We asked a number of TCKs now living in the West what they thought about moving cultures. Here are their stories…
I never considered myself a missionary kid until I moved to England. I was 14 years old, and was plunged into a world full of white people, shiny expensive things, beautiful shoes, and sheep.
I grew up in the Indian Ocean Islands, speaking French, hand-washing my clothes, and chasing cockroaches, rats and centipedes away. I knew I was different from the other ‘white’ kids: my parents weren’t in the military and they weren’t teachers. I lived in the village instead of in the local gated community. I was also different from the local kids: I wasn’t Muslim. Yet, I didn’t feel that different. The island had been my home since I was eight. I loved my life – warmth all year-round, the beach next door, no rush. I still miss it.
“I was excited about moving to England, but I was also nervous and knew I would miss my friends a lot.”
I spent two weeks of my first English summer at a youth camp. There were thousands of young Christians. It was weird; for the last three years I’d known a total of three Christian teenagers. I became a Christian that summer. I’d always thought before that being a Christian meant living in exotic places, singing on the beach, and watching the Prince of Egypt every week because it was one of the only English video tapes we had! My parents and little sister moved back to Africa when I was 15. I stayed in England with my grandmother and those were tough times. I missed my family loads and often blamed God, but my friends and older sister helped me through those times. I would say culture-shock hit me most when I left school at 18. Until then I’d lived in the countryside and was really shy. So, I decided to take a gap year before university. I moved away from home and rented a room closer to Bristol; I got a job in direct sales; I made new friends; I learned that it was ok to let go and to try new things; and I learned to really love England! I still think of Africa all the time. My parents have now moved back to the UK and I don’t know when I’ll go there again. But that’s ok.
I was homeschooled in western Uganda for the early years and first year of my primary. When my parents moved to work in Kijabe I was seven and I attended RVA, AIM’s school in Kijabe, until I graduated in 2008. During these 10 years at RVA I was a day student in a boarding school. Going to RVA and growing up and studying in the American school curriculum made it easier to go to University in the US rather than in the UK.
RVA was one of the best things that happened in my life. I loved it all the while I was there and then once I left and went out in to the ‘real world’ it made me love it all the more. It wasn’t perfect, and never will be, but it was an experience that really moulded and guided me along God’s path. My only regrets were that I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities there and of the wonderful God-fearing people that worked and studied while I was there.
“RVA was one of the best things that happened in my life. I loved it all the while I was there and then once I left and went out in to the ‘real world’ it made me love it all the more.”
I was very nervous when preparing to go to the States. I knew just one person at the school I was going to and all the rest was an unknown. Only God knew what was laid before me and he has helped me settle and get fully involved in college life. Going to Chicago was different from almost everything that I knew at home and it felt like there would be very little to help me remember home. I was going to live in a new culture and a new country. I was going from a mission station in rural Kenya to the very large city of Chicago. One of the biggest differences, one that I will never adjust to, is the weather; going from a pleasant climate on the equator to 4ft of snow and a winter that lasts for at least five months! But I’m sure I would have faced just as big an adjustment had I gone to college in the UK, the home I have never really known as home anyway. Growing up at RVA I found that some of my peers resented the fact that their parents had ‘dragged’ them out to Africa – something that never even crossed my mind. I love Africa. I am so grateful for the decision that my parents made to come to Africa 20 years ago, and in doing so, giving me the best education (in its broadest sense) imaginable. My hope and prayer is that God’s plans for my life will include Africa in the future.
If I had to describe my life up to now in one word, it would be ‘transition’. At the age of three I left the UK and was taken to Tanzania by my parents onto the mission field. My earliest memories are of playing with little shirtless Tanzanian boys catching lizards. Mum homeschooled me and my sisters, but as we got older our parents started talking to us about boarding school. I was apprehensive about moving into a larger school with other English speaking kids; I’d grown up with Tanzanians and the few times I’d been in a group with other missionary kids I’d felt out of my depth. Thankfully this changed as I grew older, until finally at the age of 10 I was ready to move to Kijabe to attend RVA.
“I experienced no culture shock, I made real, deep relationships, and I had the opportunity to meet people from hundreds of different cultures. In fact, I can safely say that my first year at university was the best year of my life thus far…”
Transitioning into life in an American boarding was easier than I had anticipated. I was surrounded by caring teachers and staff, and most importantly I made new friends. Over the years at RVA I had the opportunity to develop these relationships, to get involved more actively in the school, and to learn from godly men on campus. I believe I made the most of my time in Kijabe, which is why, when my senior year ended, I was ready to move on. Graduation and the weeks leading up to it were emotional; the friends that had stuck by me over the years, friends that could never be replaced, were all leaving. This caused me great concern as I wondered about my relationships at university and whether I’d be able to make such friends again. Thankfully, one of the great things about being an MK is that you learn to adapt quickly to a new environment or culture, so although I was moving back to the UK permanently for the first time in 15 years, I was confident that I would establish myself without too much difficulty. Starting at Loughborough University was a more positive thing than I could have ever imagined. I experienced no culture shock, I made real, deep relationships, and I had the opportunity to meet people from hundreds of different cultures. In fact, I can safely say that my first year at university was the best year of my life thus far, and I pray that things continue to go as well next year. Through all the transitions I’ve had a supportive family, loyal friends, and a loving God, and I have them to thank for all the joy I have had, and will experience in the years to come.
I went to RVA for most of my high school. It was a great experience that gave me countless opportunities that ‘normal’ students do not have. I never really thought that I was missing out by growing up in Africa, and coming to university in England only confirmed that for me.
Many students at my university arrived already accustomed to drinking and partying on weekends and relished the freedom to now do so every night. The culture shocked and offended me and it was a challenge not to judge everyone I met. During my final two years at RVA my confidence had grown rapidly, but this all deserted me when I moved to England. I was completely unprepared for this – I had thought that I was well equipped to deal with the challenges I would face. My points of reference disappeared. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or how to interact with people. I even struggled to make friends within the Christian Union. The other members seemed to have similar backgrounds and immediately clicked with each other, while I, with my confidence in tatters, barely talked to anyone.
“I have to say that first year was by far the hardest time. I have heard the same from many other MKs.”
Luckily I shared a corridor with a number of international students and it was here that I started making friends. I discovered that one of them, a Chinese Malaysian named Jed, was also a Christian. He too found it hard to relate to the British Christians at university and we soon became good friends. He has been a great support to me. I have also been blessed to have an amazing church, and to have the AIM office nearby. Older Christians were quick to take me under their wing, and their support, along with the home-cooked meals were invaluable in making my first year bearable. I have to say that first year was by far the hardest time. I have heard the same from many other MKs. First year is when everyone wants to give up; but if you keep going things improve enormously. This past year (my second) has been great. University is a time of challenges, but it is also an opportunity for great growth, because challenges are chances for God to teach you to rely on Him.