Campus Club Tackles Cultural Identity
Reported by Jen Wright
Transitioning from high school to college life is difficult enough for most people, but for Third-Culture Kids (TCK), it’s made even more difficult by the culture gap.
The Third-Culture Kids club at George Fox University (GFU) makes it their mission to help each other adjust to college life in what may be a foreign country. The club members are mostly students who grew up in missionary families and experienced or are experiencing culture displacement.
The club provides a space for students to talk with each other about the difficulties they have in transitioning to a new school or country, and the struggles in finding cultural identity and a sense of belonging.
Aren Thomas grew up in Rwanda and moved to the U.S. in 2015 to attend GFU. Thomas’ older sister, Breanna Becker, started the TCK club a few years ago and Thomas’ younger sister is in the club leadership.
“I have a lot of pride in my African upbringing,” Thomas said. “I love what it meant, the culture, and the experience of, like, I went to a boarding school in Kenya for four years, and that was the best experience in my life, and I absolutely loved it.”
Thomas’ sister helped him adjust to American culture, but it was still difficult because of all the gaps in knowledge of cultural “norms” in the U.S. The TCK club has helped Thomas discuss and learn these things in a welcoming environment.
“I know for me, it was really helpful to even just talk to other people,” Thomas said. “It’s like providing a home. If you go to a place where everyone else is completely different from you, you can’t feel like you’re at home, or be yourself anywhere.”
Third-culture kids and missionary kids most commonly experience cultural displacement and having other people to talk to that are going through or have gone through the same thing is helpful and comforting.
“The interesting thing about TCKs is, like, they will never fit in perfectly somewhere,” Thomas said. “Like, I will never be fully American, but I’ll also never be fully Rwandan. But I think that I can really engage in cultures, and I love being able to see that there’s a lot more than is being presented right here, how people act.”
For Ryan Johnson, who grew up in Uruguay, the biggest question the club tackles is something everyone goes through, to a degree.
“It’s about processing your past,” Johnson said. “Like, what does your past mean for your future.”
Johnson felt that he never really fit in. In Uruguay, he was “the American”; now, in the U.S., he feels less “American” than ever.
Even parents of TCKs and missionary kids can have a hard time understanding the experience, because they usually didn’t have a similar childhood.
“That creates this sort of schism between them,” Johnson said. “My parents, raising me in another country, meant that they had to change a bit of what their expectations were.”
The club president, Ben Kraske, grew up as a missionary kid. Kraske has a lot of plans for the club, including having older members act as “mentors” for new students.
Kraske wants to start a system where TCKs help each other through adjusting to a new environment and then turn around and do the same for someone else.
The club has been focusing on building structure this year and this year they have experienced a lot of growth.
You don’t have to be a TCK or a missionary kid to come to meetings, and you can learn a lot about cultural awareness and missions by attending, Kraske said.
The club meets every Wednesday from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., for fellowship, games and discussions.