What is Home for a Third Culture Kid?

What is Home for a Third Culture Kid?

I was born in Finland as the sixth child in my family. I arrived about four weeks after Hitler’s death. World War II was over in Europe – but not yet in Asia. I was uprooted and became a Third Culture Kid before I learned to walk. My oldest brother, born in China 1937, had died four years before I was born. The rest of us grew up to know many meanings of the word Home.

All six in one picture
All six in one picture


Dad’s Vision and Passion for his Mission formed my childhood.

My dad wanted to return to China where he and mom had been before the war. Soon after the war, as the first ships were permitted to take passengers from Europe to America, our family was on board the steamship Drottningholm sailing from Gothenburg to New York. Traveling eastwards towards Asia was not yet possible. We had reached Duluth on our travel across America by my first birthday.

By my second birthday. we had settled temporarily in Mukden (Shenyang). My dad was eager to return to the church work he had started in Dongfeng, Liaoning on his first missionary period. He made preparations for our family to move there, but it was impossible. Severe fighting was going on between Mao’s troops and the Nationalistic army. He returned to Mukden on the last train before all travel was cut off.

First experience as a refugee

We were refugees on the Yangtze River, one white family on the overcrowded river steamer Ming Feng.  We arrived in Kunming with mom six weeks before dad. We flew. He taught in a bible school in Chongqing before joining us. http://booklocker.com/books/8211.html

My love for flowers was born in Kunming. We had two temporary homes in the city before moving to servant’s quarters in a Chinese Mandarin’s compounds. There was a profusion of flowering white and shaded magnolia, climbing orange and red trumpet flowers, ponds with pink water lilies.

Pink and white magnolia
Pink and white magnolia

That pleasure was not long lasting – just as many other pleasures of childhood – the joys of that garden were cut off. Dad’s preaching in the streets of Kunming had won the hearts of many Chinese refugees who had fled war from the provinces north and northeast. He needed a building for a church and found an abandoned theater for the purpose. Three tiny rooms – maybe actor’s dressing rooms, became our next home.

Apart from our family, several Finnish missionaries had lived in the same lodgings with us at various stages. As the communist takeover reached Yunnan Province, missionaries began leaving the country, stopping in Kunming on their way out. We were enriched by numerous books they left behind. I began reading before my fourth birthday. The love of books has never left me.

Books gave stability
Books gave stability
Evacuation flight from Kunming

Finally, we too had to leave China. We were taken on the last trip made by the evacuation airplane St. Paul. At least mom and we kids flew out just days before Kunming fell to the Communists. Dad was determined to stay there as long as possible. For mom, this separation was the hardest she ever had gone through. http://booklocker.com/books/8211.html


I being the youngest had the privilege of mom’s lap much longer than any of my siblings. Maybe that gave me both a sense of safety as well as a sensitivity to the pain mom felt, but which she could not share with us. That pain revealed itself deep within me years later.

Arriving in Ceylon when I was four and a half years old, was a new beginning. Big elephants, tiny black and red ants, centipedes, millipedes that rolled up into balls when touched, bugs, grasshoppers, mosquitos, snakes, hens, and chickens became part of daily life for years to come.

I grew roots in the heated soil of Ceylon.


A poem by Finnish poet Saima Harmaja resonates with my life story.

I am a strong flower; I sprouted in the hot earth,

absorbing strength from the soil in a blissful sleep,

glowing, my petals reached out to the sun.

Then came the north wind

ripping my flowers away,

then came a storm wind

jerking me from my roots.

I rose, I fell, trembling in the face of the storm, collapsing, dismayed,

never extinguished.

Wherever the wind flung me,

I rooted myself again,

a thousand times after dying

I have bloomed again!

The world gives me no place to rest,

the rain beats my stem; I shiver with cold,

in each breath of wind

my flower moans.

But from time to time nothing else I can do

but love, only love

this amazing earth,

and the howling storm.

So while wrestling with death

I suddenly see the glory:

a ray of sun sweeps through me

as a fiery stream,

a thousand times again!

I can never burn out.

I, though broken, cry into the roaring gale:

Be blessed, o God on high,

who gave me this battleground.

Saima Harmaja (English translation Lisa Enqvist) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saima_Harmaja



10 thoughts on “What is Home for a Third Culture Kid?”

  1. I’m so touched reading this, Lisa. We have much in common. You’re the kind of soul I’d love to spend a day with. Thanks for sharing your story; I hope it reaches many people.

  2. Loved this post Lisa. What an amazing life you’ve live … not without pain but so richly evident of God’s fingerprints.

    1. Thanks Hulda for commenting. I can’t understand how I’ve missed your comment. I know I’m not very active on my blog. I hope I’ll get better at it some time. I love your stories on your blog. Fully Alive

  3. I have seen your photo and thoughtful comments on Shirley Showalter’s blog and just popping now over to say Hello on yours.

    I amazed at your rich cultural heritage and the gifts of service you have bestowed. Best wishes on your writing, Lisa!

  4. I don’t know why I didn’t see this before– what a rich beginning to your life. And what a journey you’ve had! Wow! You are close to my mom’s age, and much of her life has been spent in Latin America while yours has been in Asia. So enjoying your blog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *