This week we’re excited to introduce you to our new editorial intern at Among Worlds, Elena Mackey! Elena is a TCK, a writer, and a college student. She came on board in January 2023 and assists our team with curating content ideas, creating social media content, and uploading back issues of the magazine to the website.
Elena is a TCK from the Dominican Republic. She is currently an undergraduate at Liberty University pursuing degrees in Psychology and Writing. She was born in Colombia and adopted by American parents. She has lived in Minnesota (USA), Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, and is now in Virginia (USA). In her free time Elena likes to read, write, paint, and sing.
Elena, tell us a bit about your experience as a TCK.
I was born in Bogota, Colombia. My parents, who are from Minnesota, adopted me when I was just a few months old. I have an older brother who is also adopted from Colombia, but we aren’t biological siblings. We lived in Rochester, Minnesota (US), till I was three and my parents decided to become missionaries.
We then lived in North Carolina for a few months as my parents received training to go overseas full time (they had been doing mission trips for years already). I don’t remember anything from our stay there, but after seeing pictures, when I bring those images up in my mind, I can almost convince myself I remember it.
After our time there, we moved to Guatemala and lived there for seven months. My dad attended a Spanish language school; my mom had majored in Spanish and was fluent already. My brother and I learned our Spanish on the streets. We would play with the kids in the neighborhood. We were young, so our brains just absorbed the new language. I turned five in Guatemala. I remember a good amount from our time there and I’ve been able to go back twice to visit, but there’s still a sense that my memories of there are lacking.
Finally, in 2007 we moved to the Dominican Republic (D.R.). We first stayed in a team house. All of us slept in bunk beds, even my parents. There were lizards and spiders everywhere, it seemed! I especially hated the spiders. We quickly learned the faults in the country when we were robbed and realized the police would do very little to help us. But we soon made friends, and we double-checked all the doors and windows at night to feel a little safer.
It all blurs too much for me to have an actual timeline of when and where we stayed in that first year or so. We eventually found a house to rent. It had a very big yard in the back that we loved, and that was perfect for our two boxers (dogs). I shared a room with my brother, which wasn’t too bad as we got along better back then.
I feel like my memories began in that house. I remember waking up one morning and seeing the sun shining through the window and thinking something along the lines of “This is my life. I am alive.”
We moved once more after that to the house in the D.R. where my parents still live, and I visit twice a year. It’s definitely a lot bigger than our first house, which is helpful in hosting visitors and storing all the ministry supplies.
Growing up being a TCK meant not belonging anywhere. I wasn’t just torn between the D.R. and the US—I simply didn’t have a place anywhere in the world. At some points I wasn’t even sure I had a place in my family. Alone maybe I could pretend that I was just Latina: I had the complexion and I could speak the language. But with my family I felt like I stood out as much as their pale skin did among the Dominicans. I spent all of my younger years trying to figure out where I belonged among my friends and my family, and on what continent. I still subconsciously do it. I’ll go over everything I know about a place in my head in an attempt to prove I belong.
I wouldn’t say I had an easy childhood, but it doesn’t seem right to say I had it bad. I was bullied in school from elementary to eighth grade; I struggled with limitations my parents, especially my mom, had in taking care of my brother and me; and of course I struggled with being a TCK who was adopted even if I didn’t really know what that meant yet.
When did you discover that you were a TCK? When did you apply that label to yourself?
I really have no way of pinpointing when I figured it out. I don’t recall my parents ever really using that term around my brother and me. I was always just adopted, an MK (missionary kid), or both. My biggest issue was my adoption. Since I didn’t remember living in the US, I didn’t really have any ties to mourn.
I guess I would say I truly got a grasp on the idea once I was in high school. Even then, I still didn’t use the term TCK, but I was beginning to figure out how each piece I carried of a different culture made up who I am, and that was special.
I truly began using the term when I came to college. They have a scholarship program at Liberty University for MKs. So I labeled myself as they all did, an MK/TCK. But it’s still not a widely known term so I don’t use it around non TCKs. I just give people the pieces of my life, let them put it together, and label me what they want.
How do you see your TCK-ness impacting your life today, either positively or negatively?
It definitely impacts my life every day and it can all be considered positive. However, there are instances where it doesn’t feel so positive. Being a TCK is something that will always set me apart. This can often make me feel out of place, even among my closest friends. Having not grown up in the US, I feel like there are times when that’s revealed in my lack of knowledge of something my friends may consider common knowledge. It becomes a conversation I can’t be a part of. It can be very lonely at times. Yet, the positive is that the ways being a TCK sets me apart make me special. I have a different way of looking at and perceiving things from my American-raised friends.
How have you experienced your TCK-ness as an asset in your life?
It has given me such a unique view of the world. Where each TCK has lived and how they grow up creates a unique lens. The specifics of my story have made me who I am. My ability to be flexible, to be open-minded, considerate, and more comes from my TCK-ness. In more scholarly terms, my cultural intelligence is higher than it would otherwise be if I had grown up in the US. It allows me to understand cultures and their differences. I can blend in where I am as I adapt to the world around me.
What interested you about the editorial intern position at Among Worlds?
I first became interested in Among Worlds because of the attention given to TCKs. We are a group too commonly overlooked. The magazine was the first place I’ve ever been published, which was so exciting as an accomplishment but also in being able to use my voice in support of other TCKs.
Ever since I decided to be an English/Writing major, I’ve hoped to go into editorial work as a career. I only more recently discovered my passion for advocating for TCKs. When the editorial intern position became an option, it seemed to be the perfect mix of two of my passions. It’s like it was meant to be!
What are some of your career dreams/goals?
As I mentioned, I’ve wanted to go into publishing/editorial work for a while. I’ve also wanted to work with TCKs, whether that be as in ministry or as a counselor, as I am also studying psychology. As of right now, I am not 100 percent sure where life will take me. I simply have my passions and my education to place before God and let Him lead me on the right path.
Ultimately, I would like to be an author as a side career. I’ve always felt like I had so much to say and have only recently begun to find my voice. I want to use my voice to help people feel understood, comforted, and not alone in the ways I so often felt.
Do you keep up with other TCK friends or find other ways to stay connected to the “tribe”?
One of my closest friends is a TCK. At Liberty, I am part of a large community of TCKs, so I am able to be constantly surrounded by others like me. It’s always refreshing to have people who are able to understand so easily what it is to be a TCK.
Have you struggled with or embraced the idea of “settling down” in one location? What does that look like for you?
Yes! Though I don’t think about it too much, I’ve realized I do struggle with it. My biggest issue with “settling down” is what country it will be in. I love the D.R. and that is home to me. Yet, living in the US seems the safe and practical choice—not to mention my family is here as well as many friends. The longer I’ve lived outside of the D.R., the fewer ties I feel that I have left there. I fear that if I did move back there it would be lonely once I found that I wasn’t surrounded by as many friends as I once had there. Yet, if I live in the US I will always miss home.
What do you wish you had known growing up as a TCK? What supports do you wish you had had access to?
Through no fault of my parents, leaders, or staff at my school, I was thoroughly lacking in support as I grew up. I wish I had more resources and education on being a TCK as I grew up. Maybe if I had had a better grasp on what I was, I could have accepted myself more and been more confident.
I had friends who were TCKs as well, but none of us really addressed it. It is something that needs to be addressed throughout a TCK’s life. It should be an ongoing conversation as a TCK grows and changes. Having a community of TCKs where we could talk about who we were and how it affected us would have definitely been beneficial growing up.
We’re so glad to have you on the Among Worlds team, Elena!