Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Reentry Program Impact on Missionary Kid Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: A Three-Year Study

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Reentry Program Impact on Missionary Kid Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: A Three-Year Study

Article excerpt

Missionary Kids (MKs) are included in a broader population known as Third Culture Kids, children who are raised outside of their parents' home country. This cross-cultural upbringing provides many benefits but also presents challenges upon repatriation to the passport country. This study utilized a quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design to examine the impact of MK reentry programs on psychological well-being. Participants included 186 MKs who had lived in 86 countries and represented 68 missionary sending agencies. MANOVA results indicated significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress levels following program attendance. Differences were noted by gender, with females reporting significantly lower levels of psychological well-being than males. Implications for caregivers and recommendations for further research are discussed.

The number of Americans living abroad has risen steadily over the past two decades, as travel is more convenient and modern technology now allows people away from home to remain in touch with loved ones (Hervey, 2009). Cross-cultural living as an expatriate can be a rewarding experience, especially for those individuals and families who choose to remain overseas longer than four years (Austin, 1986). This extended 12 period of time allows for a rich understanding of the local culture and language, and frequently results in the development of a broad worldview. However, the same cross-cultural experiences that create such richness can also produce angst and chaos upon repatriation to the home country (Adler, 1981; Davis et al., 2010; Jordan, 1992; Martin, 1984; Pollock & Van Reken, 2001; Stringham, 1993). Adler (1981) suggested that reentry into the home culture was a more difficult transition than the initial move to a foreign country. Jordan (1992) likened the process of repatriation to that of a space shuttle reentering the earth's atmosphere, a "turbulent and fiery" (p. 13) endeavor that produces disorientation for those involved.

Children who have lived overseas with their families often face even greater challenges than their parents upon repatriation to their passport culture. Children who grow up in these circumstances are frequently referred to as third culture kids (TCKs), a term first used by Ruth Hill Useem in the 1950s in an effort to provide a nomenclature for this unique group of children (Useem, 1973). Since then, the term TCK has become a standard part of expatriate language, with the generally accepted definition including the ideas that TCKs spend a significant portion of their youth growing up abroad, develop relationships to many different cultures without a sense of full belonging to any, and subsequently feel as if they identify most strongly with others who have also grown up internationally (Davis et al, 2010; Pollock & Van Reken, 2001).

A review of relevant literature highlighted that there are clear advantages to growing up as a TCK (Gray, 1995; Hervey, 2009; Pollock, 1991; Pollock & Van Reken, 2001; Sharp, 1985; Useem & Downie, 1976; Ward, 1989). Pollock (1991), a noted expert on TCK issues, suggested that positive benefits of a TCK upbringing include "linguistic ability, cross-cultural skills, expanded worldview (and sometimes expanded spiritual view), and advanced maturity resulting from 'stretching' experiences" (p. 3). In addition, studies found that TCKs achieved higher IQ scores (Sharp, 1985) and demonstrated higher academic achievement test scores than the overall US population (Sharp, 1985; Wrobbel & Plueddemann, 1990).

Typically, TCKs are divided into four subgroups differentiated by their parents' career: business, government diplomacy, military, and missionary or nonprofit work (Hervey, 2009; Wrobbel & Plueddemann, 1990). More studies were found in the psychological literature regarding the children of missionaries than the other subgroups, with a particular focus on experiences of repatriation and transition back to the passport culture. …

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