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The kid from Japan

I remember when, on the first day of college, my mom introduced me as an “MK (missionary kid) from Japan” at new student orientation. I forced a smile, endured all the questions about my upbringing in a foreign country. I uttered a “Nice to meet you too” and hastily pulled my mom aside.

“Please don’t tell people I’m from Japan.”

“Why not? You are.”

“I just . . . don’t want you to tell people.”

“Where should I say you’re from then?”

“Just say California.”

“Okay . . .”

And so, for the remaining hours of orientation, I was no longer Joel-Japan-MK-Driscoll but I became Joel-Normal-Californian-Driscoll. Before my family left to say goodbye my mom asked me again why I didn’t want to let people know that I grew up in Japan. I didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of being a missionary kid or that I was embarrassed about being a TCK (Third Culture Kid), there was just a part of me that hated being introduced that way.

A few years down the track I am now incredibly proud of my upbringing. If I could relive my life in any different context than the one I was raised in, I wouldn’t want to. Being an MK has taught me many important things that I would have never experienced otherwise.

The reason that I never wanted to be introduced as a “the kid from Japan” was because I didn’t want to be labelled as that kid and be forced to slowly push through the stereotypes. Those stereotypes left me feeling like people don’t really want to get to know me, they wanted to know about the life of an MK. It isolated me and hindered me from getting to know lots of people.

When I went to college, I defaulted to the next place I could call home. It worked great. I finally felt normal for the first time in my life! People chose to associate themselves with me not because of my MKness or my associations with an oriental culture, but because they got to know me.

But for a time I took it to the extreme. I made a point to never talk about Japan ever and really beat around the bush if anyone asked about how and where I grew up.

I have now come to a compromise. I still don’t choose to introduce myself to everyone I meet as from Japan, yet I will willingly divulge the information to friends and people I get to know better. That way, they don’t stereotype and judge but they can begin to appreciate the incredible life that I’ve had and the phenomenal experiences God has given me.

After 20 years of struggling to find what it means to be me in a world that is constantly changing around me and in two cultures that don’t completely accept me, I want to be confident in who God made me to be. I want to build real friendships with normal people and not be put into a box with all the other MKs in the world.

Joel’s tips:

Non-Missionary Kids

  • Please treat us like normal people—all we want is to have a fair chance to be your friend.
  • The reason we can be weird is because our life is  We don’t have many stable friendships and we struggle with finding a sense of belonging and identity. We strive so hard to be as normal as possible and so often fail so hard…so help us!
  • Please try not to stereotype us, just pretend like we’re the new kid who moved from another state.
  • Ask us real questions about ourselves and not the country where we grew up.
  • Ask us about our ambitions, our favorite food, even ask us what our favorite color is!

For Missionary Kids / Third Culture Kids:

  • Don’t ignore or be ashamed of your fascinating childhood. The Lord purposefully put you in your family.
  • Look for opportunities to grow in the life God’s given you.
  • However, don’t let it be your identity. God has made you so much more than the stereotypes that people can pin on you.
  • When you introduce yourself to people, make an effort to make you be you.You are So be you.

For Ex-Missionary Kids / Third Culture Adults:

  • The way you were raised was exactly where and how God wanted you to grow up. Your world is way bigger than most people’s and you understand and know things that people wouldn’t dream of experiencing in a hundred lifetimes.
  • Take advantage of your uniqueness. Embrace it but don’t let your past become your identity. You are more than just an MK.
  • Your past has trained, conditioned, and matured you in way that has prepared you for Christ’s kingdom work.Let it spur you on to bigger and greater thing for the Glory of God.

Edited excerpt from a blog post by Joel, 2014 (see the original blog post here).

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