Third Culture Kids find a place to belong

OKLAHOMA CITY – ANDlex Cash didn’t fit in anywhere.

Cash, 22, primarily grew up in Uganda, where his parents were missionaries. He traveled back and forth between Africa and the United States. He was not Ugandan, but neither was he American by culture, leaving him to ask the question, “Who am I?”

“Because of that, there’s also a loss of identity,” said Cash, a senior at Oklahoma Christian University.

Alex Cash

Like Cash, Americans who grow up in a different culture and return to the US often struggle to find a place to belong. But there is a place for them to meet and discover fellowship: It’s called the Global Reunion.

The weeklong summer and weekend-long winter event, held at Oklahoma Christian, welcomes Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and Third Culture Adults (TCAs) from around the world.

They are given tools for reentry into the US and cross-cultural living.

The recent 16th annual Global Reunion hosted 120 participants representing 42 countries. The campers were split into three groups: ages 5-12, teens to young adults, and parents.

Lost in the transitions

Going back and forth between countries, one can lose friends, family, status and self-identity as well as a sense of place.

Global Reunion co-director and co-founder Kent Hartman, a former missionary to Australia, knows this all too well.

Hartman

Kent Hartman

“For those of us who’ve done missions, you may have been the person that was sought out by other people for advice,” said Hartman, now Oklahoma Christian’s missionary in residence. “You come back here, and nobody even knows you. (They) have no idea of ​​what you’ve done. ”

These were struggles Hartman, whose family served in Sydney from 1983 to 2000, had to learn to sort through. That was not a quick process. But he is now equipped to make that process easier for others.

“And all of that takes time,” Hartman said. “Sometimes, it takes time and people giving you tools – like we give here at the camp – to help learn how to transition. So that’s what it’s about. ”

Finding a safe place

Global Reunion began 16 years ago when some of the camp’s organizers were trying to adjust in the US after returning from missionary work.

“I needed a safe place.”

Former missionary Cherry Hart and her family had returned to America after 18 years in South Africa. They were unprepared for the feelings that awaited them. Hart struggled to find people she thought could understand her.

“I needed a safe place,” Hart said. “So I happened to get together with another missionary family who had returned just slightly before we had. And when we started comparing our stories, we realized that there were some feelings that we had in common, and it was so helpful for us both just to realize that we weren’t alone. ”

Global Reunion campers gather for a devotional at Oklahoma Christian.

Global Reunion campers gather for a devotional at Oklahoma Christian.

Kent Hartman’s wife, Nancy Hartman, sought the collaboration of former missionaries Dale Hawley and Dottie Schulz to organize the first Global Reunion in 2006. Hart was happy to help. Her husband, Clay, now serves as the international minister for the Memorial Road Church of Christ, next to the Oklahoma Christian campus.

“The teen TCKs said to us, ‘Our parents are a mess. Can you do something for them? ‘”

The camp was originally for teens. Not until after year two did some teens talk with Hartman and the other organizers.

“The teen TCKs said to us, ‘Our parents are a mess. Can you do something for them? They need help, ‘”Hartman said, tears brimming in his eyes.

So Global Reunion became a place for parents as well.

“The transitions are not just hard for the kids,” Hartman said. “It’s the whole family.”

An ‘unconscious bond’

Gabriel Jones, 19, grew up in Texas before moving to Uganda as a teen.

He returned to the US with only two months to adjust before starting college at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., Last year. He said it was a culture shock.

At Global Reunion, Jones discovered others had similar experiences with their own transitions.

“Because we have those, it’s like an unconscious bond,” Jones said. “You can just talk to someone. You can become their best friend so quickly. It’s really crazy how many people I’ve talked to, and how many people I just immediately connected with, because of those shared experiences that we didn’t even know we shared. ”

With a flag in hand, Gabriel Jones walks down the Thelma Gaylord Forum steps at Oklahoma Christian University.

With a flag in hand, Gabriel Jones walks down the Thelma Gaylord Forum steps at Oklahoma Christian University.

Kylie Pitman, 18, has been coming to Global Reunion for eight years, having started out in the kids camp. The camper said everyone automatically feels like family and knows they have all been through the same awkward experience.

“We all have a similar understanding of what it means to have multiple cultures.”

“And so when you come here, it’s just like, ‘Wow, I can finally just be myself,'” said Pitman, an Oklahoma Christian sophomore.

Cash, who first attended Global Reunion in 2015 and is now a facilitator, said the campers may have different life details, but they have the same experience.

“We all have a similar understanding of what it means to have multiple cultures.”

Saying goodbye, again

Global Reunion hosted a flag ceremony to close out the week. Kids, teens and young adults proudly walked with flagpoles in hand in Oklahoma Christian’s Thelma Gaylord Forum, showcasing the countries represented.

Global Reunion leaders encouraged campers to say proper goodbyes, something some of them had to do when they left countries thousands of miles away.

As the campers stood in their designated spots, the ceremony ended with the singing of “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” and a closing prayer.

Global Reunion leaders encouraged campers to say proper goodbyes, something some of them had to do when they left countries thousands of miles away.

Moments later, the forum was full of people hugging, taking pictures and shedding tears.

Filed under: Culture Features Global Reunion International missionaries and culture shock missionary children missionary kids National News People Third Culture Kids Top Stories

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