Coming Home is Hard

You feel that … you’re only just holding your own, or possibly losing ground.

The Art of Coming Home by Craig Storti, page 72

In context, this quote is talking about being a professional on your way home to a job where it is difficult to readjust to the difference in being back in your original company. I am not doing that, but I have returned to my university after being in England for 4 wonderful months. And in some sense, this sentence summed up how I’ve felt for the last couple months. I’m begining to not feel that way anymore, but it’s a slow process.

Trying to catch up with how my friends lives had changed while I was gone as well as applying for graduation, graduate school, and considering going back to England for my graduate classes was (and is) a bit daunting. The most difficult is in reconnecting with people. I used to know people’s names and how or why I knew them, but now that I’m back from Bristol, I’ll see people who I recognize but have no idea what their name is or how I know them. And it’s not just the people that I had a tenuous acquaintance with who I’ve forgotten, but my friend’s friends who I’ve meet but don’t remember any more.

Another experience that I didn’t expect at all is in my language. I actually felt like I was losing ground in knowing what language I spoke. Should I use the British English I’d learned or revert to American English? Should I be worried when I forget the British English I worked so hard to learn? Some days I felt like I was going a bit mad.

Now that I’ve had a few months to re-adjust to life in Ohio and think about what made my readjustment so hard. I think one of the biggest difficulties I’ve faced is my mindset. In England I was excited to get involved and be intentional about what I did with my time. I’ve lost a bit of that coming back to Ohio, but maybe not as much as I sometimes think. I think God’s used my time as an international student to give me a desire to be more plugged in to what is happening around me, rather than merely floating along life passively. I want to share the gospel like I was able to in England and God’s given me different opportunities than I would have done in England, but His Work is still happening. It’s a good reminder to see that I’m in God’s family, no mater where I am or even if I feel like I’m losing ground.


Just a Thought

Re-entry is hard.

Scene One

Philip sat on a pillow at the end of the bench he shared with his mum and big brother, with his dad sitting at the head of the table beside him—a perfect place for him to sneak tomato salad off of either parent’s plate and to flirt with me as only an almost 1 year old can do.  Petra sat across from me, making sure that I had what I needed and instructing little Petr (5) and Sara (3?) in proper etiquette. Little Petr sat at the end of the long bench he was sharing with his mum and little brother torn between telling us about the first birthday party he had attended, playing with the Lego police station, and looking at the American. Sarinka had immediately claimed the chair next to me and prayed over our dinner. I wish I spoke Czech to hear that prayer, as her parents fought back laughter throughout it. Petr sat at the head of the table helping little Petr and Sara talk to me. It was wonderful to have dinner with a family and to talk with my dear friends who I haven’t seen in 5 years. I also started brushing up my Czech, and was surprised at what I started remembering.

Scene Two

Ida offered me an apple after we sat down. She and her husband Petr sat across from me on the brown bench typical of the older trains where the floors are not carpeted, the seats are not individualized, and there is a small shelf just under the window to put a thermos cap of tea in easy reach of the facing benches. Petr had already stowed my luggage on the shelf over my head and we had hung our jackets up on the hooks provided. As we ate our little snack of apples and tea, the snowy fields and forests passed us outside the window. It was a cold day (-20 C), but the sun was shining and the train carriage was warm. We glided through small villages, occasionally stopping in some of the places to pick up new passengers and drop off our fellow travelers. I was the only one with an unwieldy palm tree suitcase, but why get a suitcase that looks like everyone else’s when you can get an outrageous one (Ok, seriously palm trees aren’t outrageous. Except when the weather is in the -20s.) and immediately recognize it anywhere you have to pick up your luggage? Sorry, back to the scene. As we got closer to the village, we started followed a stream. It was a great backdrop to our snack and conversations about mutual friends from OH, science fiction, music, and a tiny bit of theology.

Scene Three

“Good morning, children,” Valéria greeted her class of 7th form students.  “Good morning, Mrs. Fáberová,” they chorused, while giving me curious looks.”

“This is my friend from the US, Eliška. Why don’t you all ask her your questions?” It was the last class of the day and students had interviewed me all morning as a means of a conversation class. Most of the classes were a bit shy of actually asking me questions, but as soon as Valéria gave this class freedom to talk, three of them immediately raised their hands to ask me one of the many questions they had written in preparation of my visit.

“How are you?”

“Do you like the Czech Republic?”

“Do you have any pets?”

“Do you have any children?” (Right, this must have been after Valéria told them I was 22.)

“Do you have a boyfriend?” (And why was this question after the children one?)

“Do you have a brother or sister?”

“How many pounds do you have?” (American English verses British English-does she mean how much do I weigh or how much money do I have?! I answered with my weight, I think she meant money…)

“Where are you from?” This question was the most fun because Valéria had a map of the US on one of the walls and I got to stand at the map, pointing out Dayton on tiptoe, then showing them that I was born in Colorado and had lived in all of those other states. Then I could go on the other map and show them that now I live in Bristol, UK. After my interview we played telephone using Christmas phrases. I got to take a turn as a student and play with everyone, then Valéria asked me to be the inventor of the phrases and she played. It was so much fun to be in the classroom, especially in an English classroom in another country. Think I can include this in my experiences at job interviews?

Scene Four

It was the morning that we were leaving for Slovakia. We had all gotten up early to make the 8 hour car trip (probably longer due to the snow!) and were at the end of a delicious breakfast of bread (which made me want to have a very high carb diet) cheese, meat, peppers, and tea. Before we left the table, Jana asked that we pray together. We joined hands as a family and for about 10 minuets prayed together, in Czech and English. God showed me how big He is with this small, seemingly insignificant gesture. Here I was, with a family I had last seen 5 years ago, joined with my brothers and sisters in another country. More than that, I got to pray with people who came to know God through my parent’s and others influence. My pathetic attitude at English Camp in 2001 (trust me, I was one GROUCHY 13-year-old that week) was no detriment to what God was doing in the lives of the Fáberovi. He worked through the relationship our families developed and through the relationships with other Christians met through English Camp to create this wonderful Christian family who shared their Christmas with me as if I was a close relative. What a huge blessing to be able to pray with these dear friends!

Scene Five

After arriving at Valéria ’s mum’s house in Slovakia and getting everything ready for her return from the hospital the next day, we decided to walk over to visit Valéria ’s sister and her family. The sun had already sunk below the western horizon and it was still pretty cold, though not the -20 C of a few days before. I was quite bundled up: hat, scarf, gloves, and hood pulled up over my hat. As we waited in Babka D’s driveway for Zuzka to tie her boots, a car pulled up and Valéria ’s nephew, Matej, hopped out and came to great us. He and Vilo and Valéria all shook hands and kissed each other on the cheeks, a custom I grew to like after meeting all of Valéria ’s family. Before Valéria had time to introduce me, Matej had grabbed my hand in a handshake and pulled me over to him to kiss both my cheeks! At this Vilo and Valéria started laughing in a shocked kind of way and as Zuzka stood up behind me, finished with her shoelace, Valéria introduced me in English as Eliška. Matej floundered in English, apologizing, blushing, and generally embarrassed. “Sorry! I thought you were Zuzka!” Matej made his escape and we continued on to Valéria’s sister’s house, where the story was told (I think it was told more often than any other story over Christmas) with much gusto and hilarity.

Scene Six

The candles on the advent wreath were lit in the middle of the table as we sat down to dinner Christmas Eve. Our shot glasses of slivovice (CZ spelling) / slivovica(Slovakian) clinked in a toast of good health (“Na zdravie”) over a plate of honey and a plate of wafers as we began the evening’s celebration. I hadn’t asked why they were on the table, assuming that they were some part of the traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Slovakia. I wasn’t wrong, and as soon as we were finished with the slivovicaValéria stood up and took the plate of honey over to Babka Fáberová and painted a bit of honey in theshape of a cross on Babka F’s forehead while saying a blessing (something along the lines of “may God give you good health this year/bless you”). Valéria made her way around the room, painting honey on Babka D’s forehead, her aunt’s forehead, Vilo’s, mine, Jana’s, and Zuzka’s in order of our ages. Before she sat down her mum painted a honey cross on Valéria’s forehead. Then we broke the large wafers and dipped them in the honey as a sweet starter to the evening.

Scene Seven

After telling my family’s Christmas traditions, including the fact that my brother and I take turns handing out gifts, Zuzka offered to share her duties of passing out gifts with me. Each of us found gifts under the tree for the people in the room and handed out the gifts. I loved that each of us opened our gifts one at a time, giving us plenty of time to thank the people who gave us the gifts, complete with kisses on the cheeks. The best part was the surprise at the end: Zuzka’s gifts were hidden throughout the house and in order to find them we had to read the clues hidden in the tree with our names on them. It was great to go hunting though the house, bring the gift back and open it after laughing about the hiding places. Valéria and I had a gift together, hidden in the washing machine. When we asked Zuzka how we would share the gift, she just smiled and told us to open it. Inside the package we found two pairs of the same socks! It’s not Christmas without receiving socks, right? ;)

Scene Eight

This was my family for Christmas. :)

Scene Nine

The bell in the church began to toll at midnight, moments after we pushed our way into the aisle and took our stand next to the pews. There were so many people in the church that there was standing room only. To our side there was an amazing nativity set that looked like it showed the entire village of Bethlehem, not just the typical manger scene. The first thing that happened was the sounds of Mary and Joseph looking for an inn. Jana stood in front of me, turning every now and then to tell me what was happening, as I didn’t understand much other than “Amen” and “alleluia.” Vilo and Valéria stood behind me on the other side of the aisle and their other family members were up in the balcony. It was a pretty service, but I wish I spoke the language so that I could understand more. I think that a midnight mass is a cool way to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Scene Ten

After not seeing big mountains in 5 years, I saw this driving home:

Scene Eleven

One of the other cool things I did on this trip (I did so many cool things this time around!) was attend a reunion of English Camp students. See:

It was so cool to meet people that my friends from SDPC know as well as renew my friendship with people I met in 2004! The highlight of the evening was at the end, after food, games, and a slideshow of pictures from America and England. I worried that it would be boring, but they seemed interested in the pictures, especially the ones I could scrounge up from church picnics of people they knew. Oh, sorry I was going to tell you the highlight and got sucked into talking about the boring part of the evening! The highlight for me was when we prayed before heading home. This may not seem like much, but I remember 2001, before any of these friends knew Jesus. I’ve gotten to see how a ministry I support and have been involved in has developed and has produced fruit. I am tearing up just writing this! To see God rescue my friends from a life without him into the covenant family, to have brothers and sisters as well as friends in the Czech Republic is beautiful. I am so excited for heaven so that I can understand their praise to God fully, rather than only a few words in their prayers. How beautiful that God has made his family from all of the nations! He is so good.

Scene Twelve

Petr Blaško nodded to me that it was time for me to be introduced to the church in Česká. He had forgotten to do so the week before, so Vojta and Radka picked me up on their way to church from Jablonne so I could come to church and be introduced properly. Petr and I walked up to the front where he stood in front of the mic and I stood to the side.

“Dobré ráno,” I smiled at the congregation.

“Good morning,” Petr translated, causing everyone to laugh. I love that he did that, because laughter like that is something that makes everyone more relaxed, both the speaker (me!) and the audience (who were listening to some foreigner).

I told them how wonderful it was for me to worship with them the week before and that day and how our church prays with joy for the congregation there. I also gave them a greeting from SDPC, similar to when Vojta was at our church. (Side note: Isn’t it cool that the same year God sent us someone from Česká for a few weeks He sent someone from SDPC to Česká? I love how he makes those connections!) Then I was able to thank them for continuing the work with English Camp and how it had made an impact on me at the reunion the night before, where I got to see first hand how God has been answering our prayers for the ministry of English Camp and for our new brothers and sisters who are products of the English Camp.

Scene Thirteen

Even though it was only 5 o’clock, the daylight was gone from outside and the sudden coldness from the sun’s absence was again being felt. Fortunately for me I was not feeling any of the cold, but was curled up on a couch next to Clare in a warm room, talking with the Turnau family about the last 5 years of our lives, since the last time I had seen them. At the risk of being repetitive, it was so relaxing and wonderful to be with friends who I’ve known for nine years. A bit of continuity in my crazy, busy, discontinous lifestyle. Their house was the same as it was 9 years ago (ok, the artwork had changed and the kids looked hugely different than they had 9 years ago, but the house itself hadn’t changed like mine had with 3 moves since 2001). One big change: I have become an adult. No longer do I sleep on the pull out bed in the girl’s room. I’ve moved on to the couch in the living room! The biggest reason for this is most definitely the fact that my parents weren’t with me, but still! I must say that returning to the CZ as an adult has given me a better perspective and I like it a lot. Maybe some day God will have me live there again. Who knows? :)

Life’s Like a Tapestry

A few weeks ago I realized that our lives make up a tapestry. I had known about that ever since I read Edith Schaeffer’s book, back in 2001, so really it was just another instance where I came face to face with the reality of a globalized world. I also saw how much of an impact moving has made in my life; not only in the people I know, but also in my understanding of how to be friends with someone I’ve never met.

First, some back-story. When I was around 4-5 years old I lived in New Mexico and was best friends with a girl called Karen Ann. My dad worked with her dad, Kris, and my mom prayed with her mom, Paula, every week.  Then we moved. Then they moved. Karen Ann’s dad changed jobs. We moved a few more times. We visited them occasionally whenever we were in Austin. Then my dad went to the Czech Republic. Next thing we knew, we lived in the Czech Republic, worked with a different church and developed close friendships with them. After that, my parents formed teams to go help that church at English camps every summer. One year Kris and Paula went with my mom. Eventually they became missionaries and moved to Slovakia. A few years later I moved to Bristol as a student.

Ok, that’s the back-story. After I got to Bristol, the Lundgaards told my parents that they knew some young women who were working in Bristol. So my parents got my information, sent it on to the Lundgaards, who sent it to Jana and Miša (the “š” sounds like “sh”). We finally got to meet, after trying for several weeks to match up our very different timetables, and it was so nice to meet them as friends, rather than meeting strangers!

There’s something about having mutual friends that breaks down some barriers. Knowing that we all shared the same faith, I knew a bit about their culture from living in the CZ, they knew my culture from living in the US, and knowing that we have a mutual friend gave us all the comfort zone we needed, both for them to invite me to their flat for breakfast and for me to go to their house for breakfast! It was wonderful to relax in a well-kept flat with friends who spoke English like Americans but still used Slovak in their nicknames for each other. I wish I had introduced myself as Eliška, so we could all be happy and casual together. I never realized how formal it is to be called Elisabeth when my friends are calling each other Janka and Miška. Crazy multilingualism. . .

We did have a very TCK moment, where we talked about some of our difficulties with speaking English in the UK. They started with British English, but living in the US produced the use of words like “math” and “pants” rather than maths and trousers. (Ok, I have to be very nerdy and point out that writers use italics to show that a word is from another language. Sorry for the interruption, we now return you to your regular program.) We both shared stories about using the American word and getting funny looks or teasing. I have it easy, since I started with one and have only switched to a second version. Jana and Misha got teased by the Americans for the formal “trousers” and after training themselves to say “pants” they moved to the UK and get teased for calling their trousers men’s underwear. What a confusing language!

New Home

Hello blog that looks like I’ve abandoned you. It’s been a while. Just as an update, I am planning on coming back here and writing more of my thoughts, but I’ve also just done a very TCK sort of thing: I’m studying abroad. The last month and a half have been great and reminded me why I like moving and other cultures and stuff. I’m even starting to want to move here, which is something I need to think and pray a lot about in the next 6 months. But seriously, how amazing would it be to do my Graduate work in the UK and then maybe even move here?!

All that to say, I’m living the TCK life right now and it’s keeping me busy. I will attempt to update soon, though! 🙂

System Identity

One characteristic of a TCK addressed in Chapter 2 is that they have the mentality of a representative. The authors call this system identity. In other words, TCKs base their identities (at least part of it) on the system they are working for. The authors say:

Members of specific third culture communities may be more directly conscious than peers at home of representing something greater than themselves–be it their government, their company,  or God. (page 23)

I have noticed, in talking to MKs (missionary/military kids) that this mentality is pretty huge, especially in my conversations with military kids. Saying goodbye to your dad or mom, who you won’t see for 6 months, 1 year, or more is not a happy occasion, but it’s life. The mission is the important part. They know that their dad and mom love them, but that the mission is what supports their lives. And it’s not weird, it is just life. I know for missionary kids, the threat of not seeing a dad or mom for such a long period of time may not exist. But the mentality of those families, is that if God calls you to move, you drop everything and move. It’s obedience to the call, to the mission. I haven’t talked to kids who move because of a business other than military or missions, but I can imagine that it’s quite similar. The mission has importance. Doing your job well requires cost, but that is the way the job is done.

I think this phrase, “it’s just life,” is something that I say a lot. I’ve had to say goodbye to some dear friends who have moved because of their jobs. Goodbyes don’t usually make me cry. It’s life. You love as much as you can while they’re here, cause they’ll leave eventually. But with that, I have hope in seeing them again. Even if it’s not till Heaven, though with the way technology is going, I “see” them on their blogs, facebook, or via Skype. I guess the mentality of “that’s just life” is a bit fatalistic. But it doesn’t make sense to get worked up over it, since that’s just the way life is. 🙂

Even before I lived in the CZ, I had the “mission mindset,” as my mom calls it. Before living abroad, I lived in four states in the US. Every time we moved, it was because we felt God’s call on our lives to move to a different state, different town, different church. And after living in MD for 3 1/2 years (the longest I had ever lived in one place) we again were called to move to the CZ. Moving without the call is like running away from God, kind of like Jonah. It’s a scary idea. See, the mission is the important part. I didn’t want to move again when the call came to leave MD. But I went and was cheerful (at least on the outside) about going because life is all about obeying the call. I did become cheerful on the inside about moving again, eventually.

Another aspect of this quote is the comparison between peers at home and TCKs. As representatives in other cultures, TCKs are used to behaving in a way that helps the call or the mission. You work to blend in, to be polite in the culture, and not to draw attention to yourself. This is the way of life for TCKs. The mission is important, so the behavior you exhibit has to help the mission. The comparison comes into play when another characteristic of the TCK happens: you move home or repatriate. The peers a TCK interacts with behave differently. They don’t care about behaving so that the mission is successful. They don’t even know the mission. Is there a mission?

I didn’t realize this aspect of being a TCK until about 10 minutes ago when I started writing this! But I can think of multiple examples from my life after living abroad. I’ve actually had a couple run-ins in the last couple weeks. I was hanging out with a rather large group of friends (I think there were between 15 and 20 of us) at a local diner. While waiting for our food, some of my friends made paper planes and boats out of the paper place mats. Then they decided to go to war against each other, with the boats riding on top of the ketchup and mustard bottles. The escalation made me feel a little nervous. After all, war is noisy, even if it’s pretend, and we were starting to attract some looks from the other patrons. Our servers also gave us one of those looks. Then they decided that the boats that were out of commission should have ketchup on them (blood, right?). About this time, our drinks arrived. With straws that had wrappers. They became ammo for my friends and a flurry of wet chunks of paper flew around our table. The looks from the waiters intensified. My discomfort level was rather high. After all, this behavior was not blending in, polite, or non-intrusive. And, as we were all Christians, it was NOT helping the mission in any way shape or form. Even though we make a habit of tipping well, I think we should also behave well, including cleaning up / not causing such chaos. (I didn’t mean to moralize, just comment on the sociological aspect of this. Oh well. 🙂 ) Another example was camping with some friends at a KOA campsite. It was packed the night we stayed there, and even though the quiet hours start at 11, we were up much later than that. We were quiet for the most part, but sometimes we got loud. After I went to bed, one of my friends thought that someone from our group was lost and started yelling for her (it woke me up, so I can imagine it woke up others). This was another time when we were not blending in, being polite or non-intrusive. Even in UK culture these things are rude. But it’s the culture of my generation. The thing the authors are pointing out with their statement is the TCKs are more attentive and conscious of behavior, before negative consequences happen. (Like getting kicked out of a restaurant or campsite. This didn’t happen to us, but I know of groups that have been asked to stay away from a restaurant for good.)

Ok, now that I’m done with the social part of the post I can move on to how this impacts me as a TCK on my way to Heaven. The mission for me is easy, to live in a way that attracts others to Jesus and to represent Him in the way I talk and live. I do notice what others expect in the culture. It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s writing on living to win others for Christ:

19For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, emphasis added)

Paul was a man with a mission as well. He worked to be someone that the world respected in order to share the gospel with the lost. This does not mean that he was a people pleaser in any way. It just means that he worked to blend in, to be polite, and non-intrusive in the way he behaved, unless it interfered with the Mission. Again, the mission is the most important–and his Mission is from God. Paul represented God and his goal was to be like him. Paul represented God to those who heard his preaching. The Mission of the Christian life is that–to live for Christ.

As a TCK, I notice how I’m living in the world. As a Christian, I notice how I live in view of my Mission. I continue to be amazed at the parallels between being a TCK and being a Christian. 🙂


In the second chapter of Third Culture Kids, the authors quote a definition from a seminar hosted by Interaction, Inc. in 1989:

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. (page 19)

Even though the quote is about 20 years old, it is still accurate as a description of TCKs. I think this definition helps with some confusion of how to answer the what-in-the-world-is-a-TCK? response I often get when the topic comes up. It’s obviously more information than I need in a short conversation, usually I can just say something like, “A TCK is someone who grows up with two or more different cultures. My parents have one culture, but we live in a place that has a completely different culture. I’m a blend of the two.” If people are curious and ask, I can elaborate, but sometimes it just is not to the benefit of the relationship or conversation to give a mini lecture on the subject right then and there. 🙂

Dr. Ruth Hill Unseem, the person who coined the term TCK and gave us a huge amount of information based on her studies of the third culture used the very phrase “as a generic term  to discuss the lifestyle ‘created, shared, and learned’ by those who are from one culture and are in the process of relating to another one” (page 21). This is probably the more user-friendly than the other definition–more of a pocket dictionary entry than a definition from ODE. A TCK is someone who as a different lifestyle than those in their country of nationality, but is able to see the similarities in others who have that lifestyle. For example someone from India who grows up in the UK is part of the third culture just as much as someone who is from Brazil and grows up in India is. They share so many similarities, that even though the Brazilian is part of the Indian’s culture, he’s removed enough that he can completely identify with the Indian’s struggles in the UK and vice versa! Cool, huh?

All these definitions make me think of some that are shaping my life, not only as a TCK, but also as a Christian:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

The culture of my life, or my nature, is rebellion and rejection of God. But by his Grace, God saved me from my rebellion and gave me a place in his culture. He’s changing my nature to reflect his, so that I am growing into a new culture. One difference, is that eventually I won’t have any of my old sinful nature. I will have a new, sinless nature. But I’ll still be me. It’s so mysterious, but it’s great! And right now, as I’m being transformed through a life of faith, so my lifestyle really is like a TCK’s. Jesus, in his High Priestly Prayer says: They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16). So I’m not of the world. But I do live here, and I am a part of the various cultures I’ve experienced in my mobile life. So there’s a mixture there. I guess the comparison breaks down a little here, but it’s still interesting to think about. 🙂