Westmont Magazine Strangers in a Strange Land
While they were born to American parents and speak English as their native language, “missionary kids” (“MKs”) at Westmont differ from their peers who grew up in the United States. Each year, the college enrolls seven to 10 students from missionary families worldwide.
“Your background makes you who you are,” explains senior Marie-Rose Bjork, who has lived in France. “MKs are used to representing the U. S. and standing out.”
Senior Rachel Buth, whose parents have served in Africa and the Middle East, agrees. “Before I came to the States, I was told I would stand out. But I wanted to be ‘normal.’ Some MKs don’t want their background known as they get tired of the labels and questions. They just want to be another Joe on the street.”
Often a minority in the country where they live, MKs tend to be closer to and more dependent on their families. “They are sometimes introverted,” Rachel continues, “but they develop inner strength because of the challenges they face and conquer.”
According to MK Brenda Smith, associate professor of psychology and the faculty adviser for MKs, “These students usually are self-directed, self-disciplined, and often subdued on the surface. They take academic work seriously and think deeply about personal and community concerns.”
Many MKs struggle with identity issues as well as culture shock. Some have trouble adjusting to simply being an individual after enjoying the elevated status of representing the United States.
To support MKs, Amy Ohlson ’95 and Carmel Hill ’95 planted the seeds for the existing Westmont chapter of Mu Kappa, the official MK organization. In addition, new MK and international students now attend a special orientation to learn about employment, transportation, banking, telephones, shopping, and healthcare in the United States.