A few years ago someone labelled me, and I’m sure thousands of others, as what is known as ‘third culture kids’. It has stuck with me ever since. Third culture kid is basically a term used to refer to children who have been raised up in a culture outside of their parents. With my mother being American and my father Irish, and having lived in both countries, I guess I might fall into this category.
This week America celebrated their 4th July. Family and friends came together for meals in the warm sunshine dressed in stars and stripes. Instagram is sure to be filled with the three colours of red, white and blue. And at the end of the day there will fireworks to brighten up a summer night’s sky. I don’t remember the last time I expereienced this in the United States, it has been quite some time. Over the years, I have taken part in some sort of celebration with other Americans. However with that it always brings a strange sense of unsettlement. Because at the end of the day, I don’t feel ‘fully’ American. As I have said in previous posts, having a place attached to every important document and yet having limited associations and experiences from that place can leave you wondering about your sense of belonging and even your identity.
Here are a few situations in which induces these feelings. When I am asked “Where are you from?”. I usually respond with a few seconds of silence because I know that my accent has already thrown them off and then I ponder about which country to mention first. The one I was born in and spent a decade or so in, or the most recent of the two that I have lived in? Does whichever one I mention first insinuate that that one is most prefereed or most home to me? Another unsettling situation that I often find myself in is being welcomed to Ireland on a regular basis and asked how long am I staying for? The evidence of the American twang in my accent leads my fellow Irishman to ponder where I have come from and for how long is my vacation? ( I mean of course, I use the accent to my advantage when asking for directions and have no problem pulling the foreign card when convenient!) But all said and done, I go away not quite knowing where exactly to fit in, in either of those places.
Being asked about where you are from is one of the first few things people ask each other. So it must be important… Is it another box that people place you in to better understand you? Does it play a determining factor in your identity? Because if so, I think I might leave others confused as to where to place me, as well as wondering who I am in light of these factors?
Because last week I looked like this…
I have understood what it was like to have family and friend across the ocean, and I am now understanding what it is like to have loved ones across the world! There can be so many challenges to this (as well as appreciating the access to Europe and the United States with more than one passport.) But is it so important for me to feel completely at ease in one particular culture? Is there such thing as ‘fluid nationality’? Because, if so, that is what I label myself as. Ultimately, I believe that my identity is in Christ and He can use all the things (and countries!) that make me ‘me’ for His glory. And it’s ok to feel estranged, I’m sure Jesus probably felt quite ‘alien’ at times, as He knew in what to call home and it probably wasn’t Bethlehem or Nazareth. He understood where His identity was placed and it ultimately wasn’t a Jew or in Israel. People were quick to make associations with his birth place too, questioning what comes from Nazareth? But in God’s perfect plan, He allowed the Son of the Living God to be born there. God uses every detail of our lives. Therefore, I don’t have to get perplexed when asked “which do you prefer”, “which one is home” or “where will you settle down’? I don’t really have to have those answers because God has them and they are all connected with him. I can simply appreciate both cultures and learn from the experiences of each country. At the end of the day, who I am, a new creation (2 Cor 5.17) and in who my identity is placed in, will lead me to feeling right at home, completely at ease, wherever in the world that may be.
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If i take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139.7-10
Here are a few photos from throughout the years of celebrating the 4th July.
So all you third culture kids out there, embrace it! And by the way, I totally don’t mind being asked where I am from!