A Kaleidoscope of Connections

Name: Jessica Vance

Current Status: Alumni

Graduation Year: 2014

Jessica Vance (BA ‘14) started her ministry with third-culture kids (TCKs) even before she enrolled at Hope International University. “Third-culture kids” is a term coined by cultural anthropologist Ruth Useem while she lived in India with her family more than 50 years ago, referring to those who are born to one culture, but who have spent most of their lives in another culture. It is the blending of those two cultures that creates a “third culture.”

Through her organization, Kaleidoscope, Vance works primarily with third-culture kids who are the offspring of American missionaries. Jessica is a TCK herself, having been born in America and then grown up in Central Asia as the daughter of missionary parents. In her teens, she had the opportunity to work with younger kids as an intern for the Youth with a Mission program, and her calling was born. She followed that calling after high school and was counseled to pursue a college education, entering HIU at the age of 22. She credits the Hope faculty, particularly Dr. Joe Grana (Dean of Pacific Christian College of Ministry and Biblical Studies), Dr. Kevin Lines (Professor of Intercultural Studies), and former faculty member Linda Whitmer, with helping her design a degree plan that was unique to the development of what is now Kaleidoscope.

“HIU played a huge part in getting me ready for this,” she said.

Vance operates Kaleidoscope from New York with the assistance of two part-time staff members (also TCKs). All three are in their twenties and work from three different states in a sort of virtual office. The programming model is very similar to the work Vance did prior to college. Each of Kaleidoscope’s travel teams is made up of volunteers who have lived the TCK experience and most are young people who have previously been program participants.

She said that the best time to connect with groups of kids is when their parents travel to international missions conferences. The Kaleidoscope team creates safe spaces for TCKs to share their stories and process transition. They address such issues as the frequency of saying “good-bye” to friends when living abroad in other cultures (some third-culture kids move every year), the transitional state of missionary families, and the sense of not belonging to either their parents’ cultures or the cultures of their international homes.

There are also sessions for parents. Though some might question the validity of a very young person leading a parent class, Vance said that these parents typically are very grateful to have someone investing in their kids, and her youth is not a detriment, because they see and appreciate the team members interacting positively with their children.

“I’m really honest about the fact that I don’t know very much about being a parent,” she explained. “These parents are living outside their comfort zones, just like the kids are, and they are happy to interact with someone who understands the issues of that lifestyle.”

Despite the challenges of being a TCK, Jessica resists when someone, jokingly or otherwise, categorizes her and other adult missionary kids as “survivors.” She said that it’s not a harmful, terrible experience to be a third-culture kid and added that the kids typically have great verbal skills and are very articulate in emotional discussions about “living between worlds.”

Vance approaches the future with an entrepreneurial spirit. The financial support of Kaleidoscope mostly comes from individual donors, but she expects to expand that development to church congregations and other possible sources of funding. She also is open to creating programming for the children of international business people, in addition to her ministry with missionary kids, and is excited about the positive impact of adult TCKs on younger TCKs and their parents.