I’m excited to share with you about the special weekend event, Truth4TCKs 2021, that I’m speaking at! Truth4TCKs 2021 is a virtual conference for teenage and young adult Christian TCKs, whether they be Missionary Kids, Military Kids, Expat Kids, Business Kids, Diplomat Kids, etc. The conference mission strives to bring biblical truth and encouragement regarding the cross-cultural and highly mobile life to TCKs. The conference’s administrative team is made up of teenagers and young adults serving teenagers and young adults. It is not an organization; rather, an organic movement. The theme for this year’s conference is finding what it means to be a global citizen of Heaven.
The title of my sessions is “Belonging Beyond Borders.”
To me the word “borders” are the “bounded” spaces of nation-state boundaries that are politically created, moved, (re)imagined, and (re)mapped. There are over 190 borders on the earth; in other words, over 190 countries. I’m hyper aware of borders and boundaries because of my multiple experiences between them, over them, around them, and through them. As an Adult Third Culture Kid (a Third Culture Kid grown up), I have lived in ten countries and five U.S. states. I’ve crossed many borders in my 30+ years not just for moving, but also because of my love for traveling. It’s a personal goal to visit more countries than my age – I’m just a couple countries behind.
Growing up as a diplomat dependent TCK, every two to three years we would move to a different country. This is why being a Third Culture Kid is a significant part of my identity shaping and even has informed the professional path(s) I’ve chosen to pursue.
For me, the concept of “belonging” to people and to place has shifted and changed over the years. As I think about all the places and communities and people groups to whom I’ve belonged, different faces and objects and environments come to mind. I recall that when I lived in Seoul, South Korea one of the communities I belonged to was the Girl Scouts of America (on the Yongsan military base). I belonged to the US military base housing community located to the left of the main gate entrance, which was distinct from the housing community to the right of the gate because that was “North Korea” in my seven-year-old mind. When in Germany, I belonged to two different international schools; for our first year in the country: Bonn International School and for the following two years: Frankfurt International School. In terms of belongings, living in U.S. government owned houses, the furniture never belonged to us; it was always a surprise to see what kind of chairs and tables and sofas we would have upon arrival in a new country. My personal belongings fit into a handful of boxes, which have multiplied over the years and my Dad sometimes comments: “What’s in those?” as I store some of them in their basement. “My childhood belongings,” I reply. I like my belongings. (Thanks for the storage area, Mom and Dad).
Belonging to friends, community, places, professions, and possessions continue to be a journey for me as an Adult Third Culture Kid. And as I work with the next generation of Third Culture Kids as a friend, mentor, advocate, and educator, I want to share some principles of belonging that root deeper and longer than times spent in a certain man-made border.
Professionally speaking, I belong in and to multiple spaces. You’ll see my face across sectors. You’ll see me call myself a TCK Mentor/Advocate, an Intercultural Communication Trainer/Consultant, and English Language Instructor. I’ve got the pieces of papers and letters behind my name that showcase how much time and effort I’ve invested to hold those professional identity titles and roles. I’ll continue to be the chameleon professional showing up at NAFSA: the largest international educator conference and community, showing up at Families in Global Transition (FIGT), showing up at the Society for Intercultural Training, Education, and Research (SIETAR). The thread of commonality is that I do have the personal and professional expertise to adapt myself and my materials and resources to different audiences.
Not too long ago one of my mentors, Dr. Ruth Van Reken, gave me a self-reflection task to help me identify my next right career pivot. She told me to list out everything I am (from personality qualities to strengths and from skills to knowledge/topic expert) and list out everything I am not (from qualities I don’t have — or at least the ones that make me feel exhausted trying to “be ” and other “expert” claims/roles). This was a helpful exercise in revealing “what lane I’m in” and where are potential paths I can take in my career trajectory. This exercise reminded me of the French saying, “Quand on connait sa maladie, on est a mortie gueri” roughly translated: “When you know your sickness, you are halfway cured.” In building my awareness for who I am and who I’m not, provided more clarity and direction about what will suit me both professionally and personally. It also reminded me of my gifts and talents and how I can both invest and cultivate them in different ways.
As an Adult Third Culture Kid, I still wrestle with where and to whom I belong. Sometimes I feel pulled and pushed in different communities; sometimes denied and invited; sometimes spread thin and isolated. I feel like I’m a walking contradiction with all of my paradox belongings and expressions of identity in and through them. In some spaces, communities, and places I am brave; others: quiet. In some believer, in others: doubter. Life for all of us is full of paradoxes. And that’s ok. We are intersectional beings to communities, places, and cultures and we can shift our minds to view these as “productive tensions” instead of pesky paradoxes.
We can be change and continuity. We can be dislodged and rooted. We can be global and local. That’s the power of “and.”
What’s true is that you are a human with multiple identities, roles, and places of belonging. You are a unique human being that offers talent, a listening ear, curiosity, adventure, poise, and love to others. Perhaps you have had a global or cross-cultural upbringing, meaning you may identify as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Sometimes being a TCK has “carried” you through your circles of belonging to people and to place. But know that you are so much more than “just” a TCK. Don’t let being a TCK be your “issue” or decision or excuse in why you can or can’t belong to people or to a place.
My personal identity and belonging concepts are complex, nuanced, and ever-changing. One steadfast identity marker and belonging root I cultivate is my Christian-faith and personal journey as a Christ-follower. Throughout my life I have been a part of various Christian faith-communities and denominations; a member of various places of worship and practitioner of different faith traditions. It never ceases to amaze me how there are so many different expressions of worship, prayer, sermons, scriptures, and services across “borders.” I grew up and came of age in Christian faith communities that primarily taught me to pray specifically; that way you know it was God who answered it. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the energy and manifestation of it. I believe in answered prayer, because I have witnessed it.
As I continue to grow spiritually in my Christian faith journey, my prayer practices and patterns change in different seasons of life. I often say quiet prayers throughout the day; sometimes as a meditation, sometimes as a “Hey, God: that was pretty cool what you just did there. Thanks.” Sometimes as short mantras. Sometimes prayer is experienced as ethereal and otherworldly soul flutters. Sometimes my prayers are Bible verses. Sometimes my prayers are offered with others’ words. Sometimes prayer happens in community in call-and-response style liturgy. Sometimes my prayers are whispers under my breath, sometimes spoken aloud in the car, sometimes in the wee hours of the night in my bed, and sometimes when I’m doing yoga in the morning. Sometimes they are wordless prayers as I believe what Mahatma Gandhi said: “It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without heart.” These are prayers of blessing and of declaration; of gratitude and of pleas. These prayers are for you, for me, for the world.
I am compelled to share this because it’s my desire that you know that I have prayed for this event, for the organizers, for the speakers, and for the participants. My prayer is that it is a gathering for you to be encouraged, for you to be affirmed, for you to learn and to be challenged in your own faith journey. As this event explores and unpacks the truths about Christian belonging, may we all settle into some space and silence to prepare our souls, minds, and bodies for the words shared by both speakers and participants.
Have grace for yourself and for others as we listen, receive, learn, and share what it means to belong beyond borders. I’m so grateful for the courage and willingness and grace we will have for ourselves and for each other at this event.
Dates for Truth4TCKs 2021
The virtual conference takes place on May 22 and 23, 2021
Cost of Truth4TCKs 2021
$10 per person.
$17 for the recorded sessions.
Registration for Truth4TCKs 2021