“God, why did you make me a Korean missionary kid?”
H.G. Park, a Korean resident of Zambia, has asked himself this question dozens of times. Park has lived in Zambia for sixteen years, in addition to three years of high school in Kenya. He, like many other missionary kids, has experienced many cultures (he calls himself a ‘fifth-culture kid’), but has also gone through periods of questioning his identity.
Park’s father is a pastor in Zambia, and his mother works in children’s ministry. His parents originally felt called to serve the people of Ethiopia, where his aunt was already working. However, their visa applications were denied and they instead took a short-term mission trip to Kenya. Eventually, the Parks accepted a post in Zambia where H.G. spent the majority of his childhood.
Park remembers going back to Korea and comparing his life to that of his peers. He felt that he did not fit in with Korean missionary kids and was envious of American missionary kids. “I saw other Korean kids having a really good life,” he says. “They had fast wi-fi, and I had a box TV and an old fridge…”
While Park’s dream growing up was to be American, he could not have predicated that he would end up going to college in Arkansas where he is now a sophomore majoring in intercultural studies and family and human services. His previous travel experience ensured that culture shock was not an issue when he moved to the United States. Still, he discovered new, unexpected things about American culture every day. “Coke here doesn’t even taste good,” Park joked, “but chocolate-covered pretzels are manna, a gift from heaven.”
While many missionary kids call themselves “third-culture kids,” Park considers five cultures to have influenced him throughout his life. He is fairly unique, he said, even amongst the Korean missionary kids’ circles. Though he struggled to reconcile nationality with identity as a child, Park is now proud of who he is. “I’m really blessed that I became an M.K,” he said, and he values the influence that Korea, Zambia and the homes in between have had on his life.
In his time on campus at John Brown University, Park has enjoyed involvement with the community of missionary kids, and also works as an R.A. People often identify him as the “tall, outgoing Korean with headphones attached to his neck,” to which he responds that he does indeed take off his signature red headphones to sleep.
Park’s time at JBU has taught him a lot about himself, America and others. He stresses that missionary kids are not perfect, and wants others to refrain from assuming that they do not struggle or need support. On a lighter note, he reminds students that “not all missionary kids go barefoot. I like wearing shoes!”