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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Non-fiction Book Review: Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

Photo: Apolonia

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn Gardner was a fascinating read. The author speaks transparently about her life as a missionary daughter in Egypt and Pakistan and her cross-cultural adjustments, especially when coming to the U.S.A. She tells about her years in a boarding school and the differences in Eastern culture and the West. She is a “third culture kid.”

I thought she described her childhood very well, making you want to go to the places, drink warm chai, and enjoy the group friendships that you have in other countries.

This is what she said about boarding school: “But I had left the safety of the unconditional love of parents and home. I was in a place where my daily world was full of those as immature as I . . . all needy of a mother’s love, care, and patience.”

She speaks of hellos and many goodbyes, of fitting in and not fitting in at all. She talks about people not believing her when she tells stories—true stories—about her life.

“Perhaps being rooted gives strength. Perhaps being rooted doesn’t mean I give up who I am; perhaps it means that I securely use my past as a bridge to my present. Rooted means I grow strong, like the sunflowers that are growing high in our garden, faces raised to the sun.”

While the author wants to grow strong, she experiences moments of disorientation, feeling like she never belonged. “There was truth in what my friend was saying. I honestly didn’t know who I was. How could I? I didn’t have the capacity to live effectively and honestly in my present world while continuing to care for and be true to the world I had left, and loved, so well and so long.”

“There was a time when we over-spiritualized and downplayed ‘place’ and ‘home,’ convincing ourselves that since our real home was in Heaven, earth really didn’t matter too much. But ah, when we got to Heaven, that would all change. Except that we were young and Heaven seemed oh so far away.”

When as an adult, her passport expired and she didn’t need to renew it, she says, “I felt as if I had been robbed of my identity.”

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is well written and shows how most missionary kids really, truly feel about their lives. The author balances her quest for identity and belonging with her God-given blessings. She has a wanderlust borne out of her traveling background, and she gladly shares it with her own children.

Since I’m a mother to MKs, I found this a valuable book. If you ever desire to understand third culture kids in a Christian context, this is a good book to read. It’s fun, too! I heartily recommend it to any woman in ministry, as well as to military wives.


  1. I ordered this book but haven't read it yet. It's so funny--check out my blog post tomorrow, and you'll see why I'm laughing. Thanks for sharing yet another great book!

    1. Now you've got me curious! I think you'll enjoy this book and really relate. God bless, Susan!

  2. This is something I wasn't aware of until several years ago when missionary friends with an only daughter mentioned it. We knew to pray for culture shock when going away and reverse culture shock when coming back, but hadn't realized just how much MKs can struggle with identity and which culture they belong to. Some seem to struggle with it more than others, but I would guess it is probably a factor to some degree for all of them.

    1. I believe it's a factor for all third culture kids. A lot, of course, depends on the circumstances, ages, how many times they've been exposed to American culture, etc. Ours did very well, but there were difficult moments, especially during their college years. Even now, they do regard Spain as their home country, though they are both U.S. citizens. Thank you, Barbara!


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