I have been thinking about the long term effects of raising our children cross culturally. When they spend more than half their growing up years outside our home culture, they are called “third culture kids (TCKs)”. They blend both good and bad from the cultures they have lived in and come up with a third culture that is their own.
In 1991, Kathlene wrote an article for PW about growing up in France and how that experience molded her life. Iain, an adult PW son, recently wrote about his experiences in West Papua and where he is today. Then I read an article by Matthew Link in Budget Travel, November, 2002, about his “homes.” Like children everywhere they each had a mixture of good and bad experiences growing up. Like all teenagers they had to deal with their identity. But because of their TCK background, they came to some different conclusions than their peers in their home culture.
“I had a wonderful childhood. We went to French school and I didn’t feel that much different from all the other kids in my school. There was one big difference, however. I knew the Lord and most of my friends didn’t. As long as I can remember, I felt a big responsibility towards them because I wanted all my friends to be saved.
“All of my family had a lot of responsibility in the work and my brothers and sister and I started teaching classes when we were only eight or nine years old. I am thankful to my parents for making us part of their work and giving us so much responsibility. It made us want to seek the Lord and get answers for ourselves. We saw the needs around us and the way the Lord met them.
“I can’t remember how many times we moved. And some of the houses we lived in weren’t palaces! In one house, I remember my father breaking the ice in the toilet bowl in the morning before we got up! But always my mother did her best to make it cozy enough so that we could call every house we lived in home.
“As I grew up I had my battles with “parental authority”! As a teenager I had to contest everything my father said. But one thing I could not change was that the Lord lives and had His hand on us. And even if I didn’t admit it to my parents I knew they were right. I know that a lot of the battles I had were won because of the prayers of my parents for me.
“In those days in France we didn’t have everything people in the States had. For us a Betty Crocker chocolate cake was for special occasions. But we had a life full of blessings and wonderful experiences.
“Now I am married and have four children of my own and live in one of the darkest fields in America, Quebec. Dark, not because of poverty nor disease, but because of the darkness of sin that is accepted as normal.
“God bless all of you PW mothers out there in the world.”
“My mother is English and my father Scottish. About 5 years before I was born they went to West Irian/Irian Jaya/West Papua (its’ names respectively) as PWs. I was born there in the remote highlands and grew up there, doing boarding school at the coast.
“School was American although there were many nationalities represented.When not at school we spent our days wandering the rainforest – hunting, playing, damming rivers and just being kids. Those village (national) friends still make up the core of my friendships today. It was an uncomplicated life and one I miss.
“Returning to the West (England) was neither pleasant nor easy. After 1 year we moved to Canada. Adjustment was hard. It was a foreign culture and a foreign land. In fact, truthfully, I never really adjusted. I was never really happy. I disliked the West and still do.
“After 8 years in Canada, I met and married a Papuan girl. We moved back to West Papua where, after 3 years we still reside with our 2 children. My kids bear Papuan names and speak (or the eldest does – the youngest is only 6 months!) Indonesian and English.
“As a kid I often declared myself English to the Americans, American to the English and Papuan to anyone else! Years have passed. Now my teen and identity struggles (which were very real and difficult) are behind me. I no longer care or think of myself as Papuan, English, Canadian or whatever. I am who I am, a believer and a normal human being who happened to find home not where his family lives, but where he grew up.
“I am happier here than I ever was in the West. I struggled with the multiplicity of cultures and eventually ended that contention with a return to my birthplace. A decision I never regret.”
Matthew Link wrote:
“I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to see so much of the world (although a lot of people are able but choose not to). I can now set foot in any of my “homes” and feel the warm sense of familiarity, of somehow belonging. Being a vagabond has its obvious pleasures, but the downside of it can only be described as a state of orphanage. With so many foster homes, where is my true one? I am American, but at times I feel like a stranger in my own land.
“Because of my chameleon upbringing and ability to blend in, I’ve had rural folk in Nevada tell me, “You fit in, you’re like one of us.” I’ve had Hong Kongers say, “You have a Chinese soul.” I’ve even had Ghanaians assert, “You are our tribal brother.” But I am really no more a child of their lands than I am of my own.
“I’ve finally decided that I really don’t have a home after all. I traded it in for a number of personal spiritual homes sprinkled throughout the globe. I can show up at any of them, and like familiar, long-lost friends we pick up right where we left off. We already have a relationship.
“Once the notion of home is given up, the freedom is scary. I’ve learned to accept the fact that I have now traded in the safe sense of a personal, distinct habitat, of intimately watching a corner of the globe grow and change and become my one identity. In return, I have gained the world. Or at least grand pieces of it.
“When asked, I now simply state that I am a citizen of the earth. Home is everywhere I am out there, in the world.”
These three each had identity struggles and each solved that struggle in a different way. It is good for those of us who raise our children in a culture other than our own to be aware of the struggles our children will face and to support them in the decisions they make to deal with the conflict. Although they may choose a different place to call home than we wished for them, our goal remains the same. We strive to raise godly children who will be obedient to God and His plans for them, children who will first be at home in God. Then they can be at home anywhere.