Sunday, October 03, 2010

What's it like being an MK?

Disclaimer: I edited portions of this post after receiving two very different responses. I do not intend this post to be offensive, hurtful, or sarcastic. It is simply to help you see into a mind of an MK and understand the deep sense of identity the label MK has.  -------------  This is probably the most frequently asked question of an MK apart from the impossible Where are you from? question. Uh, global citizen? My sister recently wrote on her blog, "They wanted to know what it was like to be a missionary kid. I would like to know what it was like to not be one." Seriously.  I'm an MK, or more specifically a TCK (third-culture kid). This doesn't mean that I grew up in a third-world country, though I did. It means that I've grown up in at least two different cultures, and  live a third. A culture that only fellow MKs will ever be able to relate to. We share in the identity crisis, the homelessness, the reverse culture shock... the rich childhood.  
   I can't tell you how many parents of MKs beg me for advice on how to relate to their child. I may have never met their child, I may never have been to their country, but I have a pretty good idea of what their dealing with. Any MK would.  One thing that most MKs have in common, is they love to talk about their experiences... only if they are certain they won't be ridiculed or alienated. The question What's it like being an MK? is typically interpreted differently by an MK and non-MK. To the non-MK (the ask-er) it may be a question about an experience similar to asking What was it like homeschooling? or How did you feel about moving as a kid? To an MK, the question is one of identity and can be difficult to answer. It sounds more like What's it like being American? Imagine answering that or What's it like not being an MK? Here are some questions that might make a conversation with us easier.  What do you miss most about the country you grew up in? What was the first thing you noticed when you returned to the States?What do you find disturbing about the American culture or political system?Would you tell me about your childhood best friend?   Try it sometime.  If you want to discuss identity with an MK, here are some suggestions: 1) Take him/her to a ethnic restaurant with familiar food. 2) Allow plenty of time. 3) Help him/her feel safe. 4) Find common ground, maybe with discussion on how his/her identity and experiences have influenced spiritual growth. 5) Share what it is like not being an MK (it might be difficult).   

    For those of you who are trying to relate to you MK friend or child, there are two realization that completely changed my life, freed me from anger, and gave me confidence and a sense of belonging.  1) My identity is in Christ.2) My home is in Heaven.    These, my friends, will never change -- no matter where I move, no matter what language I speak or use to communicate with God, no matter who my friends are or aren't, no matter how alienated I feel.   
   P.S. Here are a couple links that might help.  TCK Glossary Terms
Third-culture Kids


  1. Ahhhh! You pegged it! Only an MK could've written this! You put words to what I have often felt! True, true, so true.

  2. Well said!

    I did not have the opportunity to read the pre-altered version of this post. I am not sure I would have been offended if I had.

    As a parent of three children, this issue concerns me. We are in the process of training to live overseas. I think it might be safe to say that my biggest concern is my children and how this journey to the nations will affect them.

    Thank you, for sharing questions to ask. It is a great tool to share with friends or those we meet who, without understanding, may feel compelled to ask "what's it like to be a mk?"

  3. Bekah, I'm glad you could relate. It's a joy to be a fellow MK from the same country! :)

  4. Thank you, Kim. I'm glad that you are thinking about the emotional health of your children. You're going to give hem a rich experience, but it is important to recognize the third culture it creates in them. In case you were wondering...

    These were the 2 responses pre-altered:

    1) Non-MK thought he has to be careful with questions and found the whole thing a bit divisive, like he could never really know me.

    2) MK thought it was hilarious, and he could totally relate.

    In order to target both groups and be a bit more effective in my message, I had to edit. On my way to check out your blog...


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