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Living a life between cultures


At age 19, Heidi Hartman found herself in a foreign country.
The daughter of missionaries, she had a hard time adjusting to her new setting — where they spoke the same language, but used different phrases, had different mannerisms and expressed feelings differently.
Hartman felt like an outsider in her new home — the United States, the country where she was born.
“People are assuming I came from a foreign country. THIS is a foreign country,” said Hartman, whose accent teeters between Australian and slight Southern twang.
Her parents moved to a suburb of Sydney when she was 3 years old to work with a congregation in Campbelltown, now one of the largest churches of Christ in Australia. Hartman returned to the States in 1998 to attend Oklahoma Christian University.
“Some people don’t see you as a person. They see you as Australian,” she said.
Hartman’s feelings of not belonging to either home or host culture are shared by other missionary children. Retired Abilene Christian University professor Clyde Austin helped pioneer the field and wrote a book addressing their concerns, ‘Cross-Cultural Reentry.’
Researchers outside church circles are recognizing similar challenges for children of military and international business families. Collectively, they’re Third Culture Kids, or TCK’s. Researcher Ruth Van Reken, herself a TCK, has chronicled some of their stories.
“I think this topic is not only vital for missionaries, but for the countless other people in the church of Christ who are now living globally nomadic lifestyles in either business, military, diplomatic circles, or a host of other reasons,” Van Reken said.
“It’s a great topic and one Christians have a lot of experience in because of the world of missions, which made for global living long before anyone had ever heard the term ‘globalization.’”
Military life also makes for global living, said Samuel Britten, of Abilene, Texas.
“I grew up as an Army brat,” said Britten, whose family moved 12 times before he reached age 18. “When we were in Italy, we were the church. I did a lot more song leading than I ever planned on.”
Britten developed TCKWorld.com, dedicated to people who lived as children in foreign cultures. The site is designed to help them share their experiences.
Clyde Antwine, missionary in residence at Oklahoma Christian, brought his three children to Portland, Ore., after years of work in Germany. All three children were born in Switzerland. The transition was tough, he said, complicated further by the fact that he and wife Gwen had few people with whom they could compare notes.
Van Reken hosts the fourth annual Families in Global Transition conference Oct. 24-26 in Indianapolis. One of the presenters is Robin Pascoe, an author and consultant on overseas living.
“It seems the challenges of relocation are borderless,” Pascoe said. “I have spoken to a variety of nationalities and the same question pops up — namely, how to be the best parent and raise children to be the best people they can be: well-adjusted, global, socially responsible, good citizens, good people!”
While the conference is secular in nature, Britten said a number of Christians were involved in its planning. Van Reken said missionaries and congregations that support them should help minister to TCK’s.
“One of my prayers is that the church will see the bigger picture of this topic to serve her own community well as well as to be a bit of salt and light in a world that is changing so fast, few can keep track of what’s going on,” she said.
Visit a Web site dedicated to children of missionaries and families living abroad, tckworld.com . The site includes a link to the site for the upcoming Families in Global Transition conference.

Filed under: National

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