In 1990 the census determined that the total number of Americans living abroad is estimated at 3 million. The book ‘Third Culture Kids’ takes a needed look at understanding who they are, determining their profile, and estimating the best ways they can maximize their life.
Let me share a few interesting sections of this book that ring true with my experience with Missionary Kids (and Third Culture Adults) in Kenya the past 18 months.
1) They experience high mobility. In the past two years we have lived in 2 different countries, 3 different locations, and 5 different homes/apartments. We have all seen good friends come and go, some to return again some we will not see again. It can make people flexible and quick to initiate friendship on the flip side overly-protected.
2) There is a Painful/Realistic view of life. Poverty, sickness, neediness is ever-present. We hope this instills compassion and identity that we are “One in the Body” and not prejudice, blame, or simply fatigue.
3) There is a sense of Restlessness. Where is home? It can lead to a feeling of physical rootlessness but at the same time preserve the notion that home is not a physical place but an emotional place where you are loved by family.
4)TCK’s often develop many friendships because so many people come and go, but it is simply hard to maintain them all.
Five levels of friendship are specified:
a) Superficial- Small talk. How are you? Where are you from? How is the weather?
b) Still Safe- Exchanging no Risk Facts. Where did you go on Vacation?
c) Judgmental Level- We being to risk a few questions sharing opinions on religion, politics, child-rearing. d) Emotional Level- Sharing how they feel about life. I’m happy, depressed, anxious, homesick, encouraged. e) Disclosure Level- Revealing private ideas and difficult failures. Involves and honesty and vulnerability that leads to intimacy.
Most only have a few if not just one person who fits in the 'Disclosure' level of friendship. Some have no-one like this in which to share. TCK’s and TCA’s move quickly through levels a and b to reach c. Why? It may be a sense of urgency due to high mobility of friendships. It also may be cultural. Europeans are quick to launch into talks of politics which may be divisive. Americans look for common ground in sports, TV, movies.
5) TCK’s are quite comfortable talking to adults because they spend a lot of time with them. They can seem overly-mature for their age.
6) There is frequently unresolved grief due to the stresses of normal life in a developing world (death, isolation, anxiety). In these situations comfort is often confused with encouragement. Comfort says I can’t change things. Comfort puts and arm around a shoulder and just says I’m sorry. Comfort validates grief. Comfort gives grief permission. It recognizes that this grief is normal, understood, and that the griever is not alone. Encouragement presumes this situation will turn around. Encouragement tends to bypass grief, often unintentionally delegitimizing the grieving process.
7) Both spouses must favor the move to a third culture for it to work.
8) Kids need to be feel that the work there parents are doing is important. First they just need to know what Mom and Dad are doing at the hospital. Second, they need to know that at this time God has called not just Mom and Dad but our whole family to serve in Kenya. If there is no sense of calling, need, or justification for being here for the children, they may feel they have been absconded to a foreign country with no real reason.
9) Establishing a physical home in your home country is recommended.
10) Build strong ties with relatives and friends.
Lastly, you may find a few graphs taken from the book interesting.
Safety of missionaries (thankfully) has vastly improved.
A tendency towards TCK's who are in boarding school towards higher frequency visits at home with parents.
The trend is tending away from early boarding school.
The authors in my opinion decidedly refrained from offering a tight summary or study of how TCK’s function as adults. Making an assertion would oversimplify the complexity of growing up as a TCK and its affect on the rest of their life. It seems that each TCK has a distinct experience and would speak for themselves regarding how growing up in a Third Culture has affected their development.