TCK Voices: On Hellos and Goodbyes

Today we have Leonora with us. Welcome, Leonora!

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

Hi! My name is Leonora and I’m a TCK living in Southern Spain. My parents are both from rural southern USA. Growing up, we moved four times within three states during the first eight years of my life. While all these places were in the same country, I find it incredible just how different the cultures are between rural Georgia, not-so-rural Nashville, Tennessee, and small-town midwestern Missouri. All of these contribute to the American part of my cultural makeup. 

Then, when I was nine years old, we moved to Spain and have been living in the same place for the past seven years. We live in a multicultural port city – a point of entry for immigrants and tourists – which means I am exposed to North African, Latino, Eastern European, and British cultures (just to name a few) on a daily basis. My exposure has been enhanced over the past few years as I have been attending an international school where the most common country of origin is the UK. This has certainly influenced me culturally as I find myself using British phrases my parents are completely unfamiliar with, and I am permanently confused by the spelling of words like colour or practise. 

My city’s multicultural setting forms a sort of divide between the Spaniards and the foreigners in most social interactions. I’m not completely Spanish, but the language and culture have definitely influenced who I am today, which means I can’t always relate to the expats here. I consistently feel torn between these groups, and I often end up in the middle, not a part of either of them. I’ve tried to fit in with both at different times in my life, but at the end of the day, I can’t. Despite the difficulties this presents, I am finding there is beauty in the in-between.

What is an advantage of being a TCK?

Empathy. The exposure a TCK has to different cultures, languages, thought patterns, etc. often forces us to empathize. We can understand things from more than one perspective. Often, we appreciate the nuances of untranslatable words and the significance they have to the people who speak them. We are able to observe the same culture from both the inside and the outside. This ability is practically given to us, whereas monocultural people often have to work really hard to get past ethnocentrism in order to step into the shoes of an individual from a different country or ethnic background. 

What is the hardest thing about being a TCK?

I would say loneliness. There have been two main causes of loneliness in my life. The first boils down to communication difficulties due to language or cultural barriers. This made it difficult for me to make friends when we first moved to Spain, but even now I think it affects me in smaller ways. The struggle I described earlier of not fitting into social groups belongs in this category. 

The second cause of loneliness is the goodbyes of a transient lifestyle and community. Over the past seven years of my TCK experience, I can’t point to a single year when I didn’t have to say goodbye to someone I loved. First, it was to friends and family in the States, then to worker families moving on to new callings. I had to say goodbye to classmates when I changed schools (twice. Later I had to say goodbye to my best friend moving back to the US. Again, to older friends going to college, to summer interns coming and going, and to more worker families moving away. And finally, I visit friends and family in the US just to say goodbye again. 

After experiencing this pain so often, we become desperate to protect ourselves. Of course, the only way to truly avoid saying goodbye is to not say hello in the first place. So we isolate ourselves. We decide not to attend social gatherings when they’re an option. Often, we keep all relationships shallow. We don’t introduce ourselves to the new kid even when we can speak their language. This deep form of loneliness seems to safeguard us from pain, but it only leaves us numb to the pain, which is far worse in the long run. 

How has being a TCK influenced your faith?

As a TCK, I’ve gone through some rough seasons – some “valleys,” you might say. There have been moments when I hated God and accused Him of hating me. Ironically, it was in those moments that I grew closer to God than I ever could have on the “mountains.” I was forced to give in to His control, to trust that He had a plan and that it was a good plan, even if it didn’t make sense to me. Later, I learned through heartbreak that God is the only source of constancy in my life, or really in the universe. I learned in the midst of loneliness and isolation that Jesus is the best of friends. And I’m still learning, when I don’t know who I am or where I belong, that my identity is anchored in Christ and that He is my home

Ultimately I am finding, in the valleys of my TCK life, that God is so much bigger and so much better than I could ever guess. He listens to my doubts, complaints, and accusations just like He listened to Job. Then He comforts me with His presence and the reminder of who He is.

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

Hello is worth it! One of my favorite quotes is from CS Lewis and it says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” It’s true. Every time we say hello to a new person, a new place, or a new people group, we open ourselves to the great God-given blessing of knowing and loving and maybe even being loved by a part of His creation. We also, however, open ourselves to the deep pain of losing our connection with them, of saying goodbye. 

Nonetheless, dear fellow TCK, I plead with you to take the risk and say hello. It won’t make the goodbye any easier, but it will make your life far richer! God created us to be relational beings. We were never intended to live this life alone. Plus, God put every person in your path for a reason. He wants you to pursue deep connections and a God-honoring community, and He will bless your efforts to do this. He will also comfort you when the goodbyes come, granting you peace that surpasses all understanding.

So go say some heartfelt hellos. You won’t regret it.

Thank you so much for sharing, Leonora!

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