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Third Culture Kid

By now many of my few but faithful readers will likely have heard the news that I have been accepted as a missionary to Ireland with World Harvest Mission.  This was the result of not only a long application process and years of interest, but a recent trip to Philadelphia for a conference at WHM headquarters called "A&O" week.

A&O stands for "Assessment and Orientation."  The first half of the week. we were interviewed, and after we were accepted, the rest of the week was spent in orientation.  The whole process was really good in many ways; I feel like I've found a really good organization.  There is a lot that i could talk about (and probably will eventually), but there was one session in particular that struck me.

Though we went through five interviews, including one which covered the results of our psych and personality profile tests, most of what I talked about in those times were things I already knew about myself.  In one interview, however, after recounting all the places I'd lived in chronological order, someone remarked, "You're really kind of a Third Culture Kid, aren't you?" I had no idea what he meant; I'd never heard the term before that I could recall.

So when we had a session on Third Culture Kids (or TCKs) our last day, I was totally caught off guard.  Though the term TCK has come to replace MKs in many circles, and generally refers to kids who have grown up in another country, it's really about cultures.  Psychology Wiki lists the definition as follows: Third Culture Kids (abbreviated TCKs or 3CKs or Global Nomad) "refers to someone who [as a child] has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."

Okay, you're saying to yourself, interesting, but what does that even mean?

Since I grew up in the many different cultures that make up the US, moving every few years and never really settling down, there are a lot of ways in which I myself am an adult TCK (ATCK).  I just didn't know it until now.  I knew that moving around all that time had shaped me in a lot of ways, but I didn't know there was this whole group of people out there who feel into the same category and had the same struggles.  When our facilitator listed the strengths and weaknesses that many TCKs have, I felt a little like I'd just discovered I had a medical syndrome I didn't know existed.

One site I went to looking for links and info today suggested that I'm actually either a "Domestic" TCK or a Cross Cultural Kid (CCK).  Either way, the point is, my many uprooting and cultural experiences had an effect on me.  It shaped me into who I am today: a woman who cares about many cultures and places, but can't decide where to say she is "from." Here are some other characteristics:

  • Make great culture bridges. They have multiple frames of reference.

  • Excellent observers of other people. They can be very observant and sensitive.

  • Establish relationships quickly. They cut through many of the initial levels of diffidence when forming relationships.

  • Open-minded and less prejudiced.

  • Adapt quickly to unfamiliar countries and people, culturally astute, cross-culturally enriched.

  • More welcoming of newcomers into a community.

  • Educational achievers - a high percentage will attend university and obtain advanced degrees.

  • Live more in the present and for the moment. (Pollock, 1999)
And here are some challenges:

  1. Belonging everywhere and nowhere. The elusive concept of "Where is home?"

  2. Difficulty with commitment to people, places, schools, or school systems as these constantly change.

  3. Uncertain cultural identity.

  4. Problems with decision-making.

  5. Loss of relationships, community, school is a loss of their world.

  6. Feeling different from others, difficult in forming peer relationships; occurs more often at university level or when returning to "passport" country, where they are misunderstood by their peers.

  7. Rootlessness and restlessness. The frequent need to change countries and homes.

  8. Feeling "Out of Control" and Powerless. A feeling that they have no control over events and that these are often taken out of their hands anyway by the inevitability of the move.

  9. A crisis of identity - "Who am I?"

So, there are upsides and downsides to this kind of life, but in the end, I guess it's just one more thing that helped shape me into the kind of person who pursues overseas missions!  I may not be able to say where I'm from, or be any good a long range planning to know where I'll end up, but I know where I'll be by the end of next year: Ireland.

And that's enough for me right now.


mkaely said...

Congrats again! It was great to see you we'll have to do better at keeping in touch. This is really interesting, I didn't move around much in my childhood but I can relate to a lot of these. Maybe it's my dysfunctional family or how much we've moved in the last decade. It's funny one thing Ben and I have talked about is how we're not sure we'll ever really find a place that feels like home.

Sara said...

I am so happy for you, Jess! I know how your heart has been drawn back to Ireland, and yet you were willing to wait for God's timing. Who knows? Perhaps one of these days you'll find yourself making your permanent home in Ireland. Either way, life's an adventure and you should savor every step of the way!