An Open Letter to a Young TCK

At one time both Robynn and I were young third culture kids. We were trying to make our way, transplant our roots to foreign soil. The days were hard and we made mistakes. Robynn writes with wisdom in this – an open letter to a young TCK. So grab a cup of tea and sit down and read! And as always – please share your thoughts. A blog doesn’t live without readers and commenters! 

hand written letter

I recently wrote this to a young Third Culture Kid. She’s been struggling to settle in and my heart has nearly broken several times as I’ve watched her trying to find who she is and where she’s from in the midst of her agony. This is a letter I wrote to her. I open it up for you to read too.

“There is no doubt in my mind that God has a very important, unique, purpose for you. He chose you well before the beginning of time to grow up in your family…. And then he gave you the experiences he did with the first chapter of your life in India, and the second chapter in the Europe and the third chapter at College…all for a very specific purpose. No one else has your history, your collection of memories, your experiences, your family, together with the amazing ways you’ve been gifted, your talents, your passions, your convictions! Your Father God is thrilled with you. He’s crazy about you! He loves watching you! And he has great and grand plans for you! I firmly believe this!

As your “auntie” I want to give you some advice. Like all advice, you can take it or leave it! But there are so many ways that I relate to you. So many things we share in common. I speak this advice from that place, but also from the place of age and a little more maturity (although certainly not always!). I’ve watched you. I’ve prayed for you. I have come to deeply love you. These are the things I’d like to say. They aren’t in any particular order but here you go (you might want to make yourself a cup of tea! This got kind of long!):

1. Live here and now. You are too young to live in the past. Connect with life in the present tense. You no longer live in India. You no longer live in the UK. I know this is not necessarily where you would choose to live (it’s not where I would choose to live either!) But God calls us to live where He has placed us.

There is something holy about those two words: Here and Now.

He has gifts for you each day…but unless you begin to live NOW you’ll miss them because you’ll be remembering gifts from yesterday, gifts from the UK, gifts from India. Those yesterday gifts were precious, no doubt about that, but I don’t want you to miss out on what God has in store for you today! Jesus really convicted me of this about three years ago. I was still living in Varanasi. He was asking me to live here in Manhattan. I read a great book called “The Wisdom of Stability” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and it  changed my perspective on this issue. I highly recommend that book to you.

2. Get involved. Connect. Engage with what’s happening around you! This is similar to “Live here and now”– maybe it’s even the application of living here and now. One of the ways you can stop living in the past or in the future is to make an effort to consciously connect with the place and the community you are placed in. Get involved! You have so much to offer! Find a local community orchestra. Join it. You’ve talked about theater….is that something you’d be interested in again? If so, track one down. Audition. Get involved. I know you’re scared and nervous…but EVERYONE is!

Not just you, not just other TCKS—every single person enters the world afraid. Some people fake it better than others! you can do this! But it takes effort and initiative. Do it afraid!

Ask God to help you and then walk into things. The reward far outweighs the risk. Remember Bronwynn going to camp, in spite of her terrific fears and worries. She did it! She did it afraid…but she did it! And you and I both know she had the time of her life. If she can…so can you!

3. Say thank you. I’ve ranted about this before. You’ve heard this speech…but it’s a really important one. Say thank you A LOT. For everything. This will make life in this next chapter much easier too. Tell your mom thank you for everything….tell your dad thank you! No one likes to be taken advantage of, or used…. remember the day we picked up Blake from IHOP? He used me that day and it wasn’t pleasant! Remember how much I went on and on about saying thank you?

4. Clean up your messes. When you’re a kid you learn to clean up your own mess but when you are an adult you learn to clean up community messes. Jump in! Learn to see the “messes” around you and pitch in. Clean up. Take care of your things…but not just your things, the things of others. Don’t leave it for later. Don’t ignore what you see. Clean. Wash up. Scrub. Fold. It  is part of being an adult.

5. Make choices. That’s a vague way to say this….but what I mean is, it’s time to start acting and living like an adult. You get to decide how to spend your money. You get to choose your own phone plan. You get to choose where you go and how you get there. You have so much freedom now! It’s exciting! You want to go visit a friend, you can! Buy a ticket and Go! You want to buy some special software for your computer? You can! Go for it! Being an adult is actually fun!

Of course – there are other choices, the not so fun ones. You also get to decide where you’ll apply for a job, how you’ll get to that job. But you can do this. And you’ll discover joy along the way. Your relationship with your parents is different now too. You no longer need their permission. I know you still want their approval and their blessing (that’s perfectly normal….) but you get to make your own decisions. And surely you know that if they don’t approve of what choices you make they will still love you forever and ever. NOTHING will ever change that!

6. Listen to God. He has so much he wants to give you….so many adventures he wants to take you on. Ask him. Listen to his responses. Step out in faith. Take some time even this summer to inquire of him. What contribution does he want you to make to the world around you? Who are the people he’s given you to love? Reach out in faith. Think about the things you love, the things that bring you joy…lay those things out before God. Does he want to use you in some way connected to those things? Think about the things you are good at, the skills you have,the experiences you’ve had…lay those things out before God too. Does he want to use you in some way connected to those things? Talk it out with him. Listen to his answers.

He’s not playing hide and seek. He is here. Ready and excited. He loves you so very much.

7. Take your eyes off yourself.

a) I know your pain has been so big. I know it must feel like it’s going to consume you. I know life here in the US hasn’t turned out quite like you thought it would. And I know that’s very very hard.

Pain is the one thing we share in common with every other person on the globe! Everyone is hurting. Everyone has a story of sadness and great grief.

Everyone has been affected by sin. And while it’s true no one person can completely understand another’s pain, and it’s also true that pain has the capacity to isolate people because of that. It’s a lonely place. Having said that, if we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on Jesus, he begins to point out people around us who are also in pain that we can minister to. When we do that we begin to see how pain connects people. You can better comfort and reach out because of your own pain (not that it’s the same as someone else’s but that you both share a story of pain). There are so many people who need comfort and connection. You can do that….if you see who those people are. The wonder of it all is that when you do that…when you reach out to someone else in pain…. your own pain begins to diminish just a little. It doesn’t go away but it doesn’t consume you in the same way either.

b) Along the same lines…but a little different…. The people around you have lives too. I don’t mean this to sound harsh, I’ve said it many times to my own children too, but you are not the center of the universe. Life does not revolve around you.

Part of growing up is trying to understand life from another’s point of view.

You are uniquely qualified to know what it must be like to move cultures and countries…. You’ve experienced grief in leaving people behind. You can sympathize with others in that way. Ask them how they are.  Ask them if they’re doing ok.

There…you’re done! You made it through Auntie Robynn’s Rants and Raves!

Above all, I want you to know this one thing: There is nothing you can do that will change God’s love for you. He is with you. He walks with you into this next stage. You can fully lean on him. He is pleased with you. It doesn’t ultimately matter what anyone else thinks… God is pleased with you. Deeply. Completely. You can rest in that sweet sweet reality.

14 thoughts on “An Open Letter to a Young TCK

  1. You have no idea how much I needed to hear that! I’m 17 and about to go live in the US during the, at least, next four years while I attend college. I have never lived in the US and am a little bit terrified and a little bit excited. This letter addresses a lot of the questions I had and gives some really good advice that I will be sure to use. Thank you so much! I hope your friend got as much out of this as I did. :)

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    1. Tanya – I am SO glad you found this post. Please do keep in touch and if you need to process any of your journey through writing, please feel free to share with Communicating Across Boundaries. I’d love to keep in touch.

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      1. Hi Marilyn! I was wondering if we could exchange email addresses? I don’t know if you have the time, but it would be nice to have someone like you to write to. Don’t get me wrong, I have my parents and others who have good advice and know what they are talking about, but sometimes it helps to have someone on the outside. Let me know if you are ok with this or don’t feel confortable doing it. I will not take offense or be hurt. Promise! We MKs are made out of pretty tough stuff:) Thanks!

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  2. Thank you for sharing your wisdom in this heartfelt letter. I am not a young TCK anymore. I am an adult with kids of my own and yet I still needed to read this. The truths in this letter are so relevant to me today. Thank you again.

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  3. I would add, keep an eye out for connection points with people. My college friends were: IVCF members (fellow Christians), Latin American classmates (shared language and culturally similar to my Colombian childhood friends), other international students (also culturally at loose ends), fellow ping-pong players, other TCKs. None of these were quite like talking with friends from “home” but having some things in common made it easier to connect.

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    1. This is right on. I connected with immigrants from around the world, displaced only for different reasons. And refugee friends taught me so much about resilience and perseverance. Although I will say – when I was a young TCK it was harder to find people. As an adult TCK its much easier, partly because of changing demographics.

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