Missionary kids are used to adventure. They have grown up in a foreign culture, which includes learning a new language and blending in with the natives. They travel extensively and see unique cultures. They also demonstrate bravery by coming to a small town in Iowa to go to college.
But what is it actually like growing up abroad as a missionary kid? Makayla Tjernagel, a freshman from Cáceres, Spain, and Michelle Simpson, a junior from Venezuela and Panama lend their stories and experiences.
Makayla Tjernagel and her family moved to Spain when she was three years old. Spain is an especially hard place to be a missionary, as some culture there is shut off and hostile towards religion. However, she was never treated differently from her peers.
“My classmates thought it was cool I was American,” Tjernagel said. She also had no trouble making friends—she remembers playing with all the neighborhood kids in fountains by their apartments and going to a rundown park, dubbed “parque feo.” School life for Tjernagel was interesting.
“My siblings and I were the only Christians in our high school,” Tjernagel said. “Also, my friends thought our religion was a little weird. They respect it, they would never be mean about it. But they think it’s weird I have church every Sunday and that my family prays before every meal.”
In her town of 100,000 people, there are only three evangelical churches. The church her family started has only 40 attendees, but they all are family to Tjernagel.
“I miss the people at my church more than I miss my relatives in the States,” Tjernagel said. “I’ve learned good evangelism skills, such as focusing on other people and serving them. And I’m definitely braver after living in another culture.”
Junior Michelle Simpson was born in the U.S. to missionaries in Montana; they moved to Venezuela when she was one year old. Simpson and her family were the only white people in their area, and Michelle was the only white person in her school (the only English speaker among her friends).
“A lot of people would see my family and think we were just visitors from the United States,” Simpson said, “We definitely stood out wherever we went.”
Simpson alternated between being homeschooled and going to public school; it took a while for her peers to overcome their stereotypes.
“People would have these presumptions about me because I looked different,” Simpson said. I never had a hard time making friends, but a theme in my life has definitely been standing out.”
Being exposed to Latin America at such a young age, Simpson has developed a sensitivity to Latin American immigrants.
“I have a huge appreciation for other cultures now, and a desire to learn more about them” Simpson said. “Even with being in two cultures, I feel like I can’t fully identify with both. It’s an interesting position to be in.”
Good things have come from her living in Latin America—she wants to be a certified medical interpreter, and she has a love for playing music (with a special passion for playing Spanish music). These are both directly from her experiences of growing up abroad.