TCKs: A Gifted Legacy


When I think about gifts, I am reminded of a passage: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Lord … To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4,7 RSV). When I reflect upon being an Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK), I am constantly reminded that I do have gifts to share with others.

Upon my return to the US, after having lived in Japan for six years, I thought that I would have no difficulty fitting back in. In fact, I was expected to fit back into American society. To my surprise, I experienced reverse culture shock and I felt worthless in the US. Initially, I regretted that I had ever lived in Japan, to the point where I would not even speak about my overseas experiences. I even used to believe that my years in Japan were my “Babylonian Exile.”

Later, I realized that I have gifts to share with others in the US. I can speak conversational Japanese and French, a skill that I have found useful in the workplace.

I also have an openness to interact with people from various cultural backgrounds. I have many stories to share with others about my memories of living overseas. I suddenly realized that I do have much to share with others in the United States.

As a Japanese-American, I used to think it was very strange that I had lived in Japan for several years. I used to think that I was the first Japanese­ American to grow up in Japan.

I have reflected on the experiences of other Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJAs) and I learned that my original suspicions were not correct. To my surprise, I learned that before World War II, a good number of second­ generation Japanese-Americans who were born in the USA had also lived in Japan during a good part of their developmental years before returning to the US.

It dawned on me that these people – also known as Kibei – are also Adult Third Culture Kids. These Kibei played a vital role during World War II. Many of them served the US military as interpreters; they were members of a US Army unit known as the Military Intelligence Service.

As a result of their service, it has been said that action in the Pacific Theater of World War II was shortened by two years.

General Douglas MacArthur said, in reference to the outstanding accomplishments of these interpreters, “Never in military history did an army know so much about the enemy prior to actual engagement.”1 I was very happy to learn that the Kibei were the first AJAs to become ATCKs.

I am especially proud of the many Kibei who served the US so well in the military by using their gifts. Their knowledge of the Japanese language and culture saved so many lives during World War II.

There are many Third  Culture Kids from Japan. I was very surprised to learn that two members of the Japanese imperial family are ATCKs. Princess Masako, the wife of Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito, is an ATCK. Princess Masako’s father was a member of the Japanese diplomatic corps.

When she was in kindergarten, she lived in Moscow, Russia. While she was in high school and in college, her father served as the JapaneseVice-Ambassador to the United States. Princess Masako finished the last two years of her high school education in the US. She subsequently got her undergraduate degree at Harvard University.

Before she married Prince Naruhito, Princess Masako worked for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she used her gifts as a diplomat. As a member of the imperial family of Japan, she will continue to represent Japan at various state functions.

The second son of the Emperor of Japan, Prince Akishino, is married to Princess Kiko. Princess Kiko was born in Japan. She moved to the United States with her family, and she attended elementary school in Pennsylvania. During her high school years, she lived in Vienna, Austria.

In 2006, Princess Kiko gave birth to a son; this boy is second in line to succeed to the imperial throne of Japan. Princess Kiko speaks German and English fluently and has used these gifts to serve her country.

Like her sister-in-law, Princess Masako, Princess Kiko will also continue to use her gifts to represent Japan at various state functions.

I realized that there are a few Adult Third Culture Kids among the leaders of my home country. Senator John McCain (August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018), who was the Republican Nominee for President of the United States in the 2008 election, was born in the Panama Canal Zone. He was the son of an officer in the US Navy who for, some time during his childhood, lived in Okinawa.

Barack Obama, who became the 44th president of the United States, was born in Hawai and lived in Indonesia several of his developmental years.

After reflecting upon the history of the United States, I was very surprised to learn that there was an Adult Third Culture Kid who also became President of the United States. This man deserves much recognition for the work he did during the early years of American history.

John Quincy Adams was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1767. After the United States declared her Independence, France became the first country to recognize this new nation. Adams’ father, John Adams (who later became America’s first vice-president and, later, the second president), was appointed the US Ambassador to France in 1778.

Later, Adams moved with his father to Holland after his father was appointed ambassador to that nation. When Adams was only 14 years old, he served, very briefly, as an interpreter for the US minister to Russia. Adams was fluent in several languages, including French. In 1785, Adams returned to the US to begin his education at Harvard University. After graduating from Harvard, Adams studied law and became an attorney.

As a young man, Adams often followed his father’s footsteps by entering the diplomatic corps for the United States when President George Washington appointed Adams as the US Minister Resident to the Netherlands. Adams later represented the US in Prussia, England, and Russia. During those years, Adams lived overseas with his family.

All of his children were Third Culture Kids. Upon his return to the United States, Adams served in the Massachusetts State Legislature and in the US Senate as a senator from Massachusetts. Adams served as Secretary of State under President Monroe. Once again, following in his father’s footsteps, Adams was elected the sixth president of the United States in 1824. After serving as president for one term, Adams served much of the remainder of his life in the US House of Representatives as a congressman from Massachusetts.

Adams was not a popular president. His only term as president was very difficult for him. He had to make correct, but unpopular decisions during his presidency. He lost his bid for re-election in 1828.

President John F. Kennedy wrote about Adams’ boldness in his book Profiles in Courage. Despite the hardships he endured during his presidential term, Adams proved to be superb as a diplomat, a secretary of state and a congressman.

In 1848, at the age of 81, Adams died in the US capital while serving as a congressman. Adams is an example of an Adult Third Culture Kid who used his gifts to serve his country and an outstanding example of how one can use one’s gifts to serve one’s communities and countries.

As I reflect upon these examples of Adult Third Culture Kids who used their gifts in such wonderful ways, I am encouraged to try to make a difference to my community, my workplace, my church, and my nation.

I do not have to make a difference in big ways. I can still make a difference by sharing my gifts in small ways. As I reflect on the gifts that I acquired while living overseas, I remember the words of a hymn written by Marty Haugen titled “We Are Many Parts”: “We are many parts, we are all one body, and the gifts we have we are given to share.” All Third Culture Kids have acquired gifts during the time they lived overseas.

Yes, we can all, indeed, make a difference by sharing our gifts with others.

By Kent Hori

Kent Hori is an ATCK who has lived in the United States, Japan, and Canada.

This article first appeared in the December 2007 issue or Among Worlds Magazine from Interaction International Used by permission.

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