Two Places to Call Home

By Karissa Uhlig

Unlike most boys his age, Shay Burgess has two places to call home. He is what we at JAARS affectionately call a TCK, or Third-Culture Kid.  

Shay with his pet cuscus, Nali

Shay’s dad, Fran, is a JAARS-trained pilot who serves in Papua New Guinea (PNG). So Shay has called PNG “home” since his family moved there when he was six. That is where he has gone to school and where most of his friends are, as well as his pets: a cuscus, a wallaby, and a dog.

However, the United States is also a sort of home to Shay. It’s where he spent the first few years of his life. It’s where his parents are from and where his grandparents and extended family live. 

Like Shay, TCKs are children who move to a different culture than the one they lived in during their developmental years. In a sense, they are part of three cultures—the one their parents are from, the one(s) they have spent their formative years in, and the combined culture created by these experiences.

While families are at JAARS for training or other reasons, we seek to help Shay and other TCKs adjust during times of transition. The MK station, which ministers to young kids (babies to five years old), and the Olive Branch, which ministers to preteens and teens, offer children care and support. The Burgess family has experienced this support when they have been in the U.S. Shay and his sister specifically benefited from the MK station while they lived on campus during his dad’s training. His mother, Jenise, noted, “[Shay and his sister] had sweet teachers who really cared about them during their times of transition. We loved the beautiful playgrounds and the lake, and being in a community of like-minded people. We still have many connections, friends, and coworkers at JAARS, and enjoy catching up with them each time we visit.” 

Shay and his family are currently on furlough, staying with his grandparents in Alabama. They’ll remain there for the next five months until they return to PNG. Since the United States is quite different from PNG, moving to Alabama has been quite an adjustment for him.

Shay and his family

One of the most prominent differences is school. Shay said, “When I’m here [in the U.S.], I wake up, do school, and then I’m done. But in PNG, I get up, feed our pets, and then I walk to school. When I finish school, I come back, play with my friends after [doing] homework, and feed my animals again.” Shay went to an international school in PNG, but now he is homeschooled. He enjoys the flexibility that homeschooling brings, but misses his friends in PNG, especially walking to school with them.

Shay’s Dwarf Tree wallaby, named Willow

Shay has little time with friends right now in Alabama since he is homeschooled, and he doesn’t know as many kids in Alabama as in PNG. He texts his PNG friends, but it’s not the same.

But being around his grandparents is certainly a blessing—while living in PNG, he could only text or video chat with relatives here in the U.S. These types of technology are a blessing to TCKs who can’t see their family members in person, but connecting with people through a screen can be difficult. 

Difficulties as well as blessings abound in the life of a TCK like Shay. Though his life comes with challenges, Shay’s belief and trust in Jesus helps him adapt wherever he moves. 

Those of us here at JAARS can’t wait to see what God does with TCKs like Shay as they put their hope and trust in him! 

Shay’s baptism in PNG

Join us in praying for TCKs and the unique challenges they face.