TCKs as Prototypical Citizens and Culture Shock as Exaggerated Poop: Ted Ward’s Views on Growing Up Abroad

March 6, 2015 § 6 Comments

16241388115_fec39f427a_zQuotation tracing. It’s almost as exhilarating as tracing a river.

According to the Taipei Times, the sport of river tracing may have been birthed in Taiwan in 1982. That year, a Japanese expedition team representing the Osaka Grassshoes Society traced the Nantsi River to the top of Taiwan’s Jade Mountain. (How’s that for an epic-sounding adventure?) Years ago I got to chaperone a group of junior-high-school students in a much less demanding trek, hiking in and up a fast-moving mountain river in northern Taiwan. We had a great time wading, swimming, crawling, and climbing. Not only did we find the spring that was the river’s source, but we also enjoyed—and discovered a lot during—the getting there.

So it is with quotation tracing, finding the origin and context of well-known, though often misquoted and misattributed, quotations. There’s much to be learned from tracking down quotations, and now that I’m older, I find that quotation tracing is more suited to a more sedentary lifestyle, as well.

My target quotation this time is one that we read often in literature about Third Culture Kids. And just like river tracing in Taiwan, it comes from the 80s. It’s Ted Ward’s

TCKs are the prototype citizens of the future.

I used this form of the quotation a few years ago in a blog post that I wrote. Sadly, at the time, I hadn’t checked the source. Had I done so, I would have seen that the original comes from page 57 of “The MK’s Advantage: Three Cultural Contexts,” in Understanding and Nurturing the Missionary Family. The chapter from Ward is an abridged version of a presentation he made in Quito, Ecuador, at the International Conference on Missionary Kids, held in 1987. (David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, are two who point to this source.) I would have also seen that the quotation has been paraphrased over time.

Speaking about the qualities that define Missionary Kids (MKs) as world Christians, Ward says,

Another characteristic is the loyalty to Christian values, even above the social pragmatics that we deal with in any society. There are characteristics of the internationalizing community of Christ that may very well, in this increasingly shrunken world, become characteristic of the church in general in the twenty-first century. One of my propositions is that the missionary kid of the nineties will be the prototype of the Christian of the twenty-first century [emphasis mine].

Because Missionary Kids are a subset of Third Culture Kids, it’s not a stretch to apply what Ward said to the larger group as a whole, but it’s interesting that his comments in this context refer not to general global citizens but to citizens of the community of Christians. This is understandable, though, as Ward’s audience was missionary families, and if he were talking to expat families in general, I would think it logical that he would apply the same principle to the broader category of all TCKs.

But looking at Ward’s presentation as a whole, I find something even more interesting. It’s his strong pronouncements of how MKs should embrace the advantages of their lives abroad and should not focus on the perceived negatives. “I view the MK growing up experience,” he says, “as very positive and very valuable, in comparison with the experiences available to their cousins who are stuck back home.”

To combat negative stereotypes applied to MKs, Ward uses somewhat blunt language, language that grates against my way of thinking. But one of his goals seems to be to shake up our assumptions, and my discomfort shows that he has been successful in that with me.

At the time that he spoke at the Quito conference, Ward was serving as dean of International Studies, Mission, and Education at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Before that, he spent 30 years at Michigan State University, teaching in the areas of education and curriculum research, and taking a leading role in the field of theological education.

While at Michigan State, Ward was a colleague of Ruth Hill Useem, the sociologist and anthropologist who coined the term Third Culture Kid. Ward describes Hill Useem’s technical usage of TCK as the

cultural variables that are not definable in terms of ours and theirs. She was talking about the dynamic of that which is different because people from outside settings residing in an inside setting do not take their primary identities ultimately from either, but they take it from the commonness that they have with others who are doing the same thing.

Ward believes that the later, popularized usage of TCK is a misuse of the term. According to Ward, Hill Useem applied it to particular new cultures—new communities in a distinct time and place—that expats form inside their host country. This is different from how we currently use TCK (or MK) to describe a broad group of people raised overseas. Instead, Ward says, the term has become “static,” with “standard values” and “generalizations about it which lead us to the wrong questions.”

What are some of the wrong questions? They are nonsense questions. “Is it OK to be an MK?” “What are the problems of being an MK?” They’re dumb questions, but they’re the questions that a static view of culture leads you to.

Then you get preoccupied by rootlessness. Oh, come on. Millions of people in the world are rootless. Don’t get paranoid about thirty thousand kids when ten percent of them are rootless.

It is this kind of negative thinking, especially by parents of MKs, that Ward opposes. For instance, in the area of culture shock:

Words like culture shock—good grief! Talk about popularization of some bad research! Culture shock—for the most part largely exaggerated poop! Incompetency, yes, but incompetency comes in all kinds of forms.

And about American expat parents who are concerned about their children’s lack of understanding of US culture, he responds,

I find more MKs understanding the nature of American society than people who are raised wholly within it. Would that we could get that message across to parents. Paranoid parents have got to be helped.

Ward also laments missionary parents’ worries about reverse culture shock. Years ago, it wasn’t so easy for missionaries or their children to return “home,” so they weren’t so apt to influence their children towards the inevitability of going back. One qualification of MKs as prototypical world Christians, says Ward, is their ability to serve God anywhere, without being tied down to a particular country or culture, especially the one from which they came.

Ward believes that the long-term work of missionaries has changed. “A career missionary today does not get buried in China at age forty-seven under great mounds of Chinese soil,” he states. “He gets buried at age forty-seven at a North American mission office desk under mounds of paper.” Ward doesn’t want this sort of mindset to be passed on to Missionary Kids.

Ward has given me, a former missionary and current parent of several MKs, a lot to think about, and I wonder how I would have responded if I had been in his audience 27 years ago.

While tracing Ward’s quotation to its source, I’ve been challenged, affirmed, and stretched. I’ve learned a few things and I’ve read some things that I’ll be pondering for a while. I’m grateful for the work that Ted Ward has done for and with cross-cultural workers and their families. And while I’m not on board with everything he’s said (for instance, I don’t think that culture shock is “largely exaggerated poop”), I do understand that there can be a tendency toward paranoia and excessive navel gazing.

We need balance. It’s good to look inward, with caution. But it’s also good to look up and out and aim for some mountaintops, to hike some rivers, to look with optimism at the path ahead, and to see the landscape from a different perspective.

(Ian Bartholomew, “Taiwan’s Rivers Offer Vast Potential for Adventure,” Taipei Times, August 19, 2001; Ted Ward, “The MK’s Advantage: Three Cultural Contexts,” Understanding and Nurturing the Missionary Family: Compendium of the International Conference on Missionary Kids, Quito, Ecuador, January 4-8, 1987, Volume I, Pam Echerd and Alice Arathoon, eds., William Carey, 1989.)

[photo: “Consumer Confidence!” by Chris & Karen Highland, used under a Creative Commons license]

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§ 6 Responses to TCKs as Prototypical Citizens and Culture Shock as Exaggerated Poop: Ted Ward’s Views on Growing Up Abroad

  • Dave Lewis says:

    Very meaty post, Craig. Bears some serious thought. I would be interested in feedback from those directly involved in ministering to MKs.

  • Mandy says:

    Your title was what drew me in, since as an MK and parent of an MK I’m interested in anything written about them. I have never heard of Ted Ward and when I googled him, I found that he’s a very learned and accomplished person. However, in my experience, just because he’s a really smart person doesn’t mean that he would really understand mental & emotional complexities that we MKs and parents of MKs face.
    His words appeared harsh although maybe just seeing a few quotes means I’m taking them out of context. I think that the movement for member care and helping people process grief/transition/culture stress, etc., is actually increasing resilience amongst missionaries. If telling the truth and not minimizing feelings are balanced with positive thinking, then I think that is healthy. Plus, healthy missionaries give themselves freedom to go or stay depending on what God is leading them to do, not necessarily to be victims of other people’s (or their organization’s) expectations. When I read what he said about culture shock, it really didn’t sit well with me, and I had to wonder if he had ever experienced it for himself? Anyway..those are my thoughts…thank you for the post, it gave me a lot to think about!

    • Thank you, Mandy, for your comments. I appreciate the careful way you are working through this topic. As an MK and mother of an MK, you sound like an expert to me.

      Since I’m the one who pulled out the quotations, I’ll take the blame for whatever is out of context. My guess is that those who know Mr. Ward well would put the comments in the context of his life and gain even more understanding through that. Thanks again.

  • Donna Musil says:

    Interesting article. I’ve been studying the “military brat” and “TCK” field for over 15 years and have never read this. Was Ted Ward a MK himself ? I would guess not. I find it amusing (and frustrating) how rarely non-TCKs and non-military brats are allowed to define their own experiences. The institutional and parental ideas of what their children “should” feel seem to take precedent far too often. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I won’t be using this Ted Ward quote in the future.

    Cheers, Donna Musil
    Executive Director, Brats Without Borders
    Filmmaker, “BRATS: Our Journey Home
    Military Brat/TCK for 16 years in America, Germany, and Korea

    • Thanks so much, Donna, for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad you found something of use here, and I’m glad to hear about your work. I just watched the trailer for your documentary. Looks great.

      Back to Ward’s comments. I enjoy going to the source material of quotations we often hear. And what Ward said, in context, certainly is food for thought . . . and conversation.

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