Religion Magazine

An Aging Adult TCK

By Marilyngardner5 @marilyngard

chair - TCK quote

An Aging Adult TCK by Robynn. You can follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss

I used to think of myself as a Missionary Kid…an MK. My parents were missionaries. I was their kid. The title made sense.

Much later I was told we were actually Third Culture Kids. It was a little more convoluted but it also seemed appropriate. I had a passport from one country– travel documents tethering me to Canada and yet I had grown up in a completely different country. Childhood and an entangled emotional root system tied me to Pakistan. I was neither truly Canadian nor really Pakistani. I was from this third culture, this nebulous nomadic space. I was a Third Culture Kid.

As an ornery adolescent I resisted these labels. We were no such thing. We weren’t sick. We didn’t need a diagnosis. We were kids: normal, noisy, hormonal, opinionated. How dare ‘they’ try to box us into this container as if we could somehow be explained. I was Robynn. Pure and simple.

Landing in a foreign country, Canada, and trying to remember why I was attached at all to that strange place left me reeling. I felt the country carpet pulled out from under my feet. I longed for any explanation for why I felt the way I did. I wanted a label to explain it. I longed for a box to crawl into and hide in. Suddenly displaced and alone it all made sense. There was comfort in recognizing there were others out there, perhaps, a little like me.

I remember the day I realized, much to my shock, that being a TCK wasn’t something I was going to grow out of.

I had graduated from a Little College on the Prairie and I was living in Langley, BC with my brother and another TCK friend, Dave. Each of us were working jobs that paid the bills. We had found a church we weren’t hating and we began to settle into adulthood, together. During that time I met an old friend of my Auntie Carol’s. Sue, as I remember, was also a TCK. She was probably a couple of decades older than I was but she kindly invited me to meet a group of TCKs that met regularly to encourage each other. I was pleasantly surprised to meet and to be invited into this eclectic circle of other displaced persons from all over the world. All of them were significantly older than I was. Most were in their thirties and forties. There were some older gray heads in the room.

I sat quietly through that afternoon and listened. These were adults. They were struggling to commit to buying a house. They wanted to travel. In those days before cell phones their long distance phone bills were points of contention. They had spouses who didn’t understand their restlessness. Most of them longed for some sort of global impact. They felt bored by typical 9-5 jobs. They wanted to matter. They still felt out of kilter culturally. They still had parts of their hearts abandoned in other countries of the world. Many of them were beginning to work through the after-effects of boarding school, the unintended consequences of those early separations were affecting their own parenting, their abilities to make decisions, their faith.

I remember hearing what they were saying and feeling horrified that this was a thing I would have to contend with my whole life. In those months immediately after college I was so certain I was on the edge of finally “getting it”…I was about to settle, I just knew it… I was about to become fully Canadian again. Sitting there listening in on the struggles of those on the same journey as I was was overwhelming, and it weighed me down. I had no idea.

Now I am one of those same gray haired older adult TCKs (or I used to be until my hairdresser dyed me a fiery feisty red!). How I would love to go back to that group and learn from them. How I wish I had a similar circle to sit around and air my own struggles and strains. I long for that type of community that might understand me deeply in those darker, quieter, confused places of my soul. I battle restlessness. I want my life to matter. I also want to have a global impact, a broader purpose. My heart breaks with mercy for justice in Nigeria, in Ukraine, in the Central Africa Republic, Syria, Malaysia. I perpetually feel my square self struggling to fit into my round surroundings. The left-over separation anxieties from boarding school still tighten my chest at the thought of leaving my own children for any length of time.

This label still fits, all these years later. I am still an adult Third Culture Kid.

These are the days when people want to know themselves. They want to be known. Personality tests are rampant on the internet. Which Harry Potter character are you? Which musical would you be most likely to star in? Which Biblical Character are you? Which Disney Princess? As an Adult Third Culture Kid I also want to be known. I want to be understood….

When I was a young TCK I was up against my own ignorances. I had no idea how Canada worked. I had to suss it out. All my senses turned on. I listened for cues. I quietly, subtly observed my surroundings. I intuited how the system worked. Still now as an older adult TCK I still rely on these strategic tools —except it’s harder now with bifocals! I can’t see life on the edges…it’s all blurry and bothered. I find myself removing my glasses when I enter a new situation as I try to find my bearings.

I suppose that’s how it’s always been though…a little blurry on the edges. Perhaps the Aging Adult Third Culture Kid sees better than she thinks she does. Finally a little clarity!

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