I grew up a third-culture kid. If you’ve never heard the term before, you’re not alone. A third-culture kid is defined as someone who was raised in a culture that is not their parents’ culture. My parents are both from Madagascar, I was born in Madagascar, but spent a majority of my developmental years in Papua New Guinea, Nairobi, Kenya, and here in the U.S., which means that I am a third-culture kid.
When I was about two years old, my parents accepted a call to be missionary doctors, so they packed up their lives into several suitcases and moved us (my parents, two sisters, and me) across the world, first to Adelaide, Australia so they could learn English. I don’t remember much from Australia, but I do like seeing the pictures from our time there. After Australia, we moved north to the island of Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG was where I had the majority of my single-digit birthdays. PNG was rich in culture and food. Sing-sings (dance festivals) terrified me, but moo moos (feasts) were so delicious and wonderful to attend. I loved that mothers in PNG carried their children in bilums on their backs so they were always nearby. I also liked PNG because the weather and topography was very similar to that of Madagascar: tropical and warm.
After several years in PNG, we moved to Liverpool, England so my dad could further his studies in tropical medicine. I didn’t like Liverpool. It was cold, our school’s lunch lady banged her metal spoon on the table when we were being “too loud” at lunch time, and…. it really was too cold for this tropical girl. I was glad to return to PNG about a year later. After eight years total in PNG, my family packed up once again, this time with the addition of my youngest sister, and moved to the U.S., specifically Dubuque, Iowa. My first memory of the U.S. was eating at a McDonald’s in an overpass in Chicago. I remember looking at the infrastructure around me and thinking, “this is just like the movies! America is so cool!” After three years here in the U.S., my family moved once again, this time, with the addition of my brother, to Nairobi, Kenya.
Of all the places I grew up, Nairobi was my favorite. Perhaps because it’s the one place I have the most memories from, but I loved a lot of the things that I got to experience there. My siblings and I attended a private, Christian, school in Nairobi, and I give a lot of credit to the people I encountered there with who I am today because they helped to shape my faith life. One of my favorite experiences while in school was that every year, we would go on Cultural Field Studies (CFS). For one week, everyone from 5th-12th grade would travel to different parts of Kenya and spend time with the people there, learning about who they were and living their lifestyle. It was during these CFS trips that I fell deeper in love with the country and with the Kenyan people.
After five years in Kenya and when I graduated from high school, I came back to the U.S. for college. The rest, as they say, is history.
I never knew what country to call “home,” and I finally decided when I was in high school that home would be wherever my parents are. Growing up a third-culture kid, I often thought about how it would be when I eventually had my own children. Would I raise them the way I was raised, in several countries? Would we settle down in one place? It obviously depends on who I marry, too. Now, I’ve come to call home wherever my husband and daughter are.
Before Matt and I got married, we had extensive conversations about where we saw ourselves in the future and where we wanted to raise our children. I’ve always been the more adventurous of the two of us and during these discussions, I’d mention wanting to raise them here in the U.S., in New Zealand, back in Kenya. Now though that our daughter is actually here, I honestly don’t know how I could raise her in multiple places. The desire is rekindled every once in awhile, but then the exhaustion looms and thinking through logistics is overwhelming. I don’t know how my parents did it, and with four kids under five at one time. (You’re rockstars, Maman and Dad!)
As we raise our daughter in the culture that she was born and in which my husband grew up, we’re including traditions and practices from the other cultures I grew up in, but we are content in living in just one place. At least for now.