Club Lets Third Culture Kids Share Experiences

A group of just over thirty college students sits in chairs in a wide circle. One girl stands in the middle, her forehead furrowed in thought. The rest of the group leans forward eagerly as they wait for her to speak. The room is so silent a pin drop could be heard, providing a stark contrast to the breathless anticipation filling the air.

The game, called Never Have I Ever, is a simple variation of a common college drinking game. Like Musical Chairs, there are enough seats for all the players minus one. The remaining person stands in the middle and names something they have never done. Rather than taking a drink as is the typical version, any player who has done the named action must immediately get up and find a new seat. At the same time, the player in the middle also attempts to steal a vacated chair. When the smoke finally clears, whoever is left without a seat has to be in the middle for the next round.

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

“Never have I ever driven a car,” the girl in the middle finally says.

Immediately there comes a rush of movement. Students all around the room leap from their seats and begin to dash about the circle trying to claim a new one. The center of the ring of chairs becomes a storm of excited yells, flailing limbs and near collisions as students scramble for a new place to sit. One boy grabs another’s shirt and hauls him backward as they both wrestle for the same empty seat. Another young man has his chair stolen right from under him as a squealing girl dives into it before he can sit down. It is hard to watch the chaos and not laugh.

In spite of the mass uprising, about half of the students in the group are still sitting in silent indication that they too have never driven a car. The number of students still sitting proves surprising considering their ages. Most students their age in the United States have been driving for several years. But many of these students grew up outside the United States. They are part of a very specific demographic known as third culture kids (TCKs).

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

TCKs are people who grew up in more than one culture and therefore possess their own unique blend of cultures. This particular group of TCKs has gathered together for the first official event hosted by the Liberty University club Mu Kappa, a club that targets TCKs and specifically missionary kids. This is the first time such a club has ever existed on Liberty University’s campus.

Jessika Sams, the co-president of Mu Kappa, grew up in multiple countries, including Singapore and the United Kingdom. Experiencing different cultures throughout her childhood has shaped her personality into something more than just a typical American citizen.

“The majority of my personal culture is very American, but because I grew up overseas, I also carry parts of those cultures with me,” Sams said. “They all mix together to make up who I am.”

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

Alyssa Brown, the public relations manager for Mu Kappa, is a TCK who grew up predominantly in the Middle East. She said that for TCKs the transition to college is often complicated by the fact that they are also transitioning into American culture.

“From personal experience, coming to college is hard enough, but the extra stress of having parents continents away and feeling stranded can be too much to take alone,” she said.

Shaina Wareing, Mu Kappa’s events coordinator, has never lived outside of the United States. However, her parents now serve as missionaries in Guam, and she loves learning all she can from missionary kids who actually grew up overseas. She seconded Brown, saying that many of her own TCK friends have expressed difficulty with transitioning back to the United States.

“When people come back to the U.S. from living overseas for so long, they need community,” she said. “They are a mixture of several cultures, and it’s hard to come into a society that expects them to act American when they can’t.”

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

Olivia Brown is a TCK who grew up predominantly in Peru and Ecuador. She views herself as more Ecuadorian than American and actually possesses a dual citizenship. She said she coming to college was a serious struggle for her.

“It was very hard coming back,” she said. “The first few months, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I actually lived here. I also had a difficult time making friends because I closed myself off since I believed no one else knew what I was going through. … I had to learn how to find things I had in common with others Americans, which is more difficult than it sounds.”

Sage Lewis, a TCK from Thailand, said the hardest part of the transition for her was trying to make people understand that she did not feel at home in the United States, despite being a citizen. It was hard for her to explain her homesickness for Thailand when, at least on paper, the United States is her native country.

“For me, being from Thailand doesn’t make any sense to most because I don’t look Asian,” she said.

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

Not all TCKs have as hard a time transitioning. Sams said she was ready to be immersed in the American college experience. Then during her sophomore year at Liberty, she began to notice that TCKs around her had very little support when transitioning to college.

“I happened to be mentored by a TCK along with several other girls, and that helped me as I transitioned,” she said. “But I noticed that there were really no other opportunities provided by Liberty for other TCKs who were going through similar transitions. They were just kind of left on their own to figure out American culture.”

Sams was approached by faculty member Chesed Dent, an employee of Liberty’s Center for Global Engagement, about the possibility of starting a branch of Mu Kappa at Liberty. Dent had been a TCK in Southeast Asia and was also a member of Mu Kappa in college. She wanted to start a chapter at Liberty to provide a place where her fellow TCKs could spend time together and help one another through the unique challenges faced by their particular demographic.

“I keep telling (my bosses) all we need to do is provide the space,” Dent said. “(The TCKs) will connect. They’ll invest. We just need to give them a place to hang out.”

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

Sams said there have been previous attempts to start a branch of Mu Kappa on Liberty’s campus, but they all proved unsuccessful due to various reasons. She prayed about the club for a long time before setting about the process of officially starting it.

“After praying about it, I began researching the process of how to start a club at LU and finding a co-president,” Sams said. “After those tasks were accomplished, we wrote our constitution, got approved by Student Government and recruited our team of officers.”

By the time school started in the fall, the Liberty chapter of Mu Kappa was an officially recognized club with a working constitution and five officers. The club kicked off the new school year with its first ever event, a game night, on Aug. 29. More than fifty students showed up to the event.

“Honestly, I was expecting no more than five people to show up, and we had well over 30,” Wareing said. “I was about to cry when I saw how many people came.”

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

Students were treated to two hours full of a variety of games ranging from the fast-paced card game Spoons to a pirate-themed version of the time-consuming board game Life. Chips, salsa and juice were also provided. Aside from a short presentation about the purpose of the club, students were allowed to mingle, snack and play as they wished.

The room was filled with hugs and laughter as students caught up with old friends and introduced themselves to new ones. Bethany Thomas, a TCK from Poland, was excited to discover another student who had lived in the same country. She and her new friends even exchanged a few words in Polish.

“I didn’t know there was anyone else (at Liberty) from Poland,” Thomas said.

Wareing was thrilled with how smoothly the event ran and how much fun students seemed to be having.

“It was such a blessing to see everyone’s hard work come together,” she said. “I am incredibly proud to be a part of this club.”

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

About halfway through the event, students began playing a large game of Never Have I Ever. Before long, almost the entire group was participating in the game. The night quickly turned into something of a competition as students used their questions to discover who had been to the most countries or eaten the grossest food. Many admissions led to telling stories as students described everything from skydiving on other continents to narrowly escaping attacks by rebel soldiers. If only one student had completed a particular feat, such as the girl who survived hemorrhagic fever, the rest of the group gave them a round of applause in acknowledgement of the achievement.

Shannon Rutledge, a TCK from Haiti who attended the event, cited the game as a definite highlight of her evening.

“My favorite part of the event was meeting people and getting to hear about their experiences, particularly playing Never Have I Ever,” Rutledge said.

She explained that event meant a great deal to her and to others because it gave them a chance to experience a sense of community that many of them had been missing.

“(TCKs) have a better ability to understand each other,” she said. “Plus it allows us to share experiences that no one else would understand and have fellowship.”

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

Over all, students at the event deemed it a huge success. The club officers were also thrilled with the turnout and what it means for the future of the club.

“I was surprised as the turnout we had and thankful for an awesome, all-knowing God,” Sams said. “For the past couple of weeks since the semester has started, our entire team has felt that God has been preparing the way for this club. … Last night was an example of how God showed up for us. It also shows how much of an opportunity we have as a club to serve our student body. I’m excited to see how the rest of this semester is going to play out.”

Wareing said the club already has several events planned for the rest of the semester.

“We are going to have several events that will allow all of us to unwind and get out of the dorms,” she said. “They range from outdoor activities to indoor. All of them are quirky in one sense or another.”

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

Since the kick-off, Mu Kappa has already hosted two other events – a Bollywood movie night and an afternoon at Camp Hideaway. There is also an event planned for November, which Sams described as a cultural festival meant to give students the chance to experience a specific culture while also interceding on the behalf of its people.

“It is our goal that through these events students build a community with one another and learn to appreciate other cultures, including their own,” Sams said.

 –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –

The mad rush in the center of the circle finally clears as students scramble into their new seats. Sams is now standing alone in the center of the circle, making her “it” for the next round.

“Alright guys,” she says apologetically. “Our time here is up.”

Students around the circle begin to protest, drawing a smile from Sams.

“We wanted to thank all of you for coming,” she continues. “This was so much fun, and we hope to see all of you at our next event. Now, if you guys could help us put the chairs back before you go, that would be great.”

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Photo Credit: Ash Brownd

The students chuckle as they get to their feet and begin rearranging the chairs into the neat rows typical of that particular classroom. Then they begin to slowly trickle out, already talking about the next event.

For more information on the Liberty chapter of Mu Kappa, like their Facebook page.

*Note: This article is an expansion of an article that was published by the Liberty Champion in September 2014. The original article can be found here. Some of the material was also taken from another article published by the Liberty Champion in February 2014, which can be found here.

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