Being the father of three missionary kids (aka. "3rd Culture Kids"), I'm always interested to hear what older MK's say as they reflect on their younger years. Our children have had opportunities to interact with older MK's and have received great encouragement that they can turn out okay! That's great news for parents, too, who wonder if they have stashed enough cash away for any counseling sessions with a shrink for their kids due to them being whisked around the world a bit as a young person!
Rachael is a colleague of mine from Gabon and has graciously agreed to share her thoughts about the topic, having been an MK from a very young age. Enjoy!
Was returning to your passport country different from or similar to leaving? Which was easier or harder? Why?
When I returned to America to go to college, I had mixed feelings. Part of me was excited to meet new people and learn new things, and part of me was very sad to leave behind everyone and everything I loved in Africa.
I came to America not knowing anyone there except for my great aunt Allie, my grandmother’s sister. I stayed with her for the summer before college started, helping her can vegetables, shopping at health food stores and farmers markets, and learning all the stories of my grandmother’s family.
For a week that summer I went to…
...Colorado Springs for a Reentry Seminar for TCKs. Though it was only for a short time, I bonded quickly with the others there and wept when we said good-bye.
All this was different from when I had left America the last time to go to Africa. Then there were no mixed feelings, because I was just glad to go back to the place where I had grown up. It was not hard for me to leave America because I didn’t have any close friends in America to leave behind.
What elements of culture shock did you experience upon return? How did you handle it?
When I came to America, it surprised me that the stores were so far from the houses. In Africa, the stores are all scattered around within walking distance. I remember walking for miles one day in America soon after I had first arrived, looking for anything like a store.
The first time I went shopping for clothes for college, I had enough money because of graduation gifts, and I bought enough clothing to last for several years, just as if I were going overseas for four years. My friends were worried that I kept buying more and more clothes in just one shopping trip.
When I first began to feel the effects of culture shock, I dealt with it by talking to my closest friend about my feelings. She was extraordinary, I know now, because she really listened. But even though my friend listened to me, I still felt lonely, so I drew, wrote poetry, and wrote to my brother, who was still in boarding school in Africa. That did help.
What factors impacted your repatriation/re-entry experience? What was the short and long-term impact on you?
If it hadn’t been for my great aunt Allie and her love and care, I would have felt lost in America, since my parents and brothers were still in Africa. As it was I had a home to go to on long weekends and school vacations because she was there.
Another thing that helped was the college I went to was small and Christian and not legalistic. I felt accepted there although I was one of the only TCKs on campus. The school was small enough that I was able to qualify for the women’s basketball team. I spent so much time with my teammates that I got to know them better than I might have otherwise.
At the time, I still struggled with homesickness and loneliness, despite the good way things had turned out for me in America. I grieved the loss of my home in Africa for a very long time. Also I missed my family,though I didn’t always realize it. No matter how many friends I talked to, no one could replace my mom, my dad or my brothers.
Now, more than twenty years later, my love for my family and for Africa remains. My love for my great aunt Allie remains too though. I even made friends that first year in America who I wept to leave when I had to move. I think I made some deep connections in that first year of repatriation/reentry which will mark me forever.
How did your expectations affect your repatriation and reentry experience?
When I returned to America I thought I would never be able to return home to Africa again. I thought I would not like America. I thought I could never be close to an American.
Because of my expectations I was very sad when I came to America, and not very hopeful. My great aunt Allie and all her relations rather took me by surprise with their warmth and lovability.
America continues to grow on me, especially since living in other countries after college; places where I had fewer freedoms, where I could not speak the language, where I had no great aunt Allie to care for me. The longer I live the more I appreciate my passport country. When I return, sometimes the customs officer smiles and says, ‘Welcome to America’ and I find myself genuinely smiling back.
My great aunt Allie was the first American I became close to. She welcomed me, talked to me, told me so many stories, introduced me to different foods (mostly health foods!), and generally mothered me. When she passed away I was living in Cambodia and couldn’t say good-bye to her. I miss her and love to pass on her stories to my nieces and nephews and, well, to anyone who will listen.
What lessons have you learned since or what do you wishyou had known then that would have changed your repatriation/re-entryexperience?
If I had known that I would return to Africa not only once, but many more times, and even come back to live there, I would have had more hope. If I had known that God would keep my family for me, and not let us lose each other over the years and across the miles, I would have felt more trusting of him. But then I would have lost the element of surprise, the joy of discovering these things.
I have learned to hope that the Lord will keep giving my family back to me in the future, keeping us together. I am learning that good-bye does not always mean forever: sometimes people and places come back into your life again. And I am learning to love a new people and place, America.