TCK Voices: Learning Cultural Grace in South Africa

Today we have Joy with us. Welcome, Joy!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the different cultures you are part of?

My name is Joy Adewumi, and I am a TCK from South Africa. You can call me Joy or by any nickname, as long as it is shorter. How’s that for a brain teaser? I warn you, though, that no one has come up with a shorter nickname to date – all my current nicknames are longer than my actual name. Joy-Joy. Joyous. Joytjie (the tjie at the end is an affectionate Afrikaans way of denoting something that is small and cute, which is hilarious because I’m tall). And before you ask, no, I don’t go by Jo or J-J. Those sound like boy nicknames, and I am very much a female.

Anyways, I get ahead of myself. Where was I? 

Oh, yes, my name. My name, as you now know, is Joy. (My preferred nickname is Joyous, by the way.) 

I am originally from Nigeria. I was born and bred there. But South Africa is the country where, as they say, I “came of age.”  Describing myself in terms of culture, though, is a tougher task. Let’s see. Ethnically, I am Nigerian. By virtue of company, I am South African. Socially, I am neither. Culturally, I am a confused chameleon. Physically, I have been told that I look Zambian, Zimbabwean, Kenyan, African-American, South African (yes, this as well) … everything except for Nigerian. (Nigerians even tell me that I don’t look Nigerian!) My accent is from Livanua. (In case you are wondering, there is no such country as Livanua.) 

I’m in my twenties now, but a part of me is still “coming of age.” That’s a downside and upside of being a TCK. It can take longer for your true identity to form because you are trying to create a balanced mix of all the different cultures that you are surrounded by. It’s even worse when you live in a country like South Africa – the “rainbow nation” – where there is such an immense mix of cultures.

I’ve lived in at least four provinces, including Gauteng. Jo’burg in Gauteng (where I lived) is the Babel point of the whole of Africa. All of the country’s 11 official languages are spoken there – yes, South Africa has 11 official languages! – and there are a lot of foreigners there as well. 

Apart from Gauteng, each province has one or two main spoken languages. This means every time I move, I have to keep trying to adapt to the new languages or culture. It is exhausting and a very debilitating task. In this way, my cultural acclimatisation is much, much slower than a TCK living in a country with mainly one culture or one language to learn.

Joy Adewumi
Joy Adewumi

What is an advantage of being a TCK?

Being a TCK is a well of many things. Some good and some bad. I have learnt, though, that there are many good things that one can experience as a TCK. Some might say that the TCK’s biggest advantage is having compassion for those who are also different, learning to be culturally respectful, or knowing different languages (or at least, parts of different languages). These are all good advantages. But the biggest advantage to me is learning to have cultural grace. 

What do I mean by cultural grace? 

If you grew up with parents that are from a different ethnicity or culture than that of your resident country, you might have heard them say something along these lines at least once in your life: “Back in [insert your parent’s birth country], things are so much better…” “[Insert your parent’s birth country] does it better.” “This wouldn’t have happened if it was in [insert your parent’s birth country].” “Everything in [insert your resident country] is so bad. If we were in [insert your parent’s birth country], this wouldn’t have happened.” “Only God can help [insert your resident country].” Etc.

I grew up with Nigerian parents, so it would often sound like this: “[Insert negative situation] wouldn’t have happened back in Nigeria. It’s only in South Africa you see such things.”

Of course, this cultural superiority complex isn’t only seen in Nigerians; it plagues foreigners all over the world. I’ve worked with a German who felt the need to say “back in Germany…” or a variation thereof every few minutes. None of what was said was bad, but it was draining to listen to the constant comparison of things as they were in South Africa to how they were back in Germany.

As a younger TCK, I have learnt to have cultural grace towards those of my country of residence. I have also learnt that my birth country isn’t as good as my parents and other Nigerians make it out to be. Having cultural grace means allowing myself to accept that different cultures do things differently, and not one way is better than the other. It helps me to get rid of any superiority complex. This allows me to see eye-to-eye with the citizens in my country of residence so that I can befriend them, integrate into their culture, and reach them for Christ. 

What is the hardest thing about being a TCK?

The hardest thing for me about being a TCK is not knowing where I belong. I don’t feel Nigerian enough to be fully Nigerian, and I know that I am definitely not South African enough to be fully South African. Some Nigerians make fun of me for not being able to speak my language. Some South Africans use the fact that I can’t speak their language to mock or poke fun at me. 

The sense of not belonging also brings with it some sort of fear/dread for the future. For example, as a younger TCK, getting into any sort of relationship might be a lot more complex than our non-TCK counterparts. If I, for example, get into a relationship with a Nigerian, I will have to relearn some cultural nuances that I have long since forgotten, and likewise, if I get into a relationship with a South African, I will have to learn some cultural nuances I have neglected to learn. Likewise, I can never find another TCK who is my blend of cultures, or who will understand said blend perfectly. And finally, getting married to a non-TCK foreigner would mean learning/adapting to a whole new culture from scratch. 

What is one thing you learned from being a TCK?

Jesus is my hiding place! 

Oh, I cannot stress this enough. As a TCK, I’ve been faced with many tough situations that almost drowned me with their weight. It could have been a situation that involved just me, a family member, or even the whole family. I learnt that the fear that I had no one to understand me or to confide in was not as big of a problem as I imagined. In fact, it was God’s grace to me, because my helplessness turned me to Him. It made me realise that all I truly had was Him and that He was right there beside me! Just a prayer away. 

I know this truth now. Practising it consistently, though, has been a whole other issue. 

“Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.” Psalm 32:7 KJV

How has being a TCK influenced your faith?

Through being a TCK, God has taught me a lot about His grace both in helping me to better see His grace towards me and to extend that same grace towards others. Being a TCK has also made me see more clearly the value of prayer. When all else fails, I can’t rely on a family connection or on who-knows-who-knows-who as some citizens can; I can only pray. Prayer has become a lifeline for me. Without it, I fall very quickly into fear, worry, and anxiety for the present and for the future. 

Lastly, being a TCK has taught me the value of Christian community. This year, I have been privileged to be surrounded by a community of believers through church, friends, and social gatherings. This community of believers have all been people of diverse social and cultural backgrounds, yet it is amazing to see how the Lord can unite people in His name; people who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other. I walk out of such meetings encouraged and revived. It has been such a blessing. 

What is one thing you would like to tell your fellow TCKs?

It is okay not to fit in


This is something I had to learn – and I’m still trying to learn – when I began to realise that I was starting to lose my authentic self in order to adapt to the nature of the people that surrounded me. 

As a person, and especially as a TCK, there will always be something about you that is considered “weird,” “uncomely,” or “annoying.” This could be an accent that you have, or maybe a personality type, or a peculiar quirk. As people, when we are constantly faced with direct and indirect messages to change ourselves, we tend to frantically try to do just that. But I urge you to calm down just a bit. Don’t fall down that rabbit hole. The Bible says that: 

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31a KJV, emphasis added 

This doesn’t mean that we are perfect by any stretch – we are all milestones away from being that – but it does mean that the personality, quirk, and appearance that the Lord has given us, He has given us for a purpose

That being said, there might be some things that might need a bit of tweaking. For example, if you are overwhelmingly sarcastic (I know I am. It’s genetic. I am convinced that Nigerians are the most sarcastic people in the world), you might want to tweak your sarcastic comradery so that you won’t annoy those around you all the time. But don’t take people’s annoyance as a sign to become a sadistic bluebottle whose jokes never see the light of day. 

Becoming a more refined person is an art that takes wisdom in discerning what things about us can and cannot be changed. It takes wisdom to know what should and shouldn’t be changed in order to become an acceptable member of our society without changing our entire self in the process. It is a very hard and delicate matter that needs much prayer and guidance. As the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, the Lutheran theologian, goes: 

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

May that be the prayer of each of us!

Thank you for sharing with us, Joy!

5 thoughts on “TCK Voices: Learning Cultural Grace in South Africa”

  1. Wow, so much wisdom here! I especially love what you said about learning to have cultural grace–even we as TCKs have biases that we need to watch out for. Thank you so much for sharing, Joy!

  2. Hi Joy!
    Thanks for sharing specific details and being vulnerable for our sake (and for making me laugh). That was a gift to be brought into your life a little bit.
    I appreciate the explanation of cultural grace and that it’s an advantage of being a TCK. Sometimes the benefits of being a TCK seem all foggy and jumbled in my brain. I know there are advantages of being a TCK but then I can’t articulate it or I shut it down to try not to be prideful. So it’s helpful to have that both humbly and unapologetically said.
    I pray God gives me the wisdom to know the difference and the strength to respond to the changeable and unchangeable!
    Thanks Joy!

    1. I’m so glad to have been able to give you a good chuckle (we all need more of that in our lives!). Yes, sometimes the struggle of being a TCK gets jumbled up in my brain as well. Most times, I only see the disadvantages (I am only human, after all). But sometimes, God bursts through the fog and helps me to see the advantage of my peculiar position, no matter how few and far-between. And He does that to us all, if we are but willing to listen.

      Grace and peace.

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