Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Good and Hard of Growing Up Overseas

I have been thinking a lot recently about growing up as a third-culture kid overseas. A friend of mine from college has been pouring out her heart on her blog in a series on third-culture kids. I am looking around me and watching my language school friends and realizing that their kids will be sort of like me and my friends growing up, and my friends now may or may not be prepared for what that means.

And so... I feel like I should write again. My college journals were filled with all of the processing around what it meant to have grown up as a third-culture kid. I have done internships counseling tcks, read books, been to seminars, to the extent that it no longer felt different to talk about life as a tck. I was living life among people who hadn't experienced that life, so talking about it didn't benefit anyone but me, and after I came to a place of peace I grew quiet. Now it's different. Now I am looking back, looking from a place of healing and peace, looking at the lives of my own kids and the kids around me here. 

Often from Americans I hear comments about growing up overseas that make me chuckle or make me angry. I have had people ask me if I'm really sure I should take my kids away from all the privilege and security and safety of life in America. First of all, there is some arrogance there in our assumption of how much better America is than the rest of the world. Thank God that kids growing up overseas quickly learn how awesome the rest of the world is. Secondly, if I tell my kids that my top priority is security and safety rather than obedience to a holy God, what kind of life am I setting them up for? No. I would much rather give my children a life lived in the adventure of following God away from the land of many beguiling comforts if that is what He would have us do.

More common are comments and worries about schooling and medical help, and look, as a mom, those are real things that we are responsible for in the lives of our kids. Those are legitimate concerns. I personally know that my education overseas was such that when I came back to the US I was always ahead of the curve compared to my peers academically, so I rarely worry about that side of things. The tcks I know are often extremely successful and intelligent. However, I am right in the middle of adjusting to a different medical system overseas with a very different way of thinking, and particularly when we get to Papua that will be pretty scary. But .... that doesn't impact my kids emotionally. 

When it comes to just the comforts and experiences of growing up, I actually feel SO thankful that I get to raise my kids overseas. I mean, look. Judah and Elly will be bi-lingual, they will deeply know a second culture. They will know rain forests and volcanoes. They will have held tree kangaroos and cockatoos. They will have seen ancient Hinduism and the rise of southeast Asia. They know people of all different races and religions. Kids in the US go to amazing playgrounds and pools that are created so that America's kids have some safe version of the jungle life Judah and Elly will have at their finger tips, real, natural. 

So - there is so little regret and hesitation in my heart over all of that. Sure, I missed out on some things in the US. I think what I gained growing up in Indonesia was worth even more. Each culture has it's strengths and weaknesses. My children will know and experience those things in two cultures. When young moms grieve the loss of things for their littles, usually it's actually loss on the parent's part, not the kiddos.

Don't get me wrong. There will be pain and hard things. But, truthfully, there would be pain and suffering in any life I would choose to give them. Anywhere. There are benefits and drawbacks to both places, but no life protects them. What is true, though, is that growing up overseas brings specific experiences that are different than the usual struggles for those growing up in the West. I do ache for my kids because although every kid is different, I so personally know the tough things that this lifestyle will bring, particularly in cultural identity and grief. More on that later....


Edward Santiago said...

Hi, I loved your blog input. I've always wondered these things. I'm brazilian and I love the world and all its different peoples and cultures. I'm on a two years religious mission in Boston, MA and I'm loving it. How was it to teach your kids the gospel in a place that there aren't many Christians?

Kacie said...

Thanks for the comment, Edward! I think it's easier to teach faith to kids when we are in the minority. That is the context in which the church was born, as a minority, with pressure from all sides. When you see Christianity in comparison to the others, I find it brighter, clearer, more hopeful, more meaningful. In the US half of "Christians" believe nothing but sort of moral therapeautic deism, and how do you teach kids what faith really is when they are surrounded by people who claim faith but don't live it?

I think the parents of the US have the more difficult task.