Third Culture Thoughts Part 2 (On My Childhood)

— By Elizabeth

I’m a third culture kid myself.  I didn’t realize the uniqueness of my upbringing until we started preparing for Cambodia, but life as a military kid gave me a TCK experience. Until I was 5, I lived in West Germany – yes, it was so long ago that Germany was divided into East and West. We ate pomme fritz (fries) with miniature plastic forks. I wore a German dress called a dirndl. My dad would call out “auf wiedersehen” as he left for work.

The next five years were mainly civilian while my dad taught Army ROTC at an American university. But the next few years were highly mobile, including 4 school moves in 4 years and lifeon post.” The school moves were hard — at each school I was the “new kid” for several months, and other kids picked on me. Until the next school year began, anyway, because by then we were all friends. Sometimes half-way through that next year I would have to move again, starting the whole painful process anew.

I was 12 when we left military life and began “re-entry” into civilian life. Civilian life is different. Even the vocabulary is different. Instead of living in quarters, I now lived in a house. Instead of shopping at the PX and the commissary, we shopped at Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee. I didn’t swim at the Officers’ Club pool during the summers anymore. I kept calling policemen “MP’s” (military police). I wondered where all the black people were. (I came from a multi-racial military installation, but the Kansas City suburb where we settled was primarily Caucasian.) And I was the new kid yet again, ripe and ready for being made fun of.

The question “where are you from?” is hard for TCK’s to answer. I had always had difficulty answering that question. Where was I from? I wasn’t sure.  For many years, I didn’t really feel like Lee’s Summit, MO (where my parents moved after the Army) was home. I hadn’t lived there long enough to feel at home. It certainly wasn’t any of the other places I had lived either.  Sometimes I answered that I was from Kansas City. Sometimes I listed all the places I’d lived. Other times I said that my parents were from a small town in central Iowa.

 Growing up, this quote from Bernard Cooke was always hanging on the walls of my many homes.

Fast forward to last year. Now I’m a parent of future missionary kids, so I read Pollock and Reken’s Third Culture Kids book. All of a sudden I identified with these TCK’s. Even though it didn’t span my entire childhood or take me to a third world country, I realized that my transient young life, coupled with an entirely different American military sub-culture, gave me insight into what being a TCK will be like for my kids. Reading about TCK’s helped me understand more about myself, and assured me that I would be able to empathize with my children in their difficult experiences.

TCK’s often feel homeless. They are moving, or their friends are moving.  Constantly.  They don’t have roots in one place, but have connections all over. They feel at home everywhere, and they feel at home nowhere. This was a big concern for me as a mom. Home is important to me. I want my kids to feel at home somewhere.

To me, though, home is where family is. It’s where memories have been made, and where they will continue to be made. I think you can have more than one home. And really, don’t we all have another home in Heaven?

My parents’ home town in Iowa still feels like home to me – the place and the people stayed constant throughout all my moves. My parents have lived in their current house for 12 years now (their longest stay), and it feels like home. Today, I live in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with my husband and 4 children, and it feels like home. In the words of musician Alex Ebert, “Home is wherever I’m with you.”

In the end, the best part about being a TCK for me is the nebulous definition of home as everywhere and yet nowhere.  How wonderful that my Heavenly Father could use a few uncomfortable years of my childhood to help me fully embrace wherever He puts me in His wide world.

4 thoughts on “Third Culture Thoughts Part 2 (On My Childhood)

  1. I’ve yet to figure out if I can stand to live in one place indefinitely or not, following 27 years of military life. There are so many different ways we can utilize the experiences we grow up with. Thank you for being bold and generous with your experiences and abilities. Love you guys!

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