A Sense of Place and Purpose

Fernweh (German) – Wanderlust, a craving to travel, being homesick for a place you’ve never been

I am what you would call a Third Culture Kid (TCK), someone who sort of belongs, but can never completely belong in either the country they grew up in or the country they are “from”. As a member of this tribe of misfits, my childhood consisted of getting to travel the world, being stared at, pretending to know who The Spice Girls were, and feigning excitement when someone wanted to hear the exotic white boy speak Japanese. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate the value of living between two worlds enough.

As an adult, the symptoms of my incurable condition include compulsive travel, speaking 3.5 languages and having 4 different jobs at once because I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. My stories usually start with “when I lived in Kenya” or “that time when I was studying abroad in Egypt” and end with something I probably shouldn’t have done but I’m glad I did anyway. Now I love the perspective I’ve gained from my experiences and wouldn’t trade them for anything.

However, I do often think about how nice it would be to have a place called home. I could easily answer the question, “where are you from?” without any caveats, explanations or long stories. I wouldn’t feel like the grass was greener somewhere else. I wouldn’t miss people on the other side of the world that I can’t spend time with for the forseeable future. I guess people always want what they can’t have though.

I just watched a Netflix documentary on Laura Dekker who at 16 became the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone. She has an interesting quote in the film when someone asks her where she is from. It goes something like this. Shopkeeper: “So you’re Dutch?” Laura: “Yeah… well no. I don’t really have a home. Home to me is Guppy” (her sailboat).

I think Guppy was home to her because it signified purpose, a goal, a plan: In her case sailing around the world. I’m finding that it doesn’t matter as much where I live; it’s more important to have a compelling reason to live. That is what provides contentment and joy and a fulfilling life. In Kenya, people would often ask me if I were homesick. I would say yes, but more for Japan than America. You can imagine their perplexed looks. While that was true, I also have to be intentional to live wherever I am. Because I have lived in other places, when things get tough my temptation is to imagine myself somewhere else. Somehow I always leave out the messy stuff. No place can solve people’s problems or magically make us happier, there is no place that will fulfill all your desires and dreams. Instead, building community and living purposefully make life worth living – wherever it is.

Those are just some of the things I’m working through and learning about myself right now. Feeling nostalgic, I posted some pictures of my family I have all over the world.

Great Friends all over the World

My Japanese family

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A Throwback from Kenya

Great Friends from College!

These people were my college family

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13 thoughts on “A Sense of Place and Purpose

  1. Great post.

    I’m not a third-culture kid, but I have spent the last decade working abroad in different countries, so I can identify with the feeling of leaving something of yourself behind wherever you have lived.

  2. Good post and a good explanation of a TCK! I follow you wherever you go and wonder if you might someday settle in one of these countries and see long term results because of the gifts of discipleship, building relationships, sharing your faith. You are definitely an amazing man of God.

  3. This was really interesting to read, as I’m actually currently having an inner-struggle over whether or not to leave Japan. I’ve also done a lot of traveling, and am constantly moving around and never in one place for too long. There’s so many factors to take into account, and you are completely right that moving to a new place will not necessarily make you more happy, as every place does come with its own unique challenges.

    • That’s true. I’m learning that a lot of what makes home is the people and the reason you are there, especially if you have traveled/lived in a lot of places

  4. I really like how you write — it almost seems like I could hear you narrating, and I can imagine when you try to explain to crumpled faces why it’s a bit tricky to answer “Where-are-you-from?” question. It takes me a few seconds before I could answer the same question; I love the home I grew up in (the Philippines), but I also feel like I learned a lot of values from where I’m living now (Singapore).

  5. I didn’t even know the term TCK existed so it was really interesting to read your take on it. I can relate to this idea of existing in between homes and belonging to more than one place. Great post!

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