I had the privilege of doing an hour-long (!) interview with some friends of mine, an ATCK Christian couple: Luke & Wendy. I had so much fun talking to them… listening to their stories about identity, belonging, love and truth… This is the first part of a 3 or 4 (I still don’t know) part series that I will be releasing over several weeks. Have fun reading!
Breanne: Thank you so much for letting me interview you for my blog! I wanted to ask both of you to tell your individual stories and your very unique love story if that’s ok.
Wendy: Luke, do you want to go first with your individual TCK story?
Luke: Yeah, well, I was born in the States, but when I was two years old, my family moved to Macedonia. My parents served in the church there, and we lived there for eight years. After that, we spent a year in the States in Ohio, and then we moved to Prague, Czech Republic, and we were there for eight years again. After that, I went to college in the states, and my family moved back to the States temporarily. Then my parents moved back to Macedonia. I stayed in Indiana, where I was going to college. And then, well, I actually crossed my life with Wendy’s and ended up moving to Istanbul. So that’s like a brief synopsis of where I lived.
In general, I think my reaction to life as a Third Culture Kid has been mostly one of going with the flow. My parents were very considerate of us kids. They definitely wanted our input and wanted us to feel like we were heard, which was really great. But for the most part, I just kind of went with whatever… *haha* was going on.
When we moved away from Macedonia for the first time, I was young enough to not really understand what was going on. But I was old enough to trust my parents to do something good. But it wasn’t something I remember honestly, like the moving part. Like precisely right when we moved, I don’t actually remember much of that, which is kind of interesting.
Breanne: Yeah, ‘cause you think that would be the part you would remember the most.
Luke: Yeah, maybe it was traumatic or something, I don’t know. *haha* No, I don’t think it was that bad.
Anyway, it was a lot of exploring the new space that I found myself in, but kind of on my own. I sort of developed a kind of outsider perspective wherever I went. I kind of had my own little world that I lived in for the first few months of being in a new space, maybe a couple of years, who knows?
But no matter where I moved, after a while, God always blessed me with friends. So I could find at least one or two people that I felt welcomed by and sort of make a life there, with those friendships, which is really a blessing.
Breanne: Luke, I was reading your guys’ story on Wondering Optimist, Wendy’s website. I remember hearing something about you wanting to be as American as possible during your college years. I think it would be fascinating to hear more about that.
Luke: Moving to America was different from every other time I moved. I first moved to America when I was ten. I was too young to really…
Breanne: Everything’s an adventure when you’re ten!
Luke: Yeah, but when I moved to college, I sort of experienced the States as a place where I was expected to fit in more than I actually felt that I could. So I kind of tried to work with that. Like I said, I tried to go with the flow. And the flow was expecting me to be American. I didn’t really mind that at the time. Honestly, I thought it was interesting because I never really knew or could be American until I tried it.
Wendy: Did you succeed?
Luke: I don’t really think I succeeded *haha*
Luke: Well, I succeeded in some ways. I made friends there and identified with people about things that weren’t just about being a TCK, you know? So in that way, I succeeded. But that wasn’t necessarily an American aspect of me. It was just identifying with people as individuals.
But I always sort of felt like I was missing something. And I think that was because I was pushing my past away, in my mind. Thinking, “Ok, that was part of my life that I need to move on from.” In thinking that way, I sort of stabbed myself in the foot, as it were because it stopped me from feeling fully home wherever I was. Once I embraced that I am a TCK again and that it is actually significant and good, it helped to move forward with my desires… to figure out what I actually want. ‘Cause being a TCK affects the things I want.
Breanne: Thank you! That’s awesome. Your turn Wendy…
Wendy: Alright! My story is quite similar to Luke’s. I was born in a tiny town in Illinois called Winfield. My dad was going through seminary at the time, and my mom worked for a proofreading company. When I was two, and my brother was less than one, we moved to Ukraine. It was Donetsk Ukraine, as in the Eastern side of Ukraine, so very Russian. It was right after the Iron Curtain came down, so right after the Soviet Union disintegrated. My parents served in the church in Ukraine. My father worked as a pastor and in the seminary. We lived there for four years until my brother Jackson began to struggle with asthma. It really became clear that it wasn’t the right place for him and his health. So we went back to the States for one year. And then to Austria for a year. Lastly, we moved to the Czech Republic. It was like four countries and four schools and four different languages in four years. I was six when we left Ukraine. My first grade year in the States was in a private Christian and super-white school. And then we moved to Austria, Vienna, and I went to my first Christian International school. It was my first International school experience, and it was the best. It was there, in second grade, that I discovered I was actually an extrovert. Before that, I was just in my own little world… I remember I felt really distant in Ukraine and the States. When I moved to second grade in this International School, I was like, “Oh my gosh, everyone is different, and it’s ok that I am different from all these people. I don’t need to fit in because no one fits in.” It was so freeing. I made friends with this guy from Kenya named Tumani, and we would play soccer together. It was such a great year. I felt accepted for exactly who I felt I wanted to be. Very liberating.
Then we moved to Prague, and I started going to this British International School. That actually took me back into my own little world somewhat because there were a particular culture and a certain way of being… It was mostly for business kids; they were primarily British, I didn’t really fit in. It was a time of a bit of hardship, I guess? That was just a different genre of a TCK that I hadn’t interacted with yet, and a lot of them weren’t believers. That pushed me into a different headspace, and it was hard not to fit in with that; they were into some dark stuff as well. That was my first experience of like, “Oh, I need to be careful with what I hang out around. I shouldn’t be watching these movies.” It was just kind of dark. I guess that was when I needed to choose not to fit in, consciously, which was different. Because as a TCK, you automatically just want to adapt, at least I do. In a way, I’ve always wanted to adapt, but I never remember actually adapting. I was always like, “but I am my own person. I am Wendy, and no one else is.” I really embraced the “I am different from you” kind of mentality.
And so we switched schools to a Christian international School, which Luke joined later. I think my story is more complicated in some ways. The lack of control I felt I dealt with in some negative ways. I think I struggled a lot with anxiety and depression, which resulted from not feeling in control. Some expat families are rooted where they are, but our family wasn’t like that. Every year they’d be like, “We’ll see, we’ll see”… It gave me an uncertain feeling of “Do I learn Czech, do I not? I don’t know. What’ll happen? I hope I don’t leave my friends”. I think I felt out of control. I do think I suffered from the effects of those sorts of things.
Going to college, I went to college after working on my mental health for a long time, which helped me stay ok and process. And unlike Luke, I embraced my TCK-ness in college. I joined the intercultural organization. I wanted to be involved with TCKs and find internationals. I really made an effort to get to know multicultural people. I think I felt most at home in a diverse community.
The first two years of college were really hard. After that, however, I started to realize that everyone had a really complex story. There were so many other ways of finding diversity and different perspectives. That really kept me sane in college. I was blessed by rooming with a foster kid and hearing her story, and having a bunch of friends who were Vietnamese… I hadn’t met many people who were Vietnamese.
When college was coming to an end, I had studied abroad in Italy. Then after that, I came to Turkey to visit my parents in Istanbul. This was like my junior year of college. I remember thinking, “I think I could live here. I really like Istanbul.” And I really liked Italy as well. I thought to myself, “Man, America’s cool, but I really do feel more at home here, on this side of the world.
Some TCKs are like, I’ve moved, I don’t want to anymore, I want to settle down and put down roots. I had the opposite. I want to keep being a nomad, totally up to that hippie life; let’s go!.. Everyone at college knew me as the European cultured hippie Wendy who liked art and wanted to travel the world again. That was kind of my identity already. I just embraced that.
After college, I backpacked through Europe to Istanbul, and I started my life here. And yeah, I think I will be connected to the international community my entire life. It’s so much a part of who I am… feeling more like a global citizen than an American citizen. My identity is nuanced. More and more people than we realize have that. Whether they have a passport or not. They can be multicultural, multiethnic in some way.
Come back this next weekend for the Part 2: A Long Lost Love!
Credits to @istanbul.lovestory on Instagram for the picture