Third Culture Kid Panel

Panelists regale students with their tales of adventure and intrigue from various cultures.

Last week, Common Grounds was filled with EMU students and faculty sharing stories of what it feels like to see snow for the first time at age 10 or to be overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite choices of the cereal aisle.  On Thursday, March 15 at 9 p.m., the Third Culture Kid Club held a panel in Common Grounds to inform the EMU community about the experiences that define their club.

The panel was made up of five EMU professors who each spent at least a portion of their childhood in a culture other than mainstream American, which qualifies them as Third Culture Kids (or TCKs):  Lester Zook, Nancy Heisey, Matt Siderhurst, Carolyn Stauffer, and Carl Stauffer.  Carl Stauffer, a professor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, facilitated the event by posing questions to the panelists.

The panel event was organized by the co-leaders of the Third Culture Kid club, Senior Tim Heishman and Sophomore Melody Tobin.  “We knew that getting five TCK professors together in one room to tell stories would be a great time,” said Heishman, “so that was reason enough to organize the event.  Also, we wanted to increase people’s awareness of what a Third Culture Kid is, and what the TCK experience is like.”

The stories told by members of the panel ranged in topic from culture shock to personality quirks to spiritual formation.  All five professors agreed that returning to the U.S. after living in another culture is challenging in various ways.

“You think that you’re speaking the same language, but you find that words mean different things,” said Siderhurst, explaining that in Australia, the term “sloppy joe” refers to a sweatshirt.

“I blame all my spelling errors on learning to read and write in a language that goes from right to left,” said Carolyn Stauffer, who spent her childhood in Israel learning Hebrew.

Carl Stauffer related his unawareness of popular culture and style upon returning from Vietnam, including his thrift-store clothing and the habit of squatting while waiting.
Heisey reflected on her experience with living among the Navajo people in New Mexico and how it impacted her spiritual journey.  “My classmates who were bullying me [for being white] have actually suffered from some of the worst parts of American history[...]” said Heisey, “but I didn’t know that as a child.”  Zook agreed, emphasizing his experience with being defined by Christianity and feeling like “a stranger in a strange land” after returning from Zimbabwe.

To balance the serious content, the panelists also told “adventure stories,” earning many laughs from the audience.  Zook recounted a story of his family being chased by an elephant, while Siderhurst entertained listeners with a tale of himself and his childhood friends accidentally setting a pumpkin on fire.  Carolyn Stauffer explained that a stranger once offered her father forty camels for her to join his harem.

“The professors were very articulate, and I think there was a good balance between entertaining stories and deep reflections,” said Heishman.
Conversation continued in Common Grounds long after the panel had ended.  “I was impressed with the turnout, and it was great fun to hear all about the adventures had by some of our professors when they were younger,” said Junior Abbey Carr.  “I had some fantastic smaller group discussion afterwards with Carolyn Stauffer that proved insightful as well as refreshing.”

“I related a lot to what the professors on the panel had to say, having grown up overseas myself,” said Sophomore Nicole Groff.  “It was good because although I identify with them, I can’t always articulate why I feel a certain way or do things just a bit differently than the status quo.”


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