What country are you from?” “Are you Hawaiian?”
“Where is your accent from?”
These are some of the questions I was asked while selling books door to door for my scholarship in Michigan. I laugh about these encounters. Even though Michigan is my birth state (no, I am not Hawaiian), the vibes I gave told my inquirer otherwise. And they were right; I am different. I’m a third-culture kid—someone who is a mixture of two or more cultural perspectives.
Six years of my teen life were spent in a remote village of Papua New Guinea. I will always look back with fondness on my experiences there. I love the lush green terrain, the simplicity of life and my free-spirited friends. It was in my Kotale bedroom that the words of the Bible started popping out as God spoke directly to me. My love for people grew as I formed a perspective of service while praying for my new friends to come to Jesus.
When I was 18 years old, I prepared to return to the United States to attend Andrews University. Although I usually enjoyed going back to the States during furloughs, this return was different. The U.S. was no longer my comfort zone like it was in my childhood. Various anxious thoughts of the unknown whirled through my mind. Although I was excited to move on to the next stage of my life, I worried about leaving behind the mission field. Would my spiritual life decline? Would I continue to allow Jesus to make me more like Him? Or would I become distracted by a life centered on academics and worldly successes? These thoughts caused me to pray more earnestly than ever for God’s guidance.
Nervously, I attended freshman orientation at Andrews University. “If it is Your will for me to be here,” I prayed, “please give me a group of friends that will lift me heavenward.” God answered that prayer abundantly. On my first Friday night at Andrews University, a new friend invited me to a small vespers service where I received the spiritual refreshment I desired. This service introduced me to a group of friends from around the world who were passionate about studying the Bible and serving Christ. He gave me a roommate who enjoyed engaging in deep conversations (that was important to me). He also gave me a church family who invited me for Sabbath lunches and afternoon group activities in nature.
The biggest struggle of my transition was shifting my thought pattern from a PNG teenager to an American young adult. While in PNG, I tried to understand and think like my friends who lived in bush houses and struggled to get food from the land around them. I did not have the context of a civilized society to teach me how I should think, talk and live as an American young adult professional. This didn’t make things easy in school. Praise God I passed the majority of my classes. However, in the one class I needed to earn at least a B grade, I got a B-. My confidence was very low and I questioned why all my hard work didn’t pay off with the A I had hoped for. I had to repeat the class, but God showed me that He truly can make all things work together for good. Just like anyone, I have weaknesses. But when I rely on Him, any challenge can make me stronger. I am now working as a registered dietitian and happily married to a man I may not have married if I hadn’t stayed another year to repeat that class!
Yes, being a third-culture kid can be tough at times, but who doesn’t have challenges? Each difficulty is an invitation to humble ourselves under the hand of God. In the end, the blessings are much bigger than the trials, and I wouldn’t have chosen my life to be any different!