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Third culture kids

L and S* left Australia seven years ago when their parents became CMS missionaries. Now aged 14 and 12, the girls have become ‘third culture kids’ (TCKs), feeling like they no longer fully belong in Australia or in their current mission location in South East Asia. Here they describe their reaction to some of the most common questions that TCKs are asked on return trips to Australia.

Question: Aren’t you glad you’re home?

As TCKs, this question sends our brains into overdrive! Where is home? Is it country one, two or three? We often confuse people because we talk about leaving “home” to go “home”. Living in many countries means that home becomes a concept more than a physical place. Home is where we feel safe, loved and comfortable. When you ask this question, you’re assuming that Australia is our home. However, for many TCKs their host country may be more of a home than their passport country.

Visiting Australia is exciting but also scary. This seems ironic; although we were born in Australia, we are not sure how we should live there. While in South East Asia, we are accepted as foreigners. But in Australia, although we look like everyone else, we feel like foreigners who are expected to fit in.

Question: Are you missing all your friends in your host country?

In our newsletters you may have seen happy photos of us with local children. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve made a bunch of friends. Yes, we’ve made connections, but they are not always special friends who we can easily chat to.

As TCKs it is often hard to relate to other people in our location, as our experiences, culture, language, and even our faith, create differences that can be hard to bridge. Often we are considered a ‘novelty’ and locals can be hesitant and unsure how to act around us.

When we visit Australia, we are glad to connect again with friends. But often the friendship is different, and we realise these friends have moved on while we are in our host country. In the end, probably the most constant friendship we have is with each other.

Question: Do you feel lucky to be having such great experiences overseas?

Our unique experiences ‘turn us into diamonds’, or so we are told. However, it requires a lot of pressure and heat to turn carbon into diamonds (although the end product is beautiful!). Our time spent overseas does change us – making us wiser, more resilient and broad-minded – but it is often with many challenges.

For the most part, however, our daily lives look like any child’s in Australia – school, homework, piano practise – but at times without electricity and water, and with many uncomfortable taxi rides!

We wouldn’t give up our experiences, but being a TCK is often not the exotic, amazing adventure that everyone imagines.

Question: What can I do to encourage you?

When people ask, “How can I encourage YOU”, it shows they care about us personally. They are not asking just about our parents or our family in general, but about us as individuals. This acknowledges that we are part of the ministry in our host country and that we need support too.

The best way people can encourage us is by remembering our birthdays, and by sending messages, letters or even videos. It is great just to hear about the daily lives of people back in our passport country – it means that we still have a place in their lives. In our host country, we have really appreciated visits from some people and the opportunity to show them firsthand where we live and what we do. We also do appreciate people praying for us personally.


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*Names withheld for privacy reasons.