is the scary word I keep reading about in this book.
Our child will be a third culture kid. Actually, a fourth culture kid. As Vicente and I come from two different cultures (thus no one consistent culture at home), and our baby will grow up in a third culture, but not quite belonging to any of those. She will have her own fourth culture.
Anyway, it’s a very interesting book- Between Worlds Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn Gardner. I’d recommend it to those in that position and for all ya’ll who know of some TCKs coming to America, perhaps on furlough, and what their particular needs might be.
There are a lot of things I identify with in this book, having lived outside of the States for five and a half years in total now. It’s not that long, I know, but in those times, I’d very much adapted to my adopted countries and cultures. Until the time I moved at age 21, I’d been monocultural, knowing only my American logical ways, my ways of getting places and getting things done, my perspectives and opinions based on my views based on being an American (and every American has their view!). But when you begin to adapt to another culture and their ways, learn their opinions, and do things the way they do them (for more than a week/month-long trip, etc.), you become bi-cultural. And the thing is, you can never go back.
You will always be a foreigner in that country, no matter how well you speak the language, understand their nuances, what’s going on behind what they’re saying, or prefer the way they do things. That’s expected. But the big shocker, at least for me, is that you are a bit of a foreigner at home too.
I remember feeling lost at home sometimes. Feeling like I’d changed and I didn’t quite know how to interact, how to do daily things, how to choose lotion at the store (seriously, an aisle full of options!!). It was exhausting.
I felt it most when I moved to California. Fresh off the plane from Japan, I felt baffled at times with how to relate to these West Coasters who knew everything pop culture and did everything so prettily. At that time, I knew very, very few people and the last two years of American movies, books and music were a black hole for me. It was challenging for me to feel like I belonged, especially when my new husband did.
Thankfully, I adjusted. It took time, and making my first friend, Emily, was a balm for my wound-up, tensed self. She was the first person I went to coffee with (after 2-3 months of being in California). She listened to my stories (she’s good at that), asked questions, and without realizing it, helped me feel like I could figure this new life out. I don’t think she realized that day what a major role that played for me, but I remember it all clear as day.
Anyway, this went in a whole new direction. These experiences and this book are making me consider what needs my daughter will face, and how I might guide or make this process easier for her. I can’t do it all, but for those who meet her on American soil in the coming years, your understanding of her (without pitying her) and including her in things will make a great difference in her life and will hopefully help her to embrace (discover?) and feel comfortable in the American side of her skin.
by Janine Alvarado, Missionary to Japan