Painting Pictures: The Third Culture Kid’s Struggle to Fit In

painting picturesToday’s Painting Pictures post is by Paige Porter-Livesay, a TCK who is still (barely) a kid. How fitting that the first guest post in this series (Who Are Third Culture Kids) was by Ruth Van Reken, co-author of the book Third Culture Kids and that the last guest post expresses the words of a TCK. I am so grateful for Paige’s willingness to contribute and for her honesty and courage in writing, her words and bravery brought me to tears. At 19, Paige is able to articulate things that I suspect my own children are grappling with but are, as yet, unable to fully express. I feel something tender and sacred in her words.


Growing up in Haiti, we had a countless number of visitors in and out of our house, ministry, school, and really, in our lives as a whole. I wish I knew how many people I’ve met in my life, I bet it beats the average 19 year old by a lot.

Some people left more of an impact than others. At times I didn’t even take the time to remember their names, others I thought I would be close with forever. Both extremes were wrong of me. There were many goodbyes. I didn’t realize it until this summer when I left the country that I grew up in to start college, how much those goodbyes affected me.

Meeting all these people growing up, I bet you might guess I have no problem making friends.

As I have been adjusting to life in the states I have realized how hard it is to “fit in” and stay true to myself. Making friends has been difficult, to say the least.

In some situations it can be easy making friends. Growing up as a missionary-kid, being a chameleon is a skill most MKs possess. Living outside of the USA, many different types of people come and go throughout an MKs life. Meeting people on your own turf, on the “mission field” is much easier.


We, as MKs, have needed to find our place in countless situations, and circumstances. Whether that is in a school where we were the only non-natives, or at a church where our parents were speaking. I generally found that it was easy to find some sort of place for myself during those moments. People knew a little bit about us and I didn’t have the work of explaining who I was.

Since moving back to my passport country, I have found it to be so difficult to fit in and make friends. I’m not quite sure how to stay true to myself while making new friends.

Now that I am going to an average community college, with other average people like me, it’s significantly harder to fit in (the way that MK’s fit in-which isn’t really fitting in at all.) When I enter a classroom no one knows that I’m different than him or her. (I don’t mean that in a snobby way.)  Nobody knows that I grew up in a insanely poor county, and this isn’t really home to me.  I look like I belong here, after all.

It’s harder to make friends than I ever expected it to be. In fact, I haven’t yet found a way to make a real, genuine American friend.

I’ve found that I have two choices. One: Be honest about who I am, and that this country is not my home. I would need to explain to them that I don’t quite know how to do life here just yet and that I don’t really enjoy life yet either. I would want to explain that poverty is something that isn’t a shock to me and that not everyone can even begin to imagine walking into a community college class. I would need to explain that rape and abandonment are tragedies I know well.

Or Two: To simply go along with what my fellow American “friends” are talking about, and pretend like I know what they’re talking about. I would need to play along like music and football are important to me too. I would need to pretend I care about the things they care about and stay quiet when ignorant or hurtful things are said about the poor about the minority or about the hurting. I would not be free to explain my heart and the things I’ve learned to love because of my beloved third-world country that raised me. The thing is, it feels to me like nobody understands or cares to know the real you when the real you isn’t the norm. They are afraid to try and don’t know how to talk about the odd life you have had so instead they choose not to talk at all.

TRL_0485I realize how downer this sounds; I’m not denying that. Although, as a fresh college student who just entered back into the US, I’m not yet at a place where I can be super extremely positive about this new phase of life. I know I’ll get there, through the prayers and help of others, and each time that I give the struggle of this transition over to God. I do believe I’ll make other friends that will understand my heart, but right now, I’m not yet there.

 Thank you Paige, it is an honor I do not take lightly, that you have entrusted your heart to Djibouti Jones.

Paige is the daughter of Troy and Tara Livesay who blog at Livesay Haiti.

*image credit