“America is the best country.”
I looked at Alexander with a mixture of skepticism and incredulity. My ears were ringing.
I was walking back from the beach with some new friends during my first week of college in Chicago. This was my first time meeting Alexander, so I struggled to gauge if he was being serious. He seemed to be serious.
I reminded myself, however, that this was an American. He’d lived in a small town in Michigan for all of his 18 years and had never visited another country. He had been, no doubt, raised in a highly patriotic family. How could he know any better? He was likely unaware of his blatant ethnocentrism.
I was determined to set the record straight. I had lived in another country; I knew the truth and would help him see it. Because, after all…
TCKs are Exceptional at Appreciating Differences
One of the benefits of being a TCK is being exposed to all kinds of cultures at a much younger age than most people. On the flip side of that, often because of moving around and living with such different people, TCKs seem to be doomed to never feel like they belong somewhere – a deep longing that can be found in all human hearts.
What I’ve realized, however, is that to some extent, no one quite “fits in” anywhere. People, when you really get to know them, are funny, odd, quirky, and strange. No two people are the same. Since we as TCKs are generally the oddest of the bunch, we often value those around us who stand out with confidence. We appreciate their firm sense of identity. We love whatever it is that gives them the freedom to be different because we can identify with not fitting in. And we know how hard it is.
Over time, growing up and working with so many different people, we recognize that variety brings far more benefits than fascinating conversation topics. Different people have different perspectives, talents, stories, experiences, and insights. All of that is invaluable.
It’s easy to judge according to how a person looks or talks or acts. It takes time to gain understanding and to learn the stories that make people who they are. More than most, TCKs understand not only what it means to be different, but how priceless those differences can prove to be.
Still, TCKs are human.
TCKs are Limited by Experiences Too
My family moved back to America when I was 16, and I expected to at least have the friends that I’d had when I was nine. However, they’d grown so used to me being gone, it seemed as if they’d forgotten about me.
I found myself a stranger in my passport country. I wasn’t in on whatever loop everyone else was. And I was bitter about it.
So, logically, I put the blame where it was due: on America herself.
I found myself hating all kinds of things about America: wealth, convenience, divided families, racism, entertainment, politics, “football,” immigration policies, and patriotism. My biases against everything American were easily-seen but rarely dealt with.
The thing about hating something as hard to define as a country is that it began to permeate everything. I blamed all sorts of things on “America’s pride,” “America’s indulgence,” or simply “American culture.” The thing is, what does one deem American?
Whatever “American” was, it wasn’t me.
This bitterness, unfortunately, began to poison all kinds of things … including my perspective on the “American church” (whatever that is). Unfortunately, I was completely unaware of my own bitterness toward America.
I thought I was the only “American” who saw – without rose- (or red, white, and blue) colored glasses – America as she truly was.
I, who prided myself on appreciating every perspective different from mine, who called every country special, scored a 2 out of 5 on the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) assessment. My score was polarization reversal. In other words, I apparently considered all other countries to be better than my own (note the biases). I had a reverse ethnocentristic mindset, a positive outlook on every country but my own.
It took a few weeks, but after doubting the accuracy of the “American” assessment (honestly, I blamed everything on America), I realized it was true.
I love irony, and I think God does too; for the time being, I am living in the one country in the entire world whose beauties I’ve been completely blind to.
TCKs Judge People Too (and Have Biases!)
Even though we are, in many ways, open-minded, our experiences as TCKs can still blind us to those with different points of view. I had that experience with Alexander.
“What do you mean by ‘best country?’ What quantifies ‘best?’” I asked him.
I will spare you the entire friendly argument for the sake of space. Here is a summary. My understanding of his perspective was that America is the best country because it was founded by Christians, and Israel is second best since in old times it was God’s original chosen people (1 Peter 2:9–10).
I argued for the truth: “All countries are different,” I explained patiently to Alexander. “There is no one best country since all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Each culture is different. It’s the same way with people; God created us all different but equal before Him. No culture can claim superiority, as no individual can” (see Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:26–28).
We came to a friendly agree-to-disagree understanding that night. We had both greatly enjoyed the conversation; it was cordial and entirely new to both of us. I came away satisfied, thinking, “Maybe I have taught an American something new.” I am sure he did learn something since he is humbler than he seems. It’s more than I can say for myself. I walked away more assured that Americans were full of themselves and that they were blind to the beauty of the rest of the world (more ethnocentrism).
During all that, however, I was blind to my own hypocrisy; I had placed myself in a position of authority and talked about things I wasn’t actually living out. I had forgotten that Jesus warned:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matt. 7:1–2 NIV, emphasis added
Instead, I had fallen into that very pitfall, focusing on the “speck” in my brother’s eye rather than the “log” in my own. Jesus’ words to me are humbling:
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matt. 7:4–5 NIV, emphasis added
TCKs Can Learn From Their Biases
As a “good Christian girl,” I could always tell you that God puts us exactly where He wants us to learn and to serve Him. I just thought there were some places in the world better suited for such growth and service. Namely, Asia. Or Africa. Or South America. Goodness, even Europe. But not the United States. Not really. That’s just a place you live in temporarily to ask rich, unburdened Christians for money and prayers.
Oh, how drastically wrong I was.
To all my TCK readers out there: You may not like where you are, whether you’ve been brought there by your parents, your citizenship, or other circumstances. But God may want to teach you something here. Put aside your biases (yes, even we TCKs have biases!) and look at the culture you’re in as a place meant to reveal a glimpse of God’s heart that you haven’t yet learned.
Rather than focusing on enlightening those around us with our superior intercultural knowledge, let’s focus on truly applying those lessons. After all, if all cultures are uniquely beautiful, created equal before God, that includes America (or whatever culture you find yourself critical of).
Not gonna lie, I’m still getting there. I still put myself in the judgment seat too often. But God has the final word, and bit by bit He is teaching me to leave it up to Him. I continually remind myself of these words from Scripture:
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:9–13 NIV