Wanderers and Wrestlers

(Picture credits go to wonderful friends who dragged me up a mountain a few weeks ago. So exhausting, but so worth it).

A few weeks ago, Addie Zierman started to pick apart the meaning of the all-too-familar phrase “Let go and let God.” And she put out the challenge to process this concept for September. So I’m linking up with my two cents on her blog today.


A few weeks before my twentieth birthday, I left my family and flew to South Africa to do ministry in townships for a year. As a Third Culture Kid who had spent her teenage years in Uganda and lived through a difficult re-entry to Germany, I couldn’t wait to get my feet onto African soil again. Little did I know that this year was about so much more than curing my fernweh for this continent.

When I arrived, things weren’t the way I had expected them to be. I shared a room in an open space with little to no privacy; we had to improvise our youth programs with the little material we had and worked in diverse teams. Living with people from all over the world and working together in the South African culture (which, in itself, is already a conglomerate of cultures) led to quite a few challenges.

It didn’t take long until I began to resent my environment, including the work and the people around me. I was knee-deep in culture shock. 

When we transition between cultures, we tend to experience a sequence of emotions.
On arrival, everything is new and we take in new places, smells, tastes. It is fascinating meeting new people who are so welcoming and different from us.
Over time, though, these differences rather exhaust than fascinate us. Communication, daily work and even downtime have suddenly become hard work. We run into conflicts and quickly become angry at the people around us and the circumstances. Everything seems too much, too overwhelming, too tiring. The new is no longer a gift but a burden.

IMG_8280Sadly, there’s no timeframe how long this period of exhaustion and struggle will take.
For some people it’s only days, others need years to adjust to a new place. As a TCK, I have had my fair shares of transitions: I have moved from place to place, from university to a proper first job, in and out of friendships. I have experienced the beauty of the honeymoon phase, battled the depths of culture shock and basked in the joy of coming out stronger on the other side of it.

And yet there is one transition that seems to be unlike all the others.
What happens if the faith we grew up with is no longer this safe haven, this firm foundation, this comforting conviction we sometimes need so desperately in life? 
How do you deal with an evolving belief system that feels like a completely unknown territory to you? 

Leaning into the battle of culture shock is both scary and liberating.
When we enter a new culture, we don’t just leave behind our familiar environment, food, people, jobs. We lose parts of ourselves and the way we used to function in our home culture. Not knowing how to speak a different language or adapt a new style of driving, working or relating to others is like taking a billion steps back in our development. We once again become little children who need to be taught the basics of survival in a new environment.
This is a stressful, enduring and often exhausting process – a journey we often aren’t willing to embark on.

But if we practice patience and presence, we might observe the changes taking place in and around us:
The first time we connect with a stranger over food, laughter and sign language.
The beauty of making a friend who opens up the mysteries of this new culture to us.
The moment we realize that our differences are what make us truly beautiful.
The strength of finding new words for new experiences.
The comfort of learning that we are still here, behind all the struggles and unfamiliarity. The joy of discovering new facets of our own personality and the richness that is now embedded deep inside our souls.
The peace that sweeps over us when we understand that this new normal is our new home.

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And I wonder if culture shock can teach us something about our faith battles as well.
When the honeymoon phase is over and we learn that the world is darker, more lost and broken than we could imagine.
When our questions and doubts have become so big that easy answers won’t do.
When that hunger inside of us has turned into this giant hole eating us away.

When we wrestle with our beliefs and the nature of faith itself, we might have to lean right in rather than run away.
We might have to get lost for a while and return to the basics.
We might have to let go of who we used to be in our old lives with our old selves and grieve our losses.
We might have to fight for survival, keep asking, seeking, waiting and feel exhausted most of the time.

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We might have to practice gratitude and patience and presence to observe the changes taking place in and around us:
The first time we connect with people from other backgrounds, belief systems and lifestyles to find out that our differences are what make us truly beautiful.
The strength of speaking our thoughts out loud and putting new words to new discoveries.
The beauty of meeting others out there in the ambiguity of it all who hold and protect our thoughts and questions.
The comfort of encountering God in unexpected places and learning that He is so much more than we could have ever known.
The pure joy of allowing him to unearth the depths and richness that are still inside of us.
The peace that sweeps over us when we understand that this new normal is our new home – the beautiful wilderness, the familiar unknown – the place where He has always been waiting for us. 

This Is Not What My Life Was Supposed to Be Like (On Turning Thirty)

I turned thirty last week – a time to look back and reflect on the big things in life. 

I distinctly remember the first day at university, when I walked around campus and saw students dipping their feet into the fountains at The Square. They sat together in little groups, laughed about something and obviously enjoyed their life. I was twenty-one and had just moved to the city to open yet another chapter in my life’s story. 

And I remember imagining what the next few years would look like: I would complete my studies quickly and then move abroad for work. I would meet new people and we’d be the best of friends who make embarrassing and beautiful memories that would last forever. I would find a handsome guy and we’d get married until we started our own family around thirty. Together we would roam this planet, always in search of our next adventure. I would say later that my twenties were the best years of my life. 

Fast forward a couple of years.

Even though I was never really sure if I wanted to be a teacher, I discovered that I enjoy teaching very much and I might stay a while. So I still live in Germany, have become a full-fledged teacher and just moved into my first ‘grown-up’ apartment. I own a dishwasher and seem to be really settled.
I have graduated from university with a lot of effort and good grades, but all of this had its price. After my finals I had a burnout because I hadn’t taken care of myself. In times when I needed them the most, I had to say goodbye to a few dear friends and learn that some relationships are not meant to last.
There have been countless weddings I have attended and many happy moments when I rejoiced with friends and their kids, but with the years I couldn’t help but wonder why I am still alone. Nor the fear of always being on my own.
I have walked through the valley with friends and had to let go of seemingly strong foundations. I wrestle with questions and doubts why and how I can live my faith in this complex world.

No, this is not what my life was supposed to be like. 

As I take a walk down memory lane, different images flash before my inner eye. 

The many packed bags and suitcases that carry us from one apartment to the next and accompany us from one continent to a completely different culture. A symbol for the tension of having no real home and longing for the world that’s lingering inside of me. 

The five of us squeezed into too small cars or way too little motorbikes riding through the African jungle. Sleeping in tiny rooms and having improvised breakfasts on hotel beds. The many days and nights when we come together from all over, holding our bellies from laughing so hard and forgetting that we’re all adults by now. No matter how scattered we are: It’s always us five against the world. 

The delayed flight to Johannesburg where my twenty-year old self lives away from my family for the first time. I am culturally challenged, but gain a better understanding of myself as a TCK and my role in this world. 

Sweet memories of late nights with study friends watching movies, cycling around town and discovering what food can do for a person’s soul. 

The tiny bundle of fluff who made me a godmother and grew into such a brave, funny, intelligent boy. I can hear his chuckling laugh long after I have to leave again. 

All those weekends with my TCK family that leave all of us physically exhausted but emotionally filled to the brim. Because it’s exactly this: We have become family; people who share similar experiences and honest questions about home, identity and belonging. 

The breathtaking beauty of canyons, oceans and landscapes in all the countries I was lucky enough to travel. I have swum in all the seven seas, overcame my fear of water to go diving and climbed mountains. I got to live with people from all across the world and discovered that they are the real adventure. 

The first TCK conference I attended completely clueless only to be blessed by people who took me under their wings and taught me about the vastness and beauty of the TCK world. Together we have pulled off quite a few conferences and learned from experts all across Europe. 

What started out as a temporary student job became an unexpected learning experience when I ended up organizing a congress for several thousand people and was surprised how much responsibility people trusted me with. 

I have come to understand the necessity of saying No which enables me to say Yes to the right things and invest my time, thoughts and money into causes that really matter. I learn to treasure the beauty of admitting, “I don’t know.” 

I have learned to take better care of myself and open my eyes for the many blessings already out there. God was and is bigger than my concepts, questions and doubts. When I pay attention to it, I am overwhelmed by mundane gifts and the faithfulness of old companions. 

In times when saying goodbye to friendships and much-loved beliefs became really painful, I discovered writing as a helpful way to reflect and process. Many people blessed me with their encouragement and comments on-and offline, but I never imagined that my writing would end up in a book. 

I sense for the first time what it means to settle down at one place for a while and create a home – a feeling unknown, yes even forbidden, for a TCK. I meet the right people at the right time who challenge me to take risks, to stay and rest, to give something of myself. I can talk to friends who feel the same and we wait in this uncertainty together.

Why do I write these things? I don’t want to brag about myself and everything I have achieved. No, these stories are a reminder for myself to not lament the things I don’t seem to have, but to celebrate that my life has turned out so different from what I imagined it to be all these years ago. 

My life is full.
Full with tasks that challenge and inspire me.
Full with loving, creative and inspiring people who join me along the way and enrich my life with their presence, actions and words. 

My life is deep.
In the midst of my hunger and desires I discover gratitude that brings a new depth to my life. 

My life is rich.
Rich with experiences with and in this world.
Rich with memories of all the necessary steps that have brought me here.
Rich with dreams and excitement for what’s to come. 

My life is a collection of puzzle pieces which challenge me at times, but make everything more colorful, meaningful, beautiful. 

No, this is not what my life was supposed to be like.
But life is good. 

The Moment I Became a TCK

It has been eighteen years since my parents moved our family to Uganda.
That’s a whole young adult’s life.

I still remember the day my father told us we’d be moving, I still hear that thought racing through my mind, ” I don’t want to live in the bush!”
I remember the months of preparation, vaccinations and goodbyes.
I still feel the shivers I had the night before we actually left because everything started to become so real.
I recall the smells, the faces, the places we saw when we first landed in our new home. The sound of “Mzungu, Mzungu” will forever be ringing in my ear and heart.

A whole young adult’s life of memories.

A lot has happened since then.
We have moved back to Germany and struggled with the pains of re-entry.
I have changed houses many more times, graduated from school and university, found a job, tried to settle down.

Eighteen years ago I became a TCK and no matter how much I have become accustomed to the German way of doing things, I am still a person who is caught between the worlds and often lost between cultures.
I yearn for a stable place to settle down and truly belong while googling flight prices and hearing that Fernweh call deep inside of me.
I wonder where all the time has gone and mourn the people, places and things I had to let go of.
I long to return to the places I still call home, to discover the parts of myself I have left behind there all these years ago.

What are your early TCK memories? How do you use your TCK experience today? 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

The Art of Vacationing

When I was growing up, our family vacations looked like this:
Drive for hours, visit friends in other cities or countries, stay at holiday homes or at someone’s house.
We never stayed in a hotel because
a) missionary families can’t afford that and
b) it felt somehow wrong to be in a fancy clean place and have other people serve you when there’s poverty and a completely different culture out there to explore.

I loved our kind of vacations.
We saw, experienced and tasted things so far off from any hotel complex or all inclusive trip. Whenever I travel today, it’s as close to the local culture as possible.

So it’s quite understandable that I was hesitant at first, when  a friend called me in April and asked if I wanted to escape into the sun with her. One week in Egypt, all-inclusive style.

But when I looked at the non-changing, depressing grey sky outside, I agreed to come.

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When we arrived at the hotel at 3 a.m.,  I couldn’t believe we would stay here.
Everything seemed like a magical wonderland – a beautiful compound with little bungalows and a pool, directly next to the Red Sea.
The first day was weird and I caught myself asking, “is this included in the price?” whenever we were offered large towels, more food or a drink.

It felt like I don’t deserve to be spoiled like that.

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But I do. You do.

We all deserve to treated nicely and be pampered once in a while.
When life keeps us busy and drains all energy from us – we all deserve some space for rest and service and restoration. Even more so, we need the permission to let go and accept the gifts all around us. 
They might be a week in some beautiful place.
They might be a small act of service that someone does for us.
They might be a day off when we allow ourselves to fully rest.
They might be a word of encouragement, a good night’s sleep, a healthy meal with friends.
The One who made us, the One who knows all and sees all,  has offered us life in abundance – and it’s all-inclusive. 

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Full Disclosure: The week was balm to my soul. 
Sleeping without an alarm clock.
Delicious food.
Basking in the sun.
Reading without a time limit.
Overcoming my fear of water (that’s a whole different story to share!).
Spending the day without an agenda.

What was the best vacation you’ve had so far?
What will your next vacation look like? 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

Flying Lessons

They say Third Culture Kids fly before they walk.

I wasn’t even two years old and could barely walk when my parents took me on my first flight to Crete. It was the first of many journeys around the globe and the beginning of a lifetime of memories.

A plane ride can change everything. You board the plane in one coutnry and get off in a totally different world. many TCKs would probably agree that this doesn’t come wihtout baggage. Befoer airplanes were invented, people spent weeks and months on ships to get from one place to another, and maybe that was actually a good idea. While you were traveling, your heart and soul had time to catch up with your body. Today we jump between continents and cultures so quickly that we sometimes lose ourselves along the way.

Yet.
I can’t help but travel.

Whenever I’m at the airport – even just to pick someone up – there’s this tingling sensation inside of me, as if a spell begged to fly away.

Flights take me to other countries and open up the world to me.
They’re the first key to unlock someone else’s culture and story.
Flights challenge me to step outside my own bubble and discover that the world is bigger, more diverse and colorful than what I see around me. They call into question what I’ve known about myself and others. They provide vast opportunities to learn and to grow.
Flights connect me to dear friends I had to leave behind, they serve as a conduit to seemingly lost parts of my own self.
Flights might never fully cure my wanderlust, but they give me a glimpse of what could be.

Do you enjoy flying? What have you learned from traveling?


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

A Third Culture Kid’s Soul

There are two souls in this TCK heart of mine.

I want to explore this beautiful world, marvel at nature’s wonders, discover all the richness it has to offer.
I want to go further and wider, see and smell and taste things I have not encountered before.
I want to meet people who are different from myself, listen to their stories and learn something new.
I don’t want to go somewhere twice because there is still so much more to explore.

I want to stay in one place and dig into its soil, inspect its little quirks and hidden treasures.
I want to go deeper and longer, see and smell and taste things that are familiar and remind me of home.
I want to build connection with people and see them develop into friendships, I want to experience belonging.
I want to know what it feels like to come home to a place and people and be fully myself. 

Two souls rage inside of me.
Telling me to go.
Begging me to return and stay.

As a TCK, I roam the globe in search of adventure, discovery and wonder.
I get lost in different cultures, smells and friendships.
I leave pieces of myself behind whenever I have to say goodbye.
And then I travel to find them again.

People like us have pieces of ourselves scattered across this globe – and travel gives us access to our complete selves. 

Quote from the excellent keynote presentation by Sean Ghazi at the Families in Global Transition Conference 2018 in The Hague

Any other Third Culture Kids who can relate?
How do you deal with this battle inside of you? 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

 

 

 

 

It’s Different Than You Think

Since I have lived in many different places, it happened quite a few times that people have asked me which of my homes is the best.
How can I even compare them? Each country and culture is so unique, all of them have their strengths and challenges, none is superior to the other.

“There is no better or worse. There is just different. In the most wonderful way.”

Every day we are surrounded by all kinds of people.
If I just glance around the people walking on the street, the students in my classroom, the friends I hang out with – I see diversity.
Our social media channels and political conversations are full of debates on how to create community in our diversity. There are too many voices that say some are better than others, there are too many boxes we sort each other in, there is too deep fear of the other that ultimately separates us from ourselves.

But what if we changed perspective for a moment?
What if we saw the people around us not as “the other”, but as mirrors of ourselves? What if we gave them the chance to reveal a little more to us about the world and what it means to be human?
What if we allowed each other to share a glimpse of the eternal together?

If we look closer, we are more connected than we think.
We are unique in our lives, characters and talents.
Each of our stories deserves to be told and heard.

There’s no better or worse.
We’re just different.
In the most wonderful way.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.
Cover Photo: Pujohn Das on Unsplash