Wrapping my head around the idea that some experiences aren’t meant to last is quite hard to come to grips with, especially when my entire existence is often found in and around community. I have found this to be similar for most third culture kids. Community is supposed to be something that binds people together, but for TCKs, the concept can be a little harder to pin down, especially when you find that you are on the move most of the time.
I recently returned from a trip to Africa—my first time in the continent, where I was speaking at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Many of my pre-conceived notions of Africa up to this point had been centered around what I had seen and heard from others; either personal stories of missional encounters, adventures on safari, or even spending time checking out the sights and sounds of the villages. But learning by observation in person can have farther-reaching effects when seeing how others live their lives in the day-to-day.
As much as I wanted to stay in Kenya longer than the week or so I was there, the vibrancy of life that I encountered from seeing friends, and even strangers, get along so well was almost unfathomable to me; the raw blend of culture and community was something I realized I had been seeking my whole life.
Yet the TCK’s dilemma is often found in the void between seeking the community we long for, and having the sense that there is a community we can stay and be part of. So far as there are points of connectivity that we can make – whether making a new friend, being welcomed into a family, understanding the culture to the extent we can appropriate it to our own existence; there is a viable way to understand what being part of a community feels like. But can we ever get to that point where we feel comfortable within any given community? That is the question.
I like to think of the TCK as the perpetual traveler—always finding new ways to find pockets of community along life’s travels, but finding a balance between staying long enough to find it, and seeking new places to find it elsewhere. Perhaps there is no comfortable ‘in-between,’ where it is possible to find an idealistic place that feels like home; but it is the hope that somehow, someway, it may be out there.
Striking the balance between seeking this community elsewhere, and staying in the community you find yourself in is a hard struggle. I like to think of the example of Abram—a character in the Bible who was told by God to go to a distant land for no apparent reason. Yet he literally packed up everything he had overnight and went on a journey to an unknown land, an unknown people, and an unknown destination. When he got there, it was everything he didn’t expect, but also, in a way, it was everything he needed.
Maybe that’s a journey that most TCKs find themselves on, even though they don’t really understand the main reason or purpose behind their struggles. It’s tough to leave everything you’ve known behind and be uprooted, perhaps literally overnight, and transplanted to a place you never thought you’d end up in. Let yourself discover that it’s not everything you expected, but maybe everything you needed: that’s the definition of a community worth sticking with.