I’ve written extensively in the past few years about attitudes and choices that can help MKs and TCKs to avoid some of the pitfalls inherent to being multi-cultural. Here are, in my estimation, the top ten most valuable of them.
1. I will believe that I am not weird—I am complex.
It’s a refrain I’ve heard from young and old in my work with Third Culture Kids and the problem is mostly semantic. Saying “I’m weird” implies a sort of terminal condition. No one will ever understand me. “Complex” hints that with time and awareness, others will begin to figure us out. Has a global upbringing made us a bit more complicated than others? Absolutely. But it’s not an insurmountable thing for those who love us enough to seek to understand us. This video might be a great place to start!
2. I will recognize that I am not special—I am blessed.
Calling ourselves “special” implies superiority, yet those aspects of our lives that have shaped us are usually not something we’ve earned or chosen. We are MKs because our parents made the decision to go overseas as missionaries. That makes us fortunate—blessed—not better than others. “Special” often yields arrogance. “Blessed” is more likely to yield a humbled gratitude. The latter is so much more attractive and inclusive. For more, read here.
3. I will allow myself to fail publicly and privately.
One of the greatest challenges MKs experience is the pressure to live up to the expectations of people for whom “Missionary Kid” implies a deeper faith, better behavior, wiser choices and flawless living. If we let those standards guide us in even a subconscious way, we set ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointing others and ourselves. Accepting the fact that we’ll fail and admitting to it when we do is good and healthy—even if it’s disenchanting to others. For more, read here.
4. I will stay connected in some way to my other cultures.
When juggling so many cultural influences, it sometimes seems easier to simplify our lives by distancing ourselves from some of those places we call home in order to just exist in one location. It is an understandable and natural inclination! The problem is that much of the richness of our multi-culturality comes from being able to draw on the entirety of our life-experiences. It’s precisely because we juggle so many cultures that we have so much to offer—a broader worldview, global understanding, adaptability, etc. It would be tragic to lose the depth and wealth of our complex background has given us for the sake of a more “simple” identity. Staying connected in some small way to past worlds (whether through people or media or traditions or all of those) allows us to retain the treasures they’ve instilled in us. For more, read here.
5. I will apply the same curiosity, exploration and acceptance to my passport culture that I apply to foreign cultures.
As MKs, one of our greatest strengths is being able to insert ourselves into new cultures with inquisitiveness, grace and tolerance. Those skills seem to fly out the window when we reenter our own passport culture! If stranded in a remote tribal village, we’d enter the fray with some of our most prized traits on display: open-mindedness, a sense of adventure and cultural acceptance. But returning “home”? Not a chance. Think of how different our re-entry experience would be if we applied the same attitude to our passport culture as we do to foreign places. For more, read here.
6. I will be versatile in my relationship-building methods.
As MKs, we build friendships in an uncommon way. We’re often quick and intense as we enter into relationships, aware that time is limited and comfortable sharing rapidly on an intimate level because of that. Mono-culturals tend to approach friendships differently, letting the “deepening” take a slower, more casual route. It may take longer and initially seem shallow, but there’s a good chance we’ll achieve meaningful relationship with our less global peers if we’re patient enough to allow for a slower pace. Dismissing people early because they don’t dive deep fast enough can eliminate the chance of true friendship. Understanding how our relationship model differs from that of mono-culturals is a good place to start. For more, read here.
7. I will use my experiences to enrich and not diminish others.
It’s a nasty little habit we have—nothing entertains MKs more than celebrating the “stupidity” of those less fortunate than us. Our backyards are the stuff of fantasies to most mono-cultural peers. We’ve seen more and experienced more than they can even imagine. Yet rather than being grateful for our blessings, we sometimes use our global savvy to make fun of the less fortunate. We’re in a unique position to bring the worlds we’ve known to those who will never get to witness them for themselves, yet we too often opt for something that looks an awful lot like arrogance instead. Let’s commit to kindly and humbly expanding the horizons of our mono-cultural friends (at an appropriate time in relationship with them) rather than mocking, humiliating or belittling them. For more, read here.
8. I will strive to distinguish between human failure and God’s character.
There’s no denying it. Many of us carry wounds from our years overseas. Some of us have been neglected, abused or afflicted by illness. We’ve seen death and famine. We’ve been harmed by the poor decisions of those who were supposed to care for us. It’s easy to blame God for the scars—as I did for many years. Yet so much of the violence and injustice we’ve suffered is the direct result of human mistakes and cruelty. God grieves over the actions and circumstances that harm us. Blaming Him will only deprive us of the powerful healing only His comfort can afford us. For more, read here.
9. I will choose to exercise gratitude, but won’t ignore the hardships.
The hardships are real. They influence our thinking and our outlook, our serenity and our faith. We must acknowledge and address them in order to heal from them. But as we’re in that process, balancing the pain with an intentional focus on what we have to be grateful for can be a perspective-enhancing practice. For more, read here.
10. I will acknowledge that being an MK alone won’t get me through life—having an intimate, trusting relationship with God will.
Sometimes, we get so caught up in our MK identity that we think it’s the only thing that defines us. It becomes the most meaningful and foundational aspect of our lives, and we can make the mistake of assuming it’s all we need…because we think it’s all we are.
But we’re so much more. We are children of God. And though our multi-cultural skills might be tremendous assets to be prized and celebrated, when life becomes treacherous and dark, they’ll be of little help. Only an active, intimate and dependent relationship with God will carry us through the trials that are inevitable and unskirtable as we live life in a broken world. His love and presence are inexpressibly precious. For more, read here.
You’ll notice that each of the ten mindsets above is stated as an intentional verb: believe, recognize, allow, stay, apply, be, use, strive, choose, acknowledge. A shift in our way of thinking won’t happen organically. It will come as we invest determination and focus in making it happen, subjugating harmful habits to practices that might enhance our own lives and those of others.
To read more of my articles about MKs and parenting MKs, click here.
Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.