“You don’t understand me…” is not just a whinging cry but also the truth. My children are Third Culture Kids, they have grown up in a culture that does not belong to their dad or me. They had travelled to more countries than years of their age. An aeroplane was a more common form of transport than a bus or a train. Packing a suitcase was not daunting, speaking another language to your best friend and another to your mum was normal.
When we were returning to the UK it was fascinating to see the things that surprised them, turning a tap, bathrooms with toilets and no washing machines, roads and pavements not mud and puddles. We had to explain to our six year old that she shouldn’t talk to her friends about playing on the roof, which had been her normal experience as their concept of a roof was probably much slopier and slippier, and definitely not a place for riding your scooter.
As much as we prepared them it was some of the smaller things that surprised us all – the joy we would find in picking berries from the hedgerows because it reminded us of our garden in Albania, sitting on a British beach with the rain pattering down because this was how they had imagined Britain’s summers. What was not so surprising were the friendships they have all made, each finding commeradery with other children from other cultures, whose families have moved to the UK. Whilst looking at our children they may speak perfect English but their heart and their culture are not perfect English. The outward hides who they are, their culture, their understanding, and their worldview. No one would imagine my blue eyed, fair skinned, blond haired daughter dreams in another language.
I have tried in many situations to pre-empt what they will say or feel, to try to plan in advance to minimize problems. But so often the reality of not understanding their perception whacks me round the face like a wet fish. As the population demographic continues to change what a challenge is before us to encompass diversity, to treasure the third culture that we don’t understand and to love the wide world and experiences these children have. It reminds me of an emigrant boy who went to challenge some wise old men, out of his culture, out of what others might have thought he should do. It reminds me of an emigrant young man who found himself favoured and had dreams and saw visions out of the norm that changed the kingdom. It reminds me of an emigrant nation, wandering around, afraid of the land ahead but holding a promise of an ever-present God. Third Culture may be a newer phrase but it is not a new phenomenon, as people of God we are challenged to live in the world but not of the world – in the culture but not of the culture. My challenge is to hold true to my values, to celebrate those of my children, to recognize and embrace those around and to get used to the whack of a wet fish.