At seven years old, I experienced a mind-bending crisis of identity. There I sat, watching the LA Olympics on a small black and white TV, as boxers from the United States and South Korea took the ring and began pounding one another senseless in mutual pursuit of gold and glory. The official result of that match? I have no idea. I was too preoccupied, furiously wondering if I fully belonged anywhere in this world.
Born in Seoul to foreign missionary parents, I grew up a Third Culture Kid (TCK), part of an international community, attending a school with students from over fifty different nations. Experiencing myself “at-home” as a foreigner in South Korea and as a “hidden immigrant” when visiting my passport country, the United States, it’s not uncommon for me to find myself wondering to this day, “What is going on here?”
One way to look at that question would be to call it an anxiety-laced problem demanding quick resolution. Honestly, I’ve tried traveling that road, and I found the quality of adventure there quite lacking. However, as one of my favorite TCK authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, is known to have written, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Thusly, I found myself some years ago wandering to Seattle, stumbling through the doorway of a school that seemed to hold questions in an entirely different light.
During my counseling psychology studies at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, I was challenged to embrace genuine questions more deeply and cultivate a spirit of honest curiosity that could be generative in an ongoing way. Applied to my own emotionally-charged questions, this capacity to honor them more fully has come to serve me well, both personally and professionally, as I continue to extend and receive care for that seven-year-old me, full of Olympic-sized panic, and his many kindred spirits that I continue to meet in Third Culture Kids of all ages.
While in graduate school, I kept strong ties to the international TCK community. Having served for two years as the Director of Child and Family Support Services with Interaction International, I continue to help facilitate Transition Seminars for TCKs moving to North America, and I like offering talks and workshops on the TCK experience. I get to meet with TCKs in my daily work as a mental health therapist in private practice, helping them consider deep questions of cultural identity, grief, loss, and the experience of what it’s been like to grow up “in-between.”
In addition to the “in-between” nature of my upbringing, my training and profession ask me to routinely consider another kind of in-between as well. Listening together to all manners of suffering and joy, I am mindful to wonder what is going on within another, within myself, and between the two of us as we work together. Given my background, I have strong bias that both realms of in-between are deeply meaningful. And I’ve come to enjoy wondering with others, “What is going on here?” as a path toward making a home for self and others in the substantive in-between.