Esther grew up overseas where her parents served. Now an adult, she was recently able to help the children of new workers as they prepared for live overseas.
My first adult-TCK* teacher was Ms. Ramsey, who came to teach health during my final year of high school. She was a Latina that grew up in the US and countries in Africa, and who was easily the bubbliest teacher I’d ever met, always speaking with a twinkle in her eyes and busting into dance moves every now and then. Rather than learning about maintaining healthy lifestyles and relationships, however, I was more intrigued by her childhood stories of chasing monkeys and looking for lice in her sibling’s hair, her teenage struggles of moving continents and losing friends, and her recent excitement of adjusting to a new country and a new school.
No, we didn’t become best friends, or even talk outside of class. Ms. Ramsey probably never knew that I was also a TCK and I wasn’t keen to show off our extra special similarity, either (being friendly with teachers is nice and all, but the extra attention given in class? Oh, no). However, the feeling of sitting in the classroom knowing that someone older had gone through the same thing (and survived!) was enough of a comfort for me.
I was familiar with the natural bond between TCKs, but not about the relationship between TCKs (or adult TCKs) with a big age gap until this past year when I had Ms. Ramsey as a teacher and started observing younger TCKs during conferences.
This past summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to help out at an orientation program for future TCKs. It was fascinating to play with these carefree kids, since most of them had little-to-no idea about what’s coming at them.
One of the families has already been on the field for a while, and so their kids were also more aware of their circumstances and familiar with the concepts taught. I loved talking to the kids, feeling especially at home whenever the kids talk about a security concern or used a special term since that’s what I grew up being surrounded by. Their six-year-old, Savanna, was evidently more emotional during the camp. I thought she just had a sensitive personality until I recognized her cry for attention and her dilemma between pleasing others and voicing her own needs.
Boy, didn’t that look familiar? I’m sure I’d seen it somewhere, perhaps in the old pictures of me sitting next to different doors crying just enough to not join the kids’ programs happening inside.
I spent more time with Savanna after learning from her mom that she was relieved by the fact that I was also a TCK and that she wasn’t alone in the experience. At first, I tried working “deep talks” into our conversations, but quickly realized that she didn’t have to talk about it with me — we both knew what she was going through. So she told me about her best friend who got stung by a bee, the best games to play in the rain, and her favorite types of cookies. I almost felt disappointed about not being able to talk about “TCK stuff” enough, but then I remembered Ms. Ramsey. Hey, I didn’t even have to.
“I was having fun, but I wasn’t feeling happy,” was Savanna’s conclusion of the camp, and a feeling TCKs know all too well. Us helpers that planned lessons and cooked up activities can take credit for creating fun times, but it is not up to us to decide whether the joy on their faces goes deeper inside. Sure, our presence can be comforting, but God is the one that touches our hearts directly. I pray that these children will look to God even when times get tough and that they find joy in their identity in him.
*TCK stands for “third-culture kids,” a term describing children who spend a significant amount of their childhood in a culture other than the one they or their parents were born in.
**Names have been changed.