Third-culture-kids seem to live an idyllic life. They travel to interesting places, see bucket-list-worthy sites, and have friends around the world. However, the reality is that they often face tough lives. As a result of their ever-changing lives, TCKs can experience loneliness, confusion, depression, and a sense of mourning over the things and people they have left behind.
To better understand the difficult situations TCKs face, some were asked to share and describe some of their struggles.
Ella O. expresses that one thing she has really struggled with is finding things that last and never change. She explains, “It seems that every time I start to feel comfortable with someone or something, I have to say goodbye or start something new again. I know the obvious answer is like, ‘God doesn’t change! just trust in him!’ which is true, but it’s hard for me to treat something that’s hard to see or truly grasp the same way that I can with physical things (people, places that I have to say bye to).” It can seem like just when a TCK feels comfortable and secure in their environment, they are once again uprooted.
Counselor and third culture kid Lois Bushong speaks about the conflicts TCKs face with their lives constantly shifting:
We cannot ignore the fact that for those who grow up as TCKs, their lives are filled with chronic cycles of separation and loss. Obviously, such cycles are part of the experience for everyone. But for the globally mobile, the cycles are chronic and often relatively sudden and severe. They not only lose a friend here and there, they lose a whole world along with those they love. When these losses are not acknowledged it becomes unresolved grief. Grief that is not acknowledged and left to fester deep in the recesses of the soul becomes depression, anger, or anxiety.
Oftentimes as Christians, it can be easy to shrug off someone’s frustrations and confusion at life with a simple “just give it to God and trust in His plan,” but for someone truly having a rough time, there needs to be a deeper level of encouragement and communication. Rather than dismissing a friend’s struggles, pray with them and seek God together. Leaving brothers and sisters behind to figure out their own problems is not an option. Instead, it is important to walk alongside them.
As a half-American and half-Indian teenager, Sophia G. describes how she has a hard time knowing where she belongs and how she fits into both cultures. She states, “I just usually have a really hard time knowing where I belong. Like I don’t belong to either place. If I’m in India people say I’m American, and if I’m in the U.S. people say I’m Indian. And no one understands that I’m half and half.” No matter what country she goes to, Sophia feels like an outsider who can never completely fit into either culture. Similar to numerous TCKs, she lives in between the two countries.
In her poem “Living In Between,” TCK Dounia Bertuccelli captures the feelings Sophia expressed as the poem describes what it means to live in between worlds:
In between worlds,
In between cultures,
In between languages,
In between moves,
In between homes.
Living in between.
Never fully belonging,
Just used to blending…
Like a chameleon.
Never one of them,
Always the ‘other.’
Living in between.
We are many things abroad:
Immigrant, expat, foreigner.
And many things at home:
Hidden immigrant, repat, foreigner.
How do you reconcile
Living in between?
Other TCKs like Dylan B. find leaving one’s family to be especially tough. Like he describes, “It’s hard leaving your family, because that’s what we are, family.” Whether it is saying goodbye to friends who feel like family or one’s relatives, goodbyes never get easier for TCKs no matter the number of times they have done it. A piece of themselves is always left behind. Luckily, Dylan pointed out that at least with technology, family is only a text or FaceTime away.
Despite the seemingly wonderful life they live, third culture kids have their own deep, difficult struggles. They carry with them all the goodbyes, hurt, and sadness, and no amount of traveling or idyllic Instagram posts will change that. It is instead what they choose to do with their pain that makes the difference, and talking with friends can make a huge impact. Reaching out and talking to TCKs about their lives can help them navigate the way they feel. Even if it feels slightly uncomfortable, it is important to get out of one’s comfort zone and provide a form of comfort to a friend.
Getting into the Word and having God as the rock of one’s life also helps amidst the struggles. He will be there through every move and change; and even more than that, he remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. Clinging to his promises and steadfastness while battling the struggles of life is key to the Christian walk. Life will have its difficult seasons, but God is there day by day seeking us out and welcoming us into his presence.
Bertuccelli, Dounia. “Living In Between.” Tcknextstop, WordPress, 18 August 2014, tcknextstop.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/living-in-between/. Accessed 18 December 2020.
Bushong, Lois. “Depression and Third Culture Kids.” Loisbushong, Pencil Point Design, 17 August 2014, www.loisbushong.com/posts/2018/1/9/depression-and-third-culture-kids. Accessed 18 December 2020.