I Think It Is Okay to be an Alien

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like an alien.

When I was a little girl, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed little Canadian girl growing up in a Mexican village, I ate as much spicy food as possible to prove I was at least equal to my Mexican counterparts.

Then, when I was a high school graduate that looked and spoke just like everyone else in the U.S., I scandalized the church I was attending that summer by kneeling in prayer meeting—a regular occurrence in Mexico, but considered immodest in my new place of residence.

There was also the time I was attending a Mexican university, and a schoolmate informed me that overcharging me for a product because I was white, wasn’t racist; it was just smart.

Not belonging for me was a lifestyle. Certainly not one I had chosen, but by the time I was well into my teens, one I had acknowledged as mine.

As a third culture kid, I tried on many identities. Like most of my MK friends, I went through a “proud Canadian” phase, through a phase of “I’m from all of North America” and a “nothing but Mexican” phase. None of them worked. I found I could relate to people from all of these places, but none of them — not even family — could relate to all of me.

And that made me alien.

Last year, I flew into my closest airport and an immigration official made me change lines because, “You’re not a citizen.” I explained to him that as a resident, my documentation allowed me to be in the citizen’s line, and that I had done it in the two largest cities of the country. He gave me double talk about the larger airports allowing for different things and still made me change to the foreigners line. I just about cried. 

Being an alien is still something I struggle with. At 27, I think I’ve sorted out who to be what with. What I mean is that I know what parts of me I can show to the different people in my life—most of the time. I can usually make people around me comfortable by only showing the parts of me that they relate to. It’s less hurtful for me, and it makes our relationship easier for them. It seems to work.

And then something like this happens. A few months ago, a girl I work closely with told an old (Mexican) friend of mine who was visiting that she often didn’t understand my questions. 

I’m different. I can’t avoid it.

And I wonder if allowing parts of me to go unseen is healthy. Maybe compartmentalizing my different and sometimes conflicting habits, convictions and personality traits is the wrong way to cope. So, I try to open up and am promptly hurt by a harsh reaction from someone who has no idea they’re being harsh. It’s just that they don’t understand.

I still haven’t figured out how to deal with being an alien—how to deal with always having some part of me that isn’t understood. 

But perhaps that’s ok. Maybe it’s just fine that most of my friends aren’t familiar with all of me because that leads to two things:

First, it means that I can understand a little of what the Lord went through as an alien on this Earth, misunderstood, judged and taken for something he was not.

Second, it means that when I meet a community like this, a group of people that don’t belong either, it’s the most refreshing thing in the world!

So, now that we’re friends, how have you coped with being an alien?

Photo by ginger juel on Unsplash

14 Comments

  1. Amanda Batterson June 20, 2018

    ” I think I’ve sorted out who to be what with. What I mean is that I know what parts of me I can show to the different people in my life—most of the time. I can usually make people around me comfortable by only showing the parts of me that they relate to. It’s less hurtful for me, and it makes our relationship easier for them. It seems to work.” YES. I can totally relate to this, and at 34 I’m still struggling with it, and I’m not even a TCK – just a first generation missionary living that wannabe chameleon life that we so often lead. Well written, and great points at the end too. There’s just *something* about getting together with fellow expats and people that GET it that is comforting to the soul on a whole notha’ level.

    1. Erika June 21, 2018

      Exactly, Amanda! I do struggle with guilt sometimes, because I wonder if it meens I´m being insincere. And yet, the strategy seems to be the kindest to all concerned.

      There is a feeling of belonging when gathered with other “aliens,” isn´t there? A sense of understanding, even if we are a combination of radically different cultures. Perhaps, that will be part of the charm of Heaven… no one will really belong, we will just be a bunch of redeemed sinners totally accepted in a place we didn´t deserve to be. Talk about alien!

  2. Mandy Carpenter June 20, 2018

    When we first moved overseas, we tried to fit into the new culture, yet over time we realized that no matter how hard we tried to “look” the part, “speak” the part, etc. we’d never truly fit in. Our first trip back to the States found us in an entirely different place, where we were shocked at the culture, overwhelmed by the overabundance, and found ourselves not really fitting in as well. The Lord spoke to my heart in a similar way as He spoke to yours, reminding me that Jesus never had a place to call his own, not even a place to lay His head. And like you, showed me its okay to be an alien, as Christians we all are aliens, for no matter where we live now, this world is not our home. Thanks for your post, I enjoyed it!

    1. Erika June 21, 2018

      Thanks, Mandy! Maybe fitting in is overrated? 🙂

  3. Rachel June 21, 2018

    Thanks so much for this Erika. As a first year missionary mum I am always looking for the perspective of MKs to better understand my kids experience, but like Amanda it also encouraged me in my own experience as an ‘alien’. Much appreciated.

    1. Erika June 21, 2018

      Rachel, I´m so glad you´re looking for resources to better understand your kids´ experiences. It´s something that can seem very unique, but it´s so helpful to hear the experiences of others!

  4. LUCIE HUTSON June 21, 2018

    love this, thank you! My daughter (TCK) has fascinated me with her different statements of who she is and where she is from. I want to teach her these lessons that it is okay to belong to not belonging.

    1. Erika June 21, 2018

      That´s an excellent lesson to teach! It´s so helpful to hear, especially as a teen TCK!

  5. Katie Rose June 21, 2018

    I’m not a TCK, but I’ve lived overseas often and still find myself dealing with these parts of me that are unseen (ps—there’s a great book by the same title by Sara Hagerty. Would highly recommend!) and unknown. I went from full-time overseas life, calling, & ministry straight into a full-time, corporate American job. The hardest moments have been where I have opened up those parts and been misunderstood by coworkers. But I cope by stubbornly continuing to tell my story; hiding it always makes me feel worse. And by telling it, whether in the big statements or the tiny stories, I always feel a little less unseen. Even if no one else in the room gets it, I can tell in my spirit that the Lord does, like you said. And His eyes on me (again—that book!) is all I need.

    Also, telling my story has opened new doors for me that I didn’t know I needed or felt called to. It has created connections with other workers that has led me into a desire to help others serving overseas, especially now that it is pretty clear my new alien home will be Nashville for awhile 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your story! And so beautifully.

    1. Erika June 21, 2018

      Thanks for your comment, Katie Rose, I love that you share those different parts of yourself. It takes courage, and it´s great that it has opened doors for you! I wish I had that courage.

  6. Kim June 21, 2018

    Well Erika, I’m not sure this will be encouraging, but I’m 51 and I’m still an alien, made all the more complicated by the fact that I still jump back and forth between multiple cultures and nations because of my ministry position. And I’m still trying to figure out who to be with whom. One of the things I get told a lot is, “you don’t fit in any of my ‘boxes’!” Or, “you’re a very complex person.” Or, “just when I think I have you figured out – I don’t.” And I just become more and more alien the longer I’m around, I think. I don’t fit neatly in a political box (thank God for that!), I don’t fit neatly in any one Evangelical box, and I don’t fit neatly in any cultural box. But you’re right, it is a journey Jesus walked first, so the company is good, even if the road is hard. 🙂

  7. Erika June 21, 2018

    It is a hard road, right? But if one of God´s purposes is to make us more like His Son, perhaps becoming more alien is actually a good sign!

  8. Elizabeth June 21, 2018

    Thanks, Erika for your well-articulated post.. I have been thinking about this a bit more than usual as we anticipate leaving our country of service in August for a furlough of six months. There are aspects I am really not looking forward to as I feel increasingly alien in my passport country each time I return. It’s hard to find “safe” people there with whom I can be my truest self. As I get older, however, I feel that the Lord is doing something in my heart so that I’m becoming more comforable in my own skin and becoming more OK with being an alien and fulfilling HIS purpose for me..
    Amen to your last two points – a better insight into what our Lord went through and such refreshment in this VA community.
    Your post also strikes a cord because the main purpose of this furlough is to settle in our oldest son/TCK to university in Canada. Our second son is only a year behind and currently looking at his post-secondary options. I am certain they will be aware of this tension as we return.
    BTW – my husband and your then-fiancé shared a session at a Bible conference in Glen Ewen SK three years ago. I was thrilled to see your name and photo on the VA post today!

    1. Erika June 21, 2018

      Thank you for commenting, Elizabeth. I remember seeing you there and I believe I got to know your sons a bit at the Portage conference, as well. I know it will not be easy for the boys as they settle into new routines in Canada, at the same time, as they realize how alien they are in their passport country, they will also realize how rich and privileged their life has been in all the ways that matter! May we all become more comfortable as aliens, and as you say focus more on fulfilling His purposes!

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