John’s perspectives reflect a heart of gratefulness for his experiences as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Every TCK has a distinctly different experience, and how we process that is just as unique as we are. John shares how being a TCK has impacted his life and identity, and how it has led him to pursue short-term mission as a Serve Asia Worker, and even considering long-term mission.
What does being a TCK mean to you?
I would define that as when your parents culture is different than the culture you grew up in.
For myself, my Mom’s from Norway, my Dad’s from the US, and I grew up in Mozambique. Right now, I can’t consider myself to be culturally American, Norwegian or Mozambican. I’m just kind of somewhere in between, but what I would most identify myself with is other TCK’s.
How would you describe TCK culture?
Part of it has to do with having a broader perception of the world. Culture has a lot to do with media and local jargon and phrases and cultural references. Even just expected behavior that’s very specific to the culture.
And, having not been involved in the cultures that we sort of came from, I feel like TCK culture often has a disconnect with those cultural aspects. So, when we get together as TCK’s we aren’t interested in talking about pop culture from anywhere as much as the things happening around the world. And, bigger picture stuff and a lot more about life itself. Purpose, dreams, ambitions, struggles, blessings. There’s this desire to go deep and not to talk about surface level cultural things. Maybe because we can’t relate so much to those things.
There’s this general feeling of not belonging anywhere in particular. Which is I think why TCK’s themselves often bond and stick with other TCK’s. But at university in the States I found that even stronger than TCK culture or home culture or anything else is Christian culture. This common passion for knowing God and pursuing Him.
How did being a TCK impact your choice to pursue mission as an adult?
When I was in high school I was not planning to do missions stuff at all. I was thinking I’ll just go to the States, have a job there, and love God and serve God there.
Admittedly, I realized, wow, this is a very different culture; I would rather not stay in the States. But, I would have trouble if that was my only reason for doing missions stuff. That’s something a lot of TCK’s struggle with, do I just want to do that (mission) because overseas is more comfortable?
My senior year in college, I was talking to God and saying, “Is this my thing or is this you also?”. Through prayer and specific answers, God confirmed to me that, “Yes, this is what I want you to do and it’s not just your idea but mine too.” So, that is what ultimately made me confident that is what I wanted to do.
What do you wish people knew about being a TCK?
- For one thing, not all TCK’s are the same. Especially for missionary kids and pastor’s kids, it can be tempting to put them in a box. You have these expectations. Really TCK’s are all very different.
- We prefer deep conversations. From what I hear it can sometimes freak out Americans particularly and other cultures, when TCK’s want to go deep fast in conversation. Maybe just recognizing that’s not weird to us. That’s just how we operate.
- Be patient but open with us.We can be taught to function in a different culture as long as people are patient with us and willing to clarify where we could do better. Basically, if there is conflict or disagreement or tension of different cultures, talking about it is healthy so they (TCKs) can try to change it.
I had a roommate that said, “you tend to be critical of everything American and pretty much glorify everything international.” And I was like ouch. That was really humbling to hear that, but he was right.
I realized he took it personally when I said something negative about any particularly American thing. And I realized I was doing the same thing if he were to say things negative about international stuff.
The reasoning for that I realized is because America is his home and the international world is my home. So, I was throwing rocks at his home, and he at mine. It was a very personal thing. Even if neither of us intended it to be that way.
That was very helpful for me to see that in myself. It made me realize I need to respect America, not necessarily because I think the things they do or don’t do are great, but more for his sake, for respect for his home.
What are you most thankful for as a TCK?
I would say perspective is the thing I am most grateful for as a TCK. Perspective on life. I don’t want to waste my life. Having seen real poverty, more extreme suffering and even darkness and struggle… I think seeing that kind of stuff and seeing the world as a whole… I see there’s a lot of things in the world that need people to step up and do something. A lot of worthy things to spend your life on.
It’s given me perspective on things that really matter. And maybe that’s my culture you know. Because what matters is very cultural, right? Maybe my culture says the things that matter involves people’s lives and involve addressing the problems of the world and doing what you can with what you have to try and help people. Not allowing myself to be comfortable and just sit back and ignore those things.