Today we have Sidney with us! Welcome, Sidney!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the different cultures you are part of?
I was born in Phoenix, Arizona, and was raised there until I entered sixth grade. As I reflect on those years, I have begun to realize the warmness and openness of the cultural environment in which my family lived. In part, I believe that perspective is due to the fact that I was still living in a social bubble as a child under the age of 12 – part of the innocence of childhood.
When I moved into my sixth-grade year, my family and I moved to Kosovo, a country in Eastern Europe. This felt like a jolt as I had never moved before, let alone lived outside the US. Everything was different. How families lived and interacted with one another, how kids attended school and how they treated one another. Even how stores and restaurants were run. For a child who had no idea of what lay ahead of him, all of these things threw little me for a loop.
In contrast to Arizona, the culture was cooler in general. People were not hostile, per se. Simply, they were skeptical as to our presence there, often asking us, “Why on earth would you want to come here?” It took many years for my family to push past some of those social barriers.
Fast-forward five and a half years, I had the opportunity to move in with my grandparents in Ohio (while my family stayed overseas). Here, as I finished my junior and senior years of high school, I experienced culture shock all over again. First, America is so starkly different from a small, developing European nation. Second, I thought that my experience back in America would have echoes of my childhood in Phoenix. But it did not turn out to be that way.
During those two years, I quickly learned that to speak of America as one culture is a massive overstatement. The small country town to which I moved, in many ways, echoed my time in Kosovo, not in Phoenix. Once again, I was an outsider unsure how to connect with the people on the “inside.”
Currently, I am a student of Pastoral Studies at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.
What is one memory from your time in Kosovo that you would like to share?
The first year my family was in Kosovo, our house did not have insolation. As five individuals from Phoenix, Arizona, our need for warmth quickly became apparent. We had a wood stove shared between our kitchen and living space. Other than that, there was no warmth to be had that first winter. I remember buying extra blankets, hot water bottles (thick rubbery bottles that boiling hot water can be poured into for heat), and one or two small heaters for our cold bodies. Yet, as Kosovo is about the same longitude as northern New York, it only got colder and colder.
For the majority of the winter, we were able to see our breaths in every room in the house except for the one with the wood stove and the bedroom above it (as the stove’s chimney ran up that wall). To use the bathroom, we would put on our winter coats. Looking back, it seems humorous that God would send a desert-acclimated family into a country with such a cold winter.
Yet, I believe He used that winter to bring my family closer in ways we had never dreamed of. Namely, because there was only one bedroom that was warm enough to sleep in, the five of us all slept in one room for our first winter and a good portion of the following spring as well. We also learned to make use of our heat efficiently by maximizing the number of people in the bathroom. One could shower, with one on the toilet, two brushing their teeth, and another using the washing machine. Talk about boundaries being pushed.
Through that experience, I definitely learned the importance of stepping out of my comfort zones, whether that be with my family or with others. This skill taught me to be adaptive in this new Albanian-Kosovar culture. Since then, that skill has only continued to grow.
What is the hardest thing about being a TCK?
The hardest thing I have found about my experience is how removed I can feel from any place I reside. I long for home but can never seem to find it. Arizona, Kosovo, Ohio, Chicago: none of these places feel like home. When I am in one place, I cannot help but hope for another. This is something that I know many TCKs resonate with.
I have learned, and am still continuing to learn, to view that ache and longing as a reminder that nowhere on this earth is truly “home.” I wait with hope for that day when we will be reunited face-to-face with our God. We were created to be in relationship with Him. I believe that being a TCK has heightened my awareness that our current reality is not yet a complete or perfect one.
How has being a TCK influenced your friendships and relationships?
Growing up overseas has influenced my relationships with people immensely. Today, I can easily say that I have wonderful friends in every continent of the world – except Antarctica. While many of these relationships are not currently close, my friends and I share a close-knit bond that we can pick up from wherever we last left it off. For this reason, I find that I am interacting less with social media and texting fewer people who are not in my immediate sphere of presence.
However, I am learning that my friends who grew up in one culture have a harder time picking up a relationship where it left off as compared to my friends who grew up with more than one culture. This phenomenon is interesting, and I am currently experiencing and learning to manage and grow in it appropriately.
How has being a TCK influenced your faith?
From what I have witnessed, many TCKs often fall into one of two camps after maturing out from under their parents’ wings.
One set develops hardened hearts. They walk away from the Lord and the faith that their families sought to share with others while overseas. And, oftentimes, they forsake their families as well. My heart goes out to these TCKs and their families, because I know the immense pain that they experience as they feel gypped of their childhood and robbed by God and their parents.
On the other hand, the second set develops softened hearts toward the people of this world. They become very sensitive to the pain and hurt they have seen and experienced. As I find myself here, I watch with awe at how our God loves and cares for us – even for those who do not yet know Him. This sensitivity I feel has encouraged me to receive training in ministry and to live out my faith each day before every person I come across.
God the Father sent His Son so that those who believe in Him would one day no longer have to suffer the effects of sin. It is for this reason I long to instill God’s hope within people – both to those who have yet to experience it and to those who have become calloused to it.
What is one thing you would like to tell your fellow TCKs?
To not just my fellow TCKs, but to everyone – have hope. I may be a TCK, but that is not what defines me. Regardless of how you grew up, your upbringing does not define you. When saved, we become beloved children of the living God – that is what defines us. That is not to say that TCKs are not different in the way that we view or approach the world. It is to say that we are still human, created in the image of God. From wherever God has brought you – third culture kid, city kid, or country kid – He will include you, along with your background, in the expansion of His kingdom.
Even as the world seems to be falling apart as its aches for restoration to perfection, God is here. He is moving. He always has been. So have hope. Your past was not lived in vain. Just like the world, it may seem as if things are falling apart, but God is truly here. My prayers are with you, and may His Spirit be upon you.