I remember anguishing at the counter of the restaurant where I worked. It had come to this. There was no avoiding it. I had worked there long enough to know this moment was coming. You would think I would be prepared for it, and have an answer ready. I was not. “Amber, where are you from?” my manager repeated. She was having our work name tags made and needed to know what city to put under my name. I am guessing she was not used to such a delayed response. I went through my whole mental process as I tried to come up with an answer. Can I just say Chicago, and keep it simple? I had only lived there a year and a half at the time. I could write Peru and have to deal with the inevitable, “Whoa, you have amazing English!” comments from customers, and then the moral dilemma of whether to just go with that and pretend to be a Peruvian who had lived in the states a year and had the best language acquisition skills of all time, or to tell them my whole life story and explain the concept of foreign missions to a table of drunk guys who really just want a burger. I could go with Iowa, but something in me refused to be from Iowa, namely because I wasn’t from Iowa and after my parents left the field and returned to Iowa…yeah, Iowa and I were not yet on speaking terms. So that left me with Memphis, or Michigan as options. My parents were from those places and I had been to them to see relatives many times….so they were options of where I was from, right? I ended up going ahead with Lima and just hoping people assumed that I meant Lima,Ohio to spare me the long explanation, because people in Lima, Ohio have amazing English too, from what I hear.
You may be reading that and thinking, “What in the world is she talking about?” But, ask any MK and they will be nodding away and laughing and probably sharing stories of their own. This lack of an answer to that question is a real thing. Just ask this girl:
When someone asks me where I am from, I quickly try to figure out if the person asking is just making small talk, or really wants to hear my entire life story. When my husband and I were first married, we would be at fancy business functions and his co-workers would ask me where I was from. I would try to give one of my quick and simple answers, but my husband would contradict me and say, “Actually, she is from South America.” At this point, I would give him the stink eye and then have to explain why I sort of just lied to them. Yep. Awkward. Now Eric knows to not react to however I happen to answer that question on any given day.
Defining home can be tricky for an MK. If it is a physical place, then often that is completely gone to an MK, especially if their family moves away, or they are evacuated from that country for safety reasons. A lot of MKs define their concept of home by their relationships. I remember that as long as my family was together, we were “home.” I could go home to one of our many different rental houses we lived in while we were in Peru. I could go home to a trailer that a church lent us to stay in for a year on furlough. I could go home to a hotel room in any given state, just so long as our family was there. “Home” was the people in my life, not a place. That is one of the factors that makes transition away from the MKs family so uniquely difficult. Your home and family are one and the same.
This feeling of not having a “home” or even belonging anywhere is very common among MKs. It is hard to explain. I think the main reason we are so conscious of that is because it is missing. A cultural identity and a feeling of being a member of a particular group is a basic foundational part of personhood. Again, you may not even be aware of these concepts unless they are missing. Then you are keenly aware of them. You will probably go seeking them at some level. That leads to the next part of the MK journey: Restlessness.
“In the end, many TCKs develop a migratory instinct that controls their lives. Along with their chronic rootlessness is a feeling of restlessness: “Here, where I am today, is temporary. But as soon as I finish my schooling, get a job, or purchase a home, I’ll settle down.” Somehow the settling down never quite happens. The present is never enough—something always seems lacking. An unrealistic attachment to the past, or a persistent expectation that the next place will finally be home, can lead to this inner restlessness that keeps the TCK always moving.”
Pollock, David C.; Van Reken, Ruth E. (2010-11-26). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds (p. 126). Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Kindle Edition.
This is not to say that MKs should never move. But I do believe that before making a move of any kind, an MK should do some deep soul searching and try to discern why he is moving. Is it really necessary; is it really a call from God, or is it just this restlessness that is so common to MKs. I remember standing on the beach by Lake Michigan and telling the Lord to send me anywhere. I would happily go anywhere on the earth to serve Him. He answered my heart and said, “Anywhere, but here?” Yes. Anywhere but here. Because I didn’t fit here. I did not belong. And I could roam the earth trying to find that elusive concept of “this is where I belong,” (and some MKS do that very thing) but I would never have found it.
MKs, I want to tell you something. This not having a definite answer to the question of “where you are from” and this longing for “home” that you can’t ever seem to find is not a curse. Our culture, the MK, Third Culture Kids, Global Nomads, whatever you want to call people suspended between worlds and cultures…we have a unique opportunity to experience the fact that this world is not our home. It is not. We feel that sharply. And that is not a bad thing. A lot of people get so attached to places and things that they can’t love the thought of heaven. They so deeply belong here that they don’t grasp the concept that this world is a sinking ship. It is temporary.
I stood with a multitude of women at a conference over a year ago, and we sang worship songs led by Kari Jobe and Mercy Me. As I stood there in the arena, looking out over a vast multitude of worshippers praising God, it hit me that this is where I am going. Someday, I will stand before the throne of God on a sea of crystal glass, and I will worship Him in a multitude that can’t be counted. I will be home. And I will never have to leave. I will never have to say goodbye to any of the people I see around me. You will be there. You will be home too. So stop searching. We found home. It is Him. It’s always been Him.