The cultures of this world are beautiful things. Learning about them can open our eyes to the beauty and creativity of our God.
Third culture kids (TCKs) get a front row seat to the mixing and mingling of the cultures in our world.
A third culture kid is one who has grown up in a cultural environment that is different from either their nationality, or their parent’s. For example, they may possess a United States passport, but have never truly lived within the borders of the United States. They find themselves feeling as if they have their own culture that lies somewhere between the US and whatever country they grew up in.
Susanna Goossen, a first-year sophomore studying Biblical Counseling here at Calvary University, is a TCK from the country of Brazil. Her family has been serving as missionaries in Northeastern Brazil for about twenty-four years. Susanna and her brothers all grew up there, but have found themselves moving to the states to either study or work.
As one can imagine, there are so many things that Susanna loves about her home in Brazil. When asked what her favorites were she said, “The amazing people that I grew up with, the awesome weather, and the Coca-Cola.” Her memories are sweetly tainted with the early mornings she spent watching the sun rise over the beach.
The lively culture of Brazil invites many differences to that of the United States. One of the biggest, and most obvious, changes for Susanna is the difference in the typical greeting. Greetings in Brazil are always met with hugs and kisses, regardless of one’s gender.
Although there are some beautiful things and opportunities that come with being a TCK, there are also some struggles. Identity is a struggle that Susanna pointed out when asked about advice she would give to those coming from the TCK background. To help combat such an identity crisis, she recommends to “write down a list of all the ways that God sees you.” Her go-to statement is “I am a child of God.”
“When sadness and homesickness creep in, remind yourself of who you are in God’s eyes. Even when the slightest doubt about your future or your worth creeps in, go back to this list. It seems like a small thing, but it’s a slow process to find your identity in Christ and this is a practical way to get you started in the right direction.”
For a third culture kid, identity is a huge thing because they are not tied to a specific culture. Their birth certificate says one country, their life experience says another, and their heart language might conflict with either one of those. Restlessness and a sense of uncertainty for where one truly belongs can creep in unnoticed. For Susanna, she has had to learn that “God is the only thing that is constant and unchanging.”
“I can always find refuge in Him. Even when no one understands or cares, He does. Even when everything in my life is changing, He isn’t.”
When loving and caring for TCKs, be sure to be patient. Susanna says that the best way to describe this time of transition is “a time of mourning.” Not only have TCKs moved from their home, but all that they ever knew. They then come back to their “homeland” expected to understand all of the cultural norms and nuances. In reality, they may not understand some of what many would consider as the “simplest” things.
“Pray for us,” Susanna requests. “Most of us can’t go home for Christmas. Some of us have no place to go for break—no place to call home.” It is so easy to feel lost when everyone else is traveling back to mom and dad, but not you. Extend an understanding hand to those who are unable to find their new home as easily as you might.
The final thing of advice for those interacting with TCKs is to be considerate in your explanations. Some of our cultural experiences, that we think are obvious, may be a challenge for TCKs to pick up on. They did not spend their life in the same culture as you might assume.
Susanna is so grateful for her church family and the new friends that she has made here at Calvary. These individuals have embodied the love of Christ to her as they generously give of their time and money, as well as comfort her in moments of homesickness. Calvary is blessed to have so many students who have similar experiences as Susanna’s. Our desire is that all TCKs at Calvary find themselves receiving the same support that Susanna has found.
Being a third culture kid is a fun and exciting journey to be on. As you go about interacting with those who are blessed to have such a culturally diverse life experience, do not be afraid to bring up and discuss their homeland. Learn and grow with them! Take the opportunity to see the riches of God’s glory through the new cultural knowledge that you acquire.