We were sitting in a coffee shop having yet another one of those random conversations in which we could go from our favorite ramen noodle flavors to deep thoughts about our lives as TCKs.
My friend was explaining how blissful and easy her life had been before moving from Canada to Cambodia a year earlier. How her main ambitions had seemed so within her reach. How she had taken everything completely for granted. And then, how her family had suddenly moved to Asia.
I just sat and listened. As a TCK who had lived in Asia my whole life, it broke my heart to think about how she must have felt coming to Cambodia. And in that moment, my heart broke for all the third-culture-people out there, for all the confusion and heartbreak and loss they would feel in their lives. My heart broke for the tears they would shed and the pain that would come with every confusing moment, every tearful goodbye.
I didn’t really know what to say.
Then I realized something. “You’re never going to be normal, you know,” I said.
My friend gave one of her characteristic short laughs. “Yeah. I’m never going to be normal.”
Third Culture Kids are never going to be normal.
Our life in Cambodia is far from normal. It is sweaty, smelly, and colorful. We’re always a hot mess. (And not in a cute way. At all.) Here, the classic four seasons are reduced to three: hot, very hot, and hot-and-raining. To have an amoeba is totally normal. And having Dengue fever more than once is not uncommon. Items on our bucket lists include tasting grilled dog meat and swimming across a polluted river.
Life is always an adventure. And life is hard sometimes.
There are hellos and goodbyes, which confront us almost on a monthly basis. “Home” is impossible to define. And figuring out who we are is even harder.
“God doesn’t make mistakes, and He’s planned all along for us to live overseas.” We hear that a lot. Many people tell us that “our experiences will enrich us” or “we will gain so much from our cultural encounters.” We’ve even been told on numerous occasions that “it’ll be easier to get a job because we’ve lived overseas.”
While all of these things are true, and while we do appreciate that encouragement, we also want to say this: We don’t need you to feel sorry for us. We don’t need you to treat us a certain way. Or at least, that’s not the main point.
Sometimes the TCK journey is more about acceptance. There are so many people out there trying to understand us so that they can treat us the “right way” or make us feel better. But the TCK journey is so much more about a personal decision to accept ourselves the way we are. Being a TCK is about knowing we’re different and accepting that as a truly valuable thing.
It’s sort of like doing a puzzle. There comes a time when we struggle with defining “home” and doubt who we really are. We feel like there is only one “piece” that can fill the “home” space in the puzzle and that life is all about finding which piece fits in that gap. We also want to take out certain pieces of our life-picture as an attempt to let go of pain. We want to let go of people. We want to let go of places. We want to be able to replace pieces every time a change happens. But that doesn’t work.
Instead of trying in vain to remove important pieces from our life-puzzle, we need to understand that each piece is important. Essentially, TCK life is more about letting ourselves add pieces to our lives, accepting them equally, and choosing to allow them to live simultaneously with each other. It’s hard and messy and confusing, and we cry a lot. We know that. And it’s totally okay.
We don’t need to be so concerned about the puzzle pieces of our identity not fitting together perfectly. God has called us to find freedom in our true identities in Him. As TCKs, God has called us to experience these struggles for a specific purpose and has chosen to make them a part of who we are.
When we realize our special calling from God as His children (Ephesians 1:5) and find our identity in being his disciples, “the truth will set us free” (John 8:31-32). Our identity in God means that “home” is heaven (Philippians 3:20). We know that there is ultimately a purpose in each hard goodbye (Romans 8:28). We have hope (Ephesians 1:12) and peace (Ephesians 2:14), even when we feel like the future is too unknown or the past is too hard to handle.
Ultimately, the main point of the TCK journey is accepting our not-normal-ness. However hard it may be, it’s not about making the puzzle pieces fit. It’s about adopting a new perspective on our identity.
Sarah has lived her entire 18-year-old life in Southeast Asia. Originally Swiss, she speaks English with an American accent, German in a Swiss accent, and multiple other languages including Swiss-German, French, and Khmer. She loves Jane Austen, coffee, airplanes, and sentimental conversations about TCK life.
Janelle is an 18-year-old TCK, MK, and PK who grew up in Canada before moving with her family to Asia just over two years ago. She is a lover of photography, passion fruit smoothies, OREOs, mountains, oceans, maxi skirts, and all things “Anne of Green Gables.”