Today’s missions post is by Susan Chapman Bixby, a missionary wife and mother of three. You are in for a treat!
Third Culture Kids
“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. Third Culture Kids frequently build relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any” (David Pollock, Third Culture Kids).
Third Culture Kids basically grow up not fitting in, no matter where they happen to be at the moment.
Most people live in a home, and attend school, church, and community activities that all share many of the same cultural beliefs, values, and practices. The TCK does not.
He has a “home country” (normally his parents’ home culture), a “host culture” (which he normally knows and understands better than his parents’ home culture), and a “third culture” at home, which often is a peculiar mixture of home and host cultures along with the particular values of that family. THIS is the reality of the TCK.
Psychologists list a number of basic human needs, and I found it interesting that three of the most common needs are also addressed in the book Third Culture Kids as areas in which TCKs normally struggle:
- Identity – who I am, core values and beliefs, a sense of significance
- Belonging – where I’m from, source of nurture
- Meaningful relationships – connection to people, affection, social interaction and abilities
Today I would like to briefly unpack these three areas and how they relate to Third Culture Kids, and next week, I hope to share with you how the gospel perfectly meets every one of these needs.
The Oxford English Dictionary says identity is
the fact of being whom or what a person is and the characteristics determining this; also, a close similarity or affinity.
Confusion about core values is part of the “identity crisis” a TCK can experience. Each culture has different values that greatly affect social interaction and decision-making. Right and wrong can seem to be relative. A TCK may receive a strong message that something is wrong or unacceptable in his parents’ home culture while observing it as completely acceptable in his host culture (or vice versa). These discrepancies can cause confusion in the development of the TCK’s own values, which are a major element in his identity.
A Third Culture Kid will also feel he is always the oddball, no matter where he is. While in the host country, he may feel more comfortable, but probably “sticks out” physically or in his speech. When returning to the “home country” he may not stick out because of his appearance, but he may because of his dress, habits, speech, funny ideas, inability to understand jokes, or any number of other things. He may struggle with the question, “is it ok to be different?”
Sense of Belonging
Every child is born with a need to be nurtured and cared for, and this develops into a sense of belonging to the person or group responsible for that nurture. Where are you from?—the dreaded question of almost every TCK!
Home is an emotional place for all of us, but we don’t realize how the lack of a physical place to call “home” can affect our emotional sense of belonging. Confused loyalties in citizenship or nationality can be a major factor in the struggle to belong. Even IF they are proud to be American, most Third Culture Kids resent or resist the American tendency to look down on all other nationalities. Different countries have different views of Americans. (My kids are growing up in a country where being American is something to be admired and coveted. My husband grew up in a country where Americans are thought of as fat, ugly, and stuck-up.)
Many Third Culture Kids also develop a sometimes permanent sense of rootlessness and restlessness that never allows them to truly settle down and feel a part of a community or group of people. Unresolved grief from past separations and changes can cause TCKs to develop a hard shell to protect themselves from the emotional pain of separation and change.
Third Culture Kids will normally have many relationships, but constant separation can cause a TCK to hesitate to develop meaningful relationships in order to avoid further change or pain later on. Or a TCK may simply struggle with knowing HOW to develop meaningful relationships because of his lifestyle. Often his immediate family is very close but there might be a large disparity between that closeness and the family’s relationships with anyone else.
For obvious reasons there may be a lack of closeness to extended family. Many Third Culture Kids never feel the same connection to their grandparents and other extended family that their own cousins do. Furloughs can be very difficult for this reason—grandparents, aunts and uncles can unknowingly make life miserable for the TCK who will often feel like the people in their host culture understand them more. The TCK may feel hampered in his ability to communicate. He may not understand humor or pick up on what someone is really talking about. Hindered communication can obviously result in hindered relationships.
But this is only half of the story! Through his particular struggles, the TCK has the potential to grasp and personalize the truths of the gospel in a very special way. Click here to read part 2 where we will look at how the gospel gloriously meets every need a TCK has.
Are you a Third Culture Kid? Has any of what Susan shared today rung true with you? What are ways that people in the home culture can reach out to TCKs?