Welcome to a three part series all about married Third Culture Kids and how their Third Culture affects their relationship. For our first interview, I really wanted to hear from my blogger friend Suzanne who writes the most authentic, thought-provoking pieces on her life as a mother, a foster parent, and a missionary kid from Niger over at www.suzannehines.org. She very graciously offered to share a bit about what it was like to be a married TCK and some of their dynamics related to the Third Culture.
Over to you, Suzanne! Tell me a bit about your upbringing and how you met your spouse.
I was raised as a missionary kid in Niger, West Africa. Although I was born in the United States when my family was on furlough, we returned to Niger when I was just 3 months old. My parents were church planters so we lived in a very rural village for most of my childhood and then when I hit junior high age, I went to boarding school in a nearby city. After graduating from high school in Niger, I moved back to the US to attend college. I met my husband Theo there in a random biology study session. We thought we had absolutely nothing in common, but we soon found out that his parents were medical missionaries and had been to Niger several times for medical missions trips (Cue: It’s a small world after all….). We were married and have since stayed in the area of our college. My husband is working towards becoming a city police officer and I am a stay at home mom. We are also foster parents.
How long have you and Theo been married?
We will be married 5 years in May
How has your relationship been impacted by its cross-cultural nature?
How HASN’T it? Ha! I’d say the main way our relationship is impacted is how differently we face our culture. Since both of us have cross-cultural backgrounds, we tend to live less materialistically and have a much broader worldview. Especially at the beginning of the marriage, we often had some difficulties understanding what the other person valued so much and why.
Tell me about a time you had a cross-cultural misunderstanding or differences in opinions. How did you work it out?
We often disagree politically! Since I grew up overseas, I tend to have a more humanitarian heart, and he tends to have a more patriotic heart. Without going into too much detail on opinions here, you can see how some problems might pop up into our discussions! Honestly, this will probably be an ongoing thing, but it is SO important to listen AND hear. I always need to remember that my opinion might not be right, and I can respect and value my husband’s opinions, too.
What has been the best part about being married to a monocultural spouse?
Honestly, the best part is that God has a much greater plan than I ever did. I always thought I would marry another TCK but God always knows better. I NEVER would have imagined my life in Dayton, Ohio instead of going back overseas. But God clearly has directed our paths to each other and to our ministry here in the US.
Alright, then what has been one of the greatest challenges about being married to a monocultural spouse? 🙂
Sometimes we are misunderstanding things and we don’t even understand that it’s a misunderstanding. For example, I have always struggled with eye contact because in Niger it is extremely disrespectful to make eye contact with someone you are apologizing to or someone that you respect. Of course, in the US it’s seen as rude to NOT make eye contact. So in my mind I’m respecting him by not making eye contact while he thinks I’m disrespecting him by not making eye contact. And we didn’t even know that we needed to have that conversation to explain things.
How do you keep your cross-cultural marriage from being a constant fight of my upbringing vs. yours?
I think that we both see the value in our upbringings. We see what our parents did a really great job of and we also see things that both our parents could have done better. In some ways, we then implement those things and create the best of both worlds! I think that we both value and respect the way the other was raised and just realize that they are not really comparable! We were raised in two different worlds and we now have the chance to bring the best of both of those worlds to the table!
Did you intentionally set out to marry a Third Culture Kid?
I did! I always thought I would marry another TCK! There is just that automatic understanding and connection that we have. When I met Theo, I was surprised that I was even interested in an “American” boy! Ha! It was so fun to get to meet his family and even though he doesn’t remember living in Africa when he was young, his family did and still raised him with many of the same values.
Would you say your marriage is easier given that you both come from traveling families?
It makes things so much easier! His parents “get it” and my parents “get it” and it is so wonderful having both sides of the family share the same values! I also think that we tend to have a different mindset that most of our American culture, and it helps so much that we tend to think the same way about valuing relationships over things.
Do you have any kids? How does your cross-cultural marriage affect them?
We do! We have a 2.5 year old daughter, Tera (named after the village I lived in in Niger), and a 6 month old son named Hezekiah. We are also foster parents and had one foster daughter for nine months in between our two kiddos (3 babies in 2 years!). As I mentioned above, I think that we tend to live less materialistically and value relationships more because of our cross-cultural experiences. This obviously overflows onto our children and I have already seen them displaying these values. I always joke that my daughter has my African blood in her because I cannot get her keep on any type of shoes at any time!
Which parts of your TCK experience are you hoping not to reciprocate in the lives of your little ones? Or, are you intentionally setting out to create little TCKs?
Honestly, I wish I was doing more. I wish that I was able to give my kids the literal world and a new/additional culture. Sometimes I feel so stuck in suburbia, where my children see people who look and behave just like them 90% of the time.
However, our values are different and we hope that we are living that out in our lives and encouraging our children to do the same. Part of this certainly plays out in us being foster parents and allowing children into our home when most of our American culture deems this “unsafe” “risky” or even “foolish”.
I want to raise my children to value people of other cultures and religions, and to see them as people and not as news articles or stereotypes. I want my children to learn another language and be able to travel. I want my children to value their family and friends over making money and climbing the ladder of “success”. I want my children to run barefoot and spend all summer without running water and electricity. I want my children to learn how to cook from scratch and know how to make it from airport entrance to the airplane before they are three.
While I want all these things for my children, it is always a constant struggle. Right now I’m trying to keep the dear ones alive and sometimes that means McDonalds instead of frying up my own hamburgers. Its certainly a balance and I am not a perfect mother, but I am working on it.
What is one great way for a spouse from a monocultural background to better understand his TCK spouse?
One thing I HIGHLY recommend is for the couple to take a trip to the place the TCK grew up. I took my then boyfriend Theo to Niger and after that trip he told me that he was able to understand me so much better. He was able to see where I lived, hear the language, smell the dust and see why I was so rooted in my expatriate culture as well as my own. He actually proposed to me on that trip and I still cry to this day just thinking of how special it was to me that he chose my “home” as the place of our engagement. This trip was also very healing for me as I was able to officially say goodbye on my own terms. When I left after graduating high school it felt like I was being dragged out of Niger kicking and screaming. even though I knew it was just life happening.
What is your best success tip for marriages like yours not to only survive but thrive?
I think this would apply to any marriage, but communication! We always struggle with saying that we are upset, but don’t explain why. Explaining why can smooth over a lot of misunderstandings! We enjoy making a point of carving out intentional time together…one of our favorite things to do is to play games that ask questions (the game Table Topics is great for this!) of each other such as “What are three things your parents did right and one thing they did wrong?” or “What is one job that would HATE to have?”, etc. These are super simple and fun but really open up communication, and especially from a cross-cultural perspective, it is so valuable to hear the other spouse’s answers!
What are some recommendations you have for young people who would like to be in a relationship with a TCK? Or tips for TCKs who would like to be in a relationship with a person from a monocultural background?
Honestly, go into it knowing that you are very different. Some of the differences will be obvious, but some will be subtle. Be willing to dig and ask questions and learn more about each other. The TCK needs to be careful to not be arrogant and “know it all”, and the monocultural person needs to be willing to broaden their horizons a little bit. Again- if you can visit the TCK “stomping grounds” together, it will be an incredible building block in the relationship.
We know you’re an amazing blogger. Do you have a blog post about missionary life in Niger to share with us?
My most popular blog post of 2016 was written for missionary Moms, and sums up a lot of what I talked about in here: http://www.suzannehines.org/2016/07/21/dear-missionary-mom/
Thank you so much Suzanne for all the time you took away from your adorable family to share your experience with other Third Culture Kids!
Hey, are you a Third Culture Kid in love, married TCKs or a brave monoculturals married to a TCK? I am collecting some data for a workshop I am hosting for global caregivers on how TCKs can have great marriages. I’d be really grateful if you could fill out this little survey!