Missionary children, or “MKs,” as they are sometimes referred to, grow up in an international, highly intercultural environment. The journey of a missionary kid is distinctive and filled with a variety of unparalleled opportunities, challenges, and experiences. We will examine the lives of these “third culture kids” in this series of blogs, shedding light on their upbringing, unique experiences, struggles, identity, and mental health. Excerpts from interviews with people who grew up on mission fields will be included in these blogs (names have been changed to protect confidentiality) and redacted transcripts of these interviews will be provided with the upcoming blog posts for those who are interested.
Who is a TCK?
A Missionary Kid (MK) falls under the category of ‘Third Culture Kid’. This term is used to describe a person who has spent a significant part of their formative years outside their parents’ culture. According to the book ‘Third Culture Kids’ by Pollock and Van Reken, TCKs develop links with all of the cultures but do not fully identify with any of them.
A Truly Global Upbringing
The MK, raised in foreign countries, experiences exposure to diverse cultures, languages, and ways of life. Traveling between their home and host countries and growing up in a genuinely cross-cultural world can cultivate an appreciation for diversity, adaptability, and flexibility
Jonathan, 18yrs- “I recall being able to adjust in whatever situation I was put into (at least externally). I think a lot of that comes from constantly evolving circumstances and being accustomed to change.”
This global upbringing also involves frequent relocations, language barriers, and cultural adjustments. This might contribute to a sense of rootlessness, which we will explore in another blog. Rich diversity exists alongside the underlying dilemma of where one fits within that diversity.
Rachel, 25yrs- When we moved from one mission field to another, I needed quite a bit of time to adapt. Integrating what I had learned from the previous place and starting from scratch was difficult. I still find it difficult to identify one of these places as ‘home’.
Some of the themes that arose from the interviews were:
- Cultural Confusion
- Transitions and Adjustments
- Identity and Belonging
Exposure to and the blending of various cultural norms, values, and expectations can result in cultural confusion. MKs often learn multiple languages and adapt to various communication styles. This can lead to challenges in identifying with a single language or communication pattern.
Sam, 24yrs- “As a five year old, I used to switch between 3 languages in different contexts- one with local friends, one with my parents, and one with my babysitter. I even recall switching languages within the same conversation, and sometimes still do that. It came so naturally to me but I did not identify with any of the three languages.”
Managing Cultural Confusion
There is no one-size-fits-all approach as each MK has their own unique experience but navigating this confusion may involve:
- Embracing Uniqueness– Not everyone gets the opportunities MKs do. Embracing the diverse cultural backgrounds as a unique aspect of your identity can help you use it as a source of strength.
- Self reflection– Engaging in introspection to understand and clarify your own values, beliefs, and cultural influences.
- Cultivating flexibility– You might still be navigating various cultural contexts. Embracing a flexible mindset can enable you to adapt, welcoming change and uncertainty as opportunities for growth.
- Seeking Support– Connecting with other TCKs who share similar experiences can provide a sense of validation and belonging.
This research article provides an in-depth understanding of adjustment within internationally mobile families.
You can find more Centre For Effective Serving blogs here.
Pollock, D. C., Van Reken, R. E., & Pollock, M. V. (2017). Third culture kids : growing up among worlds. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.