Day 24: Unpack Your Boxes and Plant Your Trees

This largely unedited free-write is linking up with the Write 31 Days Challenge. // indicates the start and stop of five minutes. The prompt word for today is GLOBAL. Go!



//  As an international Mom parenting international kids, today’s prompt word is the perfect opportunity to share with you one of my absolute LIFESAVERS.

Had you told me that we would someday live overseas for more than a decade, I would’ve never believed you. Nope. Wasn’t even on my radar. But surprises happen, and thankfully, God has more exciting plans for our lives than we can even hope or imagine.

We had been in South Africa for almost 5 years and the homesickness and culture shock were so intense. There were times I seriously thought I was losing my mind. In those first years of trying to establish a new life in South Africa, we did many things right, but we also did many things wrong. 

Then I heard about the book,

THIRD CULTURE KIDS, by David C. Pullock and Ruth E. Van Reken.

This book basically saved me, and it should be REQUIRED READING for ANY family considering an international move. It doesn’t matter if you are moving from First World to Third World, or Third to First, or even cross-culturally within your own nation, you need to read this book!

Third Culture Kids was written out of a university study in the UK in which they studied the four major groups of children who grow up overseas…

  1. Army brats―“the army made this happen to me.”
  2. Kids of NGO workers―“the government made this happen to me.”
  3. Kids whose parents moved for business―“money made this happen to me.”
  4. Missionary kids―“God made this happen to me.”

The last one is especially dangerous, and that’s where we found ourselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We don’t hate South Africa. In fact, we’ve been here for almost ten years now, and we really love it. Our kids have adapted wonderfully to the culture, are at the top of their classes in school, and they can even hold their own in Afrikaans. //

But no matter how long we’ve been here, we’ll never really be South African. And yet, when we go back to Canada, because we’ve had a world of experience outside of Canadian culture, we don’t quite fit there either. In a very real sense, kids like ours become a culture unto themselves… thus, THIRD CULTURE KIDS. Yes, it applies to adults too. Have you ever noticed how expats ALWAYS find each other? Common experiences and common emotions bring even strangers together. It’s amazing!

Here’s what the book taught us

  • A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. (page 13)
  •  This lack of full ownership is what gives that sense of simultaneously belonging “everywhere and nowhere.” (page 23)
  •  Any time children grow up among many cultural environments where they are true participants rather than just looking at the “other” from a distance, the deeper layers of their cultural selves and identities are being formed in nontraditional ways. (page 62)

 The best advice ever

One of the stories in the book that impacted me the most was of a family that had to move every couple of years. The dad had the most brilliant advice!

“Wherever you go in life, unpack your bags―physically and mentally―and plant your trees. Too many people never live in the now because they assume the time is too short to settle in. They don’t plant trees because they expect to be gone before the trees bear fruit. But if you keep thinking about the next move, you’ll never live fully where you are. When it’s time to go, then it’s time to go, but you won’t have missed what this experience was about. If you never eat from the trees, someone else will.” (page 217)

That single piece of advice HAS CHANGED OUR LIVES! The daughter even tells of returning to some of those places twelve years later and eating the fruit from the very trees that her dad planted. What beautiful closure!

From that moment on, we decided to LIVE IN THE NOW.

  • We got permission from our landlord to plant trees and gardens, and even paint the rooms.
  • A couple of years later, we even took the plunge and bought our own house. “When it’s time to go, then it’s time to go.” We renovated and upgraded and made it our own!

What a difference that has made for our mental health!

Wherever you go in life, unpack your bags and plant your trees! Click To Tweet

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To read more of 31 Days of Mom Awesomeness, click here.


For more information on the Write 31 Days challenge, check out Christina Hubbard’s site!


2 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for this book recommendation. I can’t wait to share with you how our family will be changing in the next couple of years – but I just bought this book for preparation.


    • Shauna Blaak
      Shauna Blaak says:

      Thank you so much, Sarah! I know you’re going to love it. ♥ There is so much wisdom and practical advice in there. Blessings back atcha! 🙂


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