WEB BLURB: The MK: bilingual, quirky, confused. Often without a permanent home or culture, missionary kids are a rare breed that struggle to reconcile identity, fit in, and feel accepted. HU missionary kids Essie Kaufman, Abby Kaufman and Jake Siegel weigh in.
[Japanese pop song starts]
BRIDGER FETTERS: Speaking English one second and flipping to Japanese the next. [Japanese pop song fades out] Forgetting how to order at Dairy Queen. Using chopsticks in the DC. The missionary kid. MKs–nonconformists in the truest sense of the word–discuss the struggle to find their place and identity in the world. Bronwen Fetters has the story.
BRONWEN FETTERS: It was her freshman year at HU, and current senior Essie Kaufman, an MK born and raised in Japan, was confused.
ESSIE KAUFMAN: Like when I first got here especially, like, I had no idea how to order at Dairy Queen. And that’s so stupid because, it’s like, obviously every American knows how to order at Dairy Queen.
FETTERS: Kaufman went into Dairy Queen, and the woman behind the counter just looked at her…
ESSIE: …like I was nuts when I was like,”What is a Blizzard?” And she’s like, “Seriously? You don’t know what a Blizzard is?” And I’m like, “Oh dear, I’m a fool.” I don’t know. Just like little things like that. That, like, you wouldn’t know or something that it makes you feel more alienated.
FETTERS: College is already a time for young people to discover identity. Reconciling beliefs, spirituality, calling, and doctrine is already hard enough for the one-cultured student, but how does this complex process compound itself when the culturally-confused come into play?
SHOSHANNAH MCKINNEY: So a third-culture kid would be any kid, any student, who has grown up with different cultures.
FETTERS: That’s Shoshannah McKinney, director of Mu Kappa, the student organization for missionary kids on campus.
MCKINNEY: So they have parents from different cultures, which kind of creates a third culture with them, or they maybe have parents that are both from America, but they grew up in Indonesia, and so they’re not really Indonesian. They’re not really American, but they’re kind of this blend, which kind of creates this third culture.
FETTERS: MKs are a subset of the third-culture kid group. Their parents are culturally American, but their home is abroad. Such is the case with Kaufman. [Fade in natural sound of Kaufman sisters speaking Japanese]
ESSIE: I mean I probably identify more with America. [Japanese fades out] But I feel like a quirky American. Or maybe I feel like I identify with both. Does that make sense? Like, I think it’s kind of the opposite end of that, but I feel like I identify with Japan when I’m here, and when I’m in Japan, I identify more with America. But I identify with both, I just flip it.
FETTERS: When she’s in one place she identifies with the other. Her younger sister, freshman Abby Kaufman, on the other hand, feels differently.
ABBY KAUFMAN: Quite honestly I don’t feel like I identify with either.
FETTERS: Essie does notice how her thinking has third-culture aspects.
ESSIE: But, like, there’s just a fundamental disconnect sometimes with the way that people think here and the way that I feel like I think. And I think it’s different from Japan, too, because when I was in Japan, I obviously didn’t think like a Japanese person because I’m American. Or I thought I was American. And I came back here and was like, “Oh, I don’t really think like Americans think either.” I dunno. Yeah, there’s definitely been times of disconnect that I don’t know if I can even put my finger on it exactly.
FETTERS: Although the Kaufman sisters struggle to completely identify with one singular culture, Essie feels it has provided her with some insight she might not otherwise have.
ESSIE: Like, you have more of an ability to understand other people, I think, and understand where they’re coming from. Because, like, not only I think you have a better perspective on your own culture because you can view it from the outside. But also, you have a good perspective on the culture that you’re living in, even if it’s not your own culture, just because you’re experiencing it. I think that’s a good thing.
FETTERS: Not only has being an MK provided cultural insight for the Kaufman sisters, it has increased their adaptability as well.
ABBY: Because I am an MK, I feel like I have learned how to adapt better to my surroundings.
ESSIE: Possibly too much.
ABBY: Possibly too much. I think all my family–we would call ourselves very good chameleons.
ESSIE: Right but then because you are such a good chameleon in a sense you lose who you would be or like who you are because you’re, like, well in every situation I’m a little bit different
ABBY: Yeah, it becomes confusing. Yeah, which person is really you? I lose track.
ESSIE: Because there’s like so many different aspects that you can be because you learn to be all those different aspects, and then what are you? Shoot, your guess is as good as mine.
FETTERS: Beyond the question of identity, MKs often struggle to know where their real home is. Jake Siegel, sophomore MK, lived in Russia for the majority of his life. A question people often ask him is “Where do you feel most at home?” He struggles to answer.
JAKE SIEGEL: My home is wherever I’m at at that moment. Like, I don’t have any long-term home, and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with not having like a permanent home. Like, my Dad always said in his speeches that he had for the church, “Our home is in heaven, and that’s, like, all we really need. That’s all that really matters.” Like, having an earthly home is great, but if you don’t have one, it’s fine too. So I can live with the fact that I don’t really… I don’t wanna say belong anywhere, because that kind of sounds sad [laughs]… but I don’t have a home.
FETTERS: The question of home is not the only struggle MKs face. As an expert in international students and third culture kids, McKinney think the biggest struggle MKs face is reconciling identity.
MCKINNEY: So much of MK’s identity is wrapped up in what their parents do, I think even more so than any other student would have. You know, if your parent is a teacher or a banker, your identity isn’t really wrapped up in that, but when you live in a different culture, everything in your life is, you know, wrapped up in that culture and in that ministry.
FETTERS: Siegel relates to McKinney, trying to balance independence with calling.
SIEGEL: I feel like it’s always whenever people know that you’re a missionary, and they ask you what you plan on becoming, you always feel, like, you always feel this pressure of becoming a missionary also. And I mean in most ways I do want to become a missionary but, like, I’d rather not associate myself with what my parents are doing. Just because I want to lead my own life or whatever.
FETTERS: Although MKs can tend to identify with American culture, they inevitably possess eccentricities that stem from living in another culture.
ESSIE: I think we have a lot of quirks [laughs]. This could go on for a while.
FETTERS: Siegel runs into problems when guys on his floor start talking about TV shows…
SIEGEL: Like, I have no idea what they’re talking about, like, TV shows that they watch or, like, special foods that they’ve eaten, and at those points I’m just gonna kind of avoid the conversation at the moment because I have no idea what they’re talking about. But it usually doesn’t happen that often, and when it does I’m usually just kind of accepting of it. Well, I didn’t grow up here so it’s fine.
FETTERS: Besides Siegel’s lack of pop culture, the quirks cross over into Abby’s speech.
ABBY: I would say one of my quirks is that I use Japanese sayings but in English so, like, in Japan. There’s this saying. The son of a frog is a frog. It means that if you…
ESSIE: It’s like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But, like, she used it in reference, and to an American, it just made no sense. People were like, “What is she talking about?” And it was funny.
FETTERS: The Kaufman sisters do things a bit differently when they eat too.
ESSIE: I mean, I really like to eat everything with chopsticks. I do. Like Hub salads and Ramen noodles. It’s great.
TOILET SHOES: An MK quirk that is legendary around HU campus are Essie Kaufman’s self-described “Japanese grandpa toilet shoes” which she frequently dons. Her peers scoff at her style choice. When she wears the shoes in public in Japan, the locals give her strange looks. Perhaps Essie owns third-culture shoes. Essie, however, does not care. She said “They are great shoes. Can’t even deny it.” (Photo by Bronwen Fetters)
ABBY: Yeah because you know when you’re eating a salad, like, you take it with the fork and you just have to like shove it all in your mouth, and it’s gross, but with a chopstick, you can like pinpoint what you wanna get.
FETTERS: Siegel finds himself using dated idioms that his father picked up as a teenager and took with them to Russia.
SIEGEL: I do tend to say a lot of sayings that my dad says. Just because I think that that’s like the norm and what everybody says here. Turns out that’s not really a thing anymore.
FETTERS: Siegel also notes that because he lived in Russia, he has a serious staring problem.
SIEGEL: I’m used to that in Russia. There’s lots of people. And I just kind of… There’s so many people. Nobody’s ever looking at you, and so I just, like, look at people and people watch, and, like, here there’s not many people, and so every now and then, like, they stare back at me, and I’m like, “Oh, you’re actually looking at me too…” So it’s just unfortunate.
FETTERS: Despite their many quirks, the Kaufmans and Siegel feel accepted at HU … at least to an extent.
ESSIE: I do feel supported and accepted at Huntington University. I think that people don’t know all that is different, and so in a sense, that’s why I’m accepted. But I think too, like, the more that I would display, I think people would probably still accept me.
FETTERS: Though Abby has not been at HU as long as her sister, she still feels like she belongs.
ABBY: I’m definitely quirky because I grew up in Japan, but people accept me for those quirks, not in spite of them, but for them. When I say I’m from Japan, people are excited, but they don’t, like, pester me with questions in an annoying way. They genuinely want to know about, like, the culture and my experiences there and how it affected me as a person.
FETTERS: Essie finds HU’s reaction to her different than the reactions she received on furlough when she was younger.
ESSIE: Here if people pester you, like, they honestly want to know, whereas, like, when you were younger, they’re like, “Oh my gosh you speak Japanese. Say something in Chinese.”
FETTERS: Siegel also says he fits in at HU. He thinks people view him as “just another American.”
SIEGEL: Most people have gotten past the fact that I’m a missionary and have just accepted that I’m pretty much exactly like them except I’ve lived overseas my whole life.
FETTERS: McKinney sponsors the aforementioned organization for MKs, Mu Kappa, an informal student organization that allows MKs to connect at Huntington.
CULTURE: Mu Kappa poses for a group picture during one of their get-togethers. Pictured second, third and sixth are Essie Kaufman, Abby Kaufman and Jake Siegel respectively. Shoshannah McKinney, pictured right, sponsors the group. (Photo by Sangeun Woo)
MCKINNEY: The group is really for any student who has spent a considerable amount of time overseas. So it’s basically just an organization that exists for students to get to know each other and hang out together every once in a while and basically realize that there are other students like them.
FETTERS: While MKs do feel accepted at HU, they face struggles in being far from home and family. Essie struggles most with being so far from her parents.
ESSIE: So, like, if I have a question about insurance I like have to figure it out myself basically. So yeah, or, like, things like that, like, if there is something, like, with my car that’s wrong, like, I have to figure it out myself or, like, it’s more just an issue of, like, being super independent and, like, not always knowing what to do, and then you don’t really have your parents there.
FETTERS: Despite any struggles and frustrations, MKs at HU look forward to what the future might hold.
SIEGEL: The horizon is looking like becoming a missionary now or going overseas because I don’t know if it’s being a missionary for a long time, but I don’t see myself staying in America for my whole life. [Russian folk song starts] Like, I know I’ve been around the world too much to, like, want to stay in one place for a long time.
FETTERS: This is Bronwen Fetters, reporting for the Huntingtonian.
[Russian folk song fades out]