[This article also exists in podcast form. You can listen to it on Pondering Purple, HERE.
NOTE: There is a bonus video at the bottom of this article!]



“If you came back, you wanted to leave again. If you went away, you longed to come back. Wherever you were, you could hear the call of the herdsman’s horn far away in the hills. You had one home out there and one over here and yet you were an alien in both places. Your true abiding place was the vision of something very far off, and your soul, like the waves, always restless and forever in motion.”
Johan Bojer


There are two words in the English language that are particularly complicated for the MK to process. One is “Home.” The other is “Belonging.”

For the highly mobile, multi-cultural MK, Merriam-Webster’s definition of Home as: “one’s place of residence, […] a familiar or usual setting” can set off a domino effect of angst. What if we don’t have a singular place that is central to our lives? What if our residence has changed every year for the entirety of our childhoods? What if our roots span too many oceans and continents to yield any sort of helpful triangulation?

The term “Belonging” is equally complex for us. Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:

“A feeling of being happy or comfortable as part of a particular group and having a good relationship with the other members because they welcome you and accept you.”

Sounds wonderful, right? And it is! Yet to the Third Culture Person whose “groups” are highly diverse and far-flung, belonging feels like that elusive savor we may have tasted, but fear we’ll never replicate.

I’ve written about Belonging before—outlining the general responses most MKs have to what I call unbelonging. And I’ve touched on the topic of Home before as well. But I think considering both together might offer some helpful, additional framework to TCKs who have been trying to find clarity despite the complexity of our personal histories.

I’m not sure there is another people group on earth that relates to “home” in as complicated a way as the Third Culture community does.

Home is kaleidoscopic for us. The savors, smells, sounds, textures, and lifestyles of our past hum like static in the background of our present. We live in a state of perpetual nostalgia. Those places that have crawled inside our consciousness, the languages that have told our stories, the cultures that have rippled around and through us, the remembered agony of imposed goodbyes and mandated transitions… They are anchored to our DNA and embedded in our cells.

And they are Home.

But Home is not a single space. As Tolkien said, “We feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”Home, for us, is mixed and muddled and meaningful in its indescribable, life-defining sense of identity. Sometimes it buoys and charms us. Sometimes it challenges and bruises us. And sometimes it reminds us that we can’t return again. The pain of that discovery can be a visceral ache.

Whatever its manifestation, we all, to some degree, carry the blessing and burden of our previous planets as we dwell between past and future.

Some of us try to silence or ignore the melancholy longings for an us-shaped, soul-familiar place. Others let the yearnings drain the color from the newest sphere we’ve entered.

Most of us at some point will feel the tension between Home and Belonging—understanding that they’re typically conjoined, but realizing that with the nomadic nature of our lives, we may need to pursue the one without the symmetry of the other.

While Home is most simply defined as a significant place of formative bonding and shelter, Belonging is the sense of wholeness and likeness we might find in that place. We’ve likely known some kind of Home—often in mosaical form, its pieces welded together from a collection of places and experiences. But so often, we struggle to define and discover the sturdy and lasting Belonging we seek.

How can an MK find—or even recognize—that stable, intimate, and life-giving form of connection when we may not have experienced it in an enduring way during our mobile years?

Even if and when we do find it, Belonging will remain an individual notion—customized to each personality and life trajectory. It will also remain a flexible concept, as whichever form of Belonging we choose in one season may not be the one we carry into the next.

I’d like to briefly explore six of the major incarnations of Belonging that I’ve witnessed in the MKs I serve. Each comes with distinct pluses and minuses attached it. None is without challenge. Each also in some way meets our deeply human, intrinsic need for the kind of Homeness that makes us feel welcomed, valued, relevant, useful, validated, and hemmed.


Nuclear Belonging

In their youth, some MKs will center their sense of Belonging in their nuclear family—that’s those who are fortunate enough to find their most trustworthy source of love, attention, and meaning among parents and siblings. They’ll declare that Homeness exists wherever mom and dad are, where each member of the family contributes to forming a self-sufficient unit, intensely bonded and devoted.

Those children know that though the world around them will inevitably and continuously change, their family’s fabric is both sturdy and elastic enough that the vagaries of life and ministry will not destroy it.

Kindred Belonging

Other MKs will find Belonging in a subculture of kindred spirits—MK schools are a prime example of this. How many of us have found a comforting form of sameness in these spaces where our backgrounds may be different, but the way those backgrounds shape and inform us is a powerful shared trait?

That connection to others whose lives have been as rich in cultural inputs and experiences as ours is something we may continue to pursue in our adult years, seeking community with people who have lived between worlds, as we have, and whose perspectives are as broad and nuanced as our own.

Diverse Belonging

In contradiction to Kindred Belonging, I’ve found that some MKs begin to find a sense of self in pursuing difference rather than similarity.

In this case, Belonging will feel like the variety they knew while growing up between worlds. Between the colors, cadences, and curiosities that charmed and challenged them.

These are the MKs who spend their lives moving from new environment to new environment, because they feel such profound Homeness in places where they’re outsiders.

There will be something familiar—something they recognize and identify with—in circles where there are few people who resemble them, and they’ll derive such energy from navigating those waters.

Activist Belonging

The intense drive and purpose of our formative years will lead some of us into social spaces where we feel a similar kind of energy—a communal laser-focus on addressing a serious concern together.

Because so many MKs are desperate not just for community, but for intense belonging in a community, they’re prone to search for it in circles that are militant or marginalized, because the fervor of activism feels so familiar and galvanizing.

Note: These MKs in search of a tight and focused social embrace might leap into the deep end of new communities without always assessing what they’re getting themselves into. And once they’re in, even if there are reasons to second-guess their decision, the sense of belonging they find there might feel so good that they won’t follow an impetus to step back out again.

Relational Belonging

Other MKs won’t truly experience Home until they find it in a stable, bilateral, committed relationship—like marriage or something similar.

It’s my suspicion that this is often a factor in MKs who choose to marry early.

They see the future as a place where Belonging may be difficult to find and prefer to quickly latch their lives onto a known and loved entity rather than risk floundering in their pursuit of something that could prove less dependable.

Internal Belonging

This is the incarnation of Belonging I’ve found most helpful as I’ve navigated life between worlds.

With Internal Belonging, the quest for an external sense of Homeness becomes less of a preoccupation, because we realize that the places and people that formed us are an active, living force we carry within ourselves—not something we need to reproduce in our current context or in the years ahead of us.

Our many homes are planted in our spirits, informing our understanding of life and the world, offering an internal sense of belonging, even when its external form is difficult to find.

Though Internal Belonging is by nature less connective than other forms of integration, it can be a helpful alternative if we reside in circles where External Belonging isn’t possible—or isn’t yet possible.

It can calm the dissonance we feel when parts of our identity are shadowed and remind us of the precious, multi-faceted Homeness our mobile lives have offered us. (It’s also the theme of the video you’ll find at the end of this article.)

There are likely other variations on Belonging among MKs and TCKs, but these are the ones I encounter most frequently.

If you have the time for some introspection, I encourage you to consider what I’ve outlined here and determine which variation is the most present in your life.

And then contemplate what its advantages and disadvantages might be, so you can thoughtfully manage its helpful and less helpful side-effects.


Our natural search for belonging and Homeness is so dizzying and—in many cases—unsatisfying. But…can I be honest? Until I recognized the spiritual reality of Home and Belonging, I consistently struck out in finding that profound sense of—as I mentioned before—being “welcomed, valued, relevant, useful, validated, and hemmed.”

It’s in beginning to view my relationship to God as my Home that I’ve found a bit of an answer to the complexity and grief of my homelessness and unbelonging.

By digging deep into what’s in God’s heart for me—comfort, joy, hope, direction, goodness, truth—I’ve learned to center that in my daily reality, and in doing so have found a constancy that transcends time zones and cultures.

I know that faith can be just as complicated as Homeness to so many MKs—not all of us walk away from our experiences with an intact faith—but if we can pitch our nomad’s tent on the unchanging foundation of who God is, how he sees us, and the flourishing he wants for us, perhaps then the lostness that is so often associated with a TCK’s mobility will find solace.

If we can set our goals according to his heart and find our fulfillment in cultivating his benevolent intentions, the kaleidoscope of our past will find a present and future purpose that doesn’t require a constant redefining of “Home.”

Will I still feel loss when I remember my past communities? Of course, I will.

Will I still crave familiarity and connection to the places I once knew? Without a doubt.

The hunger for Home and Belonging is human, universal, and good.

Being wrapped in God’s presence and inspired by his heart doesn’t eliminate the yearning—but it soothes and redirects its sting.

And it grants global nomads like me the mobile stability of soul-intimacy.

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One Comment

    • Plaster Nichole

    • 10 months ago

    belonging ahhhhhhhh yes

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