Hi. My name is Michael, and I’m from Alabama. My story is simple. I was born and raised in Birmingham. I lived there until I went off to college. After graduation I returned. It’s where my parents and in-laws live and even though it’s not where I live, it’s where I’m from. To a certain extent, it’s home.
Roll Tide. Sweet Home Alabama. The Camellia, the yellowhammer. Dreamland. It’s Alabama.
My story is simple. And yours probably is too.
My kids on the other hand are different. If you’ve never met them before, please don’t ask them where they are from, or where’s home. They were all born in Alabama but have lived in Georgia, Tennessee and Barcelos, Portugal.
Bluntly said. They’re not from anywhere. They don’t feel like they fit in here because they’re not nationals. But, when they go to the States, their experiences in a foreign culture will betray the fact that they are American, and are supposed to act like Americans.
But inside they aren’t. And…sometimes they don’t.
They’re stuck. Half way between one world and the next, in a totally unique third culture.
For them, fitting in is a different ballgame. It’s like Manti Te’o fielding questions about his love life. Complicated. Very complicated.
So, rule #1. Don’t ask them where they are from.
Instead, ask them where they live or have lived. Ask them what they like about both cultures, and then sit back and listen.
The next time a missionary comes to your church, try to understand that there may be a reason that the kids are a little offbeat or out of style.
Be sympathetic if they act more like awkward wallflowers than what you expect out of missionary kids. Help to prepare your kids or Sunday school class about what challenges third culture kids face.
Even though you may not know it or understand it, such a simple question could present unwanted stress for kids in a 3rd culture. Don’t believe me? Watch this very good short film on the subject.
Or read this excerpt from an article by Nina Sichel.
TCKs are the children of international business people, global educators, diplomats, missionaries, the military — anyone whose family has relocated overseas because of a job placement. The children attend international or host-country schools, or are sent to boarding schools, or are home-schooled. They are supposed to be coming home — even if they’ve never lived here, even if they’ve only been back on furlough. Often, this is their most difficult relocation….The layers of loss run deep: Friends, community, pets. Family, toys, language. Weather, food, culture. Loss of identity. Loss of a place of comfort, stability, a safe and predictable world. Home.
Being a third culture kid is stressful. I’ve read the nasty Facebook comments about not belonging. I’ve seen the nervous ticks develop that come from special treatment – good and bad, from teachers at school.
Being a third culture kids is stressful, but it can also be rewarding. (More on that tomorrow). For now, educate yourself. Pray for the third culture kids you know. Think about how you might be a blessing to them, and practice asking, “Where do you live?” instead of, “Where are you from?”