Thursday, December 9, 2010

In-Between Cultures

Has it really been two months?!?! Where has the time gone? I will take time later on to update you on the happenings of our lives, but for now I want to talk about something that has been on my heart and mind.

I am a "third culture kid." Wikipedia defines a third culture kid as "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture." The entry in Wikipedia also goes on to say, "TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their own country."

I've always known I was different. I have always felt like I didn't fit in. I lived the first five years of my life in Bombay, India, and then moved to Henderson, Tennessee, a town where most people have never even crossed the state line. I never watched Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. We didn't even have a TV in India. I started school when I was two, and by the time I was five, I could speak at least 4 languages. I was the only "white" girl (I'm counting my mom as a woman) in a city of 14 million. I ate with my hands, used a "squatty potty," and wore salvars. I carried a "tiffin" to school, wore bhindis, and drank coffee - all before age five. This was life. This was home. This was all I knew.

When we moved to the States, I would ask when we were going home. America was not home for me. I might have looked like everyone else, but in my five year old mind, this did not even register. I was not like these people.

But over the years, I became really good at being a chameleon. I started dressing, talking, eating and acting like the other children around me. I stopped talking about India because it caused the other kids to think I was weird. I just wanted to blend in - to feel like I belonged. I have done such a good job of this since I was five years old that, often, people forget that I really am different.

Just a few weeks ago, I was talking to someone and I said that I "grew up" in India. They sarcastically commented that five years is not "growing up" somewhere. I beg to differ. Not only are the first five years of your life extremely formative, but also, if spending two weeks in a foreign country can change your life, imagine what five years would do. It has an exponentially greater impact. I have lived in America for about 20 years, but a part of me will always be Indian - even though I can no longer speak the language; even though I don't have any Indian blood running in my veins; and even though I look and talk and act American. I am not American. I am not Indian. I am just Kris. I used to be ashamed of the fact that I never felt like I fit in. Now I am beginning to realize that I am a beautiful mixture of cultures, that I have understanding of the world beyond my years, and that I am blessed beyond measure. I am a Third Culture Kid.

Having said that, I want all of you to understand something. It seems silly, but I realize, after a year and a half, that people judge me because I have a nose ring. They think I am "rebellious." I think some unconsciously believe that I am not as good of a Christian because I have a piercing in my nose. It sounds so ridiculous, but that is how I am often treated by American "Christians." Nose rings are not American, nor are they a contemporary act of rebellion. Nose rings have been around for a long time and have a much deeper meaning than appearances or "just trying to be different." First of all, if you read in Genesis 22, the story of Isaac and Rebekah, you will see that a nose ring was given to Rebekah as an engagement gift from her future husband. In India (my first culture), a nose ring was originally used as a symbol of marriage - kind of like an engagement ring or wedding band in the US. It would only make sense for a girl from the Indian culture to desire a nose ring when she gets married. And just as a side note, for those who still think that I just want to get attention and rebel, I was 24 years old when I got my nose ring - and I still asked my parents permission!!

This is one of the many examples that I could bring up to describe how I am different, and how that often leads to being misunderstood or judged unfairly. Not only as a Third Culture Kid, but as a human and a Christian, I want to encourage you to see past the visible. A person is a knit-together quilt made up of culture, beliefs, trials, joys, and so much more. We each have a soul. We are each loved by our Creator. Take the time to understand who people are and where they come from before you make judgements about their character.


  1. Nice post, Kris! It's been too long since you've written. I hope that you and Michael have a merry Christmas and a happy holiday season! (And, for the record, I've tried to get Rebecca to get a nose ring and she won't do it.)

  2. Kris, it is great to see you blogging again. Thanks for being transparent.

    You have a nose ring? All the time I have been around you and Michael, I never noticed! It is sad that others would judge you without knowing you, but that is their problem.

    I suspect your recent time in China has heightened your Third Culture Kid senses. Be true to who God calls you to be. He has blessed you with extra experiences to draw from in becoming "all things to all men that you might by all means save some."

    Keep on keeping on!

  3. Amen Sista friend. Who knew a nose ring would cause people to be so critical

  4. For real! I love you and your third culture, and I'm glad you embrace it!

  5. What a great post!! I always enjoy reading your posts even if they are few and far between, they always have great meaning!! I have realized how hard it can be to blend cultures just within the last few months. I'm sure I still have lots to learn in order to get that "American" way out of my head. I just pray that all people will realize that just because it isn't the way they would do it doesn't mean it's wrong (of course if it doesn't go against God's word).

  6. Bombay is very, very nice this time of year! You are so cool, Kris.

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