A Life Overseas – Capable of Complexity

I’m at A Life Overseas talking about needing to be capable of complexity when we talk about the TCK experience!

I loved growing up overseas. I loved that I knew how to traverse the globe at a young age, that I grew up on curry and hot pakoras, that I could see some of the highest mountains in the world from the grounds of my boarding school. I loved the colorful stamps in my passport – the story of my life in a legal document; the feel of excitement when a plane took off; the visceral sense of home when I was surrounded by palm trees and minarets echoing a mournful call to prayer. I loved it.


Ah! That word “and”! That freeing, amazing change agent! And it was also hard. I struggled with belonging, with connecting to place. I experienced long nights where tears of homesickness and grief were shed, with only God and a bunk bed as witnesses. I sat uncountable times in rooms full of people enveloped in a bubble of longing, with the words from Ijeoma echoing through my brain: “too foreign for here, too foreign for there – never enough for both”.

It takes many missionary kids years to accept that their experience was a complicated, beautiful package of good and hard. Owning the hard feels like a betrayal. And might I say, there is nothing that makes an MK/TCK bristle like a condescending adult looking at you and automatically saying “Wow – that must have been really hard. You must be glad to be back in [insert country].” I remember standing up as straight as my five foot three frame could make me and saying, with daggers in my voice and eyes, “I loved my childhood. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” My voice said “Just try me, lady, and I’ll throw that macaroni casserole in your condescending face!”

Okay – that’s harsh. But I was a teenager, and to be told what my life must be was simply unbearable.

For years, all I could do was claim the positive. I was like the Joel Osteen Missionary Kid, except that my teeth weren’t as bright and shiny as his. My childhood was perfect, thank you very much, and don’t even start with the negative.

The problem is that of course, it wasn’t. There was the good and there was the hard. Trying to be fair to both those things felt like an impossibility, so I stuck with the good.

Here’s the thing: When we talk about the MK/TCK experience we have got to be capable of complexityI’ll say that again: we have to be capable of complexity. As Tanya Crossman points out so well in her book Misunderstood, the third culture kid narrative is a perspective and not a one-size-fits-all single story. Each TCK story contains things that are deeply painful and other things that are incredibly unique and joy-filled.

I recently read a book called All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung. Though born of a Korean family, Nicole was adopted as a baby by a white family. The book is her story of coming to terms with her adoption and ultimately finding her birth family. But it’s much more than that. It’s a story about belonging, about the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our reality, about the stories that families tell to make sense of their family narrative. At one point, the author says this:

Family lore given to us as children has such hold over us, such staying power. It can form the bedrock of another kind of faith, one to rival any religion, informing our beliefs about ourselves, and our families, and our place in the world. When tiny, traitorous doubts arose, when I felt lost or alone or confused about all the things I couldn’t know, I told myself that something as noble as my birth parents’ sacrifice demanded my trust. My loyalty.*

Though my circumstances were not those of an adoptee, this paragraph made a deep impact on me when I read it. How many of us as third culture kids, as missionary kids, had our own family lore that we believed? How many of us believed that we must trust our parents’ sacrifice, and wrongly believed that we must not let them, or anyone else, know when things were hard?

In my own journey I have found that the things that I found difficult were also difficult for my parents. I have come to know more fully some of the stories that I only knew partially. I have come to realize that saying something is hard does not mean that it was not good.

Read the rest at A Life Overseas by clicking here.

4 thoughts on “A Life Overseas – Capable of Complexity

  1. This resonates with me on so many levels: as a MK/TCK and an adoptee. Yes, acknowledging the difficult times is hard, especially if we feel that our parents’ support depends on us being positive. I hated both the “You live such a unique life” and “you can’t do that because your a missionary kid,” like I had to be better than everyone else.

    I have run into some serious cross-cultural issues, where my MK past bumped smack into American assumptions. They are always surreal moments, and sort of funny, and a bit sad, too. I won’t ever be fully assimilated here, but I’m learning to be comfortable with that.

    Thank you for sharing with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This, yes! “too foreign for here, too foreign for there – never enough for both”.

    I’ve been reflecting deeply on this for the past couple years. And it’s taken away from the glory of growing up overseas. In some ways I see it as highly dysfunctional, and envy my friend who actually have a “hometown” and are “from” somewhere.

    It really is all about complexity. My sense of home is undefined, and I’m finally coming to embrace that by simply continuing to move. I don’t need to be “from” anywhere. In fact, I find that I’m most comfortable being a foreigner.

    And wouldn’t you know, I’ve set myself up with a job that allows me to literally work from anywhere in the world. Not an accident!

    Thank you for sharing so openly Marilyn. I appreciate you.

    Love, Sasha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First off, it’s so lovely to hear from you! Second – yes to the “most comfortable being a foreigner”. I find the loneliness I sometimes feel living in Iraq so much easier than the loneliness I feel living in the U.S. where in the legal sense I am considered to be home. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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