OKLAHOMA CITY — Cherry Hart spoke Swahili before she spoke English.
Born in Mbeya, Tanzania, she is the daughter of longtime Church of Christ missionaries Eldred and Jane Echols.
Just before she started school, her family moved to Benoni, South Africa.
“My South African friends would not accept me as South African,” she said. “They’d always call me a ‘Yank’ … but I wasn’t from America! I’d never lived in America.”
When she moved to the U.S. to enroll at Michigan Christian College (now Rochester College) she felt anything but American. She spoke the same language as everybody else — albeit with a thick, South African accent — but the expressions, nuances and mannerisms seemed foreign.
“I really was in a culture of my own … a no-man’s land,” she said. “And so it was a thrill for me when I finally understood that there were other people in the world that had exactly the same experience.”
Those other people often are called Third Culture Kids, or TCKs. For the past five years, Hart has shared her experiences adjusting to life in America with a new generation of TCKs at Global Reunion, a weeklong camp on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University.
Kent and Nancy Hartman, former missionaries to Australia and parents of three Third Culture Kids, developed the idea for the camp. The Hartmans are missionaries in residence at Oklahoma Christian.
More than 40 youths who grew up in locales around the world attended this year’s camp. Most are the children of missionaries, though a handful grew up in military families stationed overseas. Two of this year’s campers were referrals from outside Churches of Christ.
Like many missionary children, Hart became a missionary herself. She met her husband, Clay, at Michigan Christian. The pair finished their studies at Abilene Christian University in Texas before moving to South Africa, where they served for 16 years in the city of Durban and two and a half years in Johannesburg.
Their three children are TCKs and have participated in the Global Reunion camps. Today the Harts live in the Dallas metroplex and worship with a house church.
On a break between sessions at this year’s Global Reunion, Cherry Hart spoke with The Christian Chronicle about the challenges Third Culture Kids face — and how the weeklong camp helps them cope.
Some highlights: • On changing cultures:
“TCKs are very flexible. They are very adaptable. They have learned — just because of how they’ve been raised — to be culturally aware. … They’re constantly trying to match the people around them, because they go in and out of cultures.
“But what they don’t understand sometimes are the deeper nuances of how to make friends in a culture. And so we spend some of our time describing America to them, describing how Americans are different from other people in the world.
“Americans are so, so, so time conscious. … And that’s so different from almost everywhere else in the world, where the way you show someone you care is you spend a whole lot of time with them. So TCKs can try and make friends, and in the American’s mind they’re friends. But in a TCK’s mind they haven’t spent any time together.” • Advantages of being a TCK:
“They’ve got a very, very wide view of the world. … They have a very compassionate nature for those who are poor, because often they’ve lived among them. … When they get to the States, they tend to look out for the outcast, the international and the person that’s not fitting in … those that need compassion.
“I think God can powerfully use TCKs around the world because … they understand people in a different way than someone who’s been sown and grown in one spot.” • Finding community:
“The first year we were together we had a small group, and 13 countries were represented. And yet, when they’ve been in the room five minutes, it’s like they’ve known one another all their lives. On the evaluations … somebody invariably writes, ‘For the first time ever, I felt like I was home.’
“A TCK has roots in relationships, not in places, because generally we’ve had rather mobile lifestyles … . The most confusing question anybody ever asks us is, ‘Where are you from?’ • A good outcome:
“Toward the end of the camp we always ask them, ‘Would you do this to your kids? Would you have kids in a foreign culture?’
“And, to a man, every one of them says, ‘I would.’ So what it does, I think, is it keeps missionaries going out.
“If you help them … see the blessings of all that they’ve experienced, they know that they can give that same blessing to their children.” VOICES: Why did you come to Global Reunion 2010? What was your favorite part? Asked at the Global Reunion 2010 camp for Third Culture Kids and their parents in Oklahoma City.
“For the longest time, I thought I was completely alone in the whole moving-back-and- forth thing. … In a way, it’s sort of like therapy camp. But it’s so much more than that. Everybody here (has) the same joys, the same struggles.” Luke Cariaga
, Fort Worth, Texas (formerly of Cebu, Philippines)
“I wanted to come to this camp because I wanted to be with kids that are from around the world and people that I know have the same troubles. We went bowling yesterday and I liked that a lot, and we also went to a lake.” Jonathan Richardson
, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
“My parents signed me up for it so I could meet other Third Culture Kids. I’ve liked all the fellowship with people, the discussions, finding out that other people are a lot like me.” Elizabeth Price
, Kansas City, Mo. (formerly of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
“Even though I’ve kind of dealt with the same issues already, it’s been good to just talk to the younger kids. I could have really used someone who had been through the same things — someone older — to give me some advice.” Vanessa Whitt
, Dallas (formerly of Cebu, Philippines) RELATED BLOG POST: A ‘Global Reunion’ for Third Culture Kids