April 05, 2004


In his discussion of "foreign teachers as economic migrants", Scott Sommers ends by focusing on their (mostly future) children, for whom he depicts a bleak future. I know quite a few "mishkids", American missionaries' children raised in foreign countries who've turned out very well as linguists or linguist-like people. Of course, I'd be less likely to know the ones who didn't make it.

Sommers writes:

Imagine the next generation of the world I am talking about. There will be children of career English teachers born in countries where the major language is not English. Their parents will lack the job skills and education to return to an English-speaking world where their skills in the culture market have no value. They will lack the language skills in either English or Mandarin to become professional workers in either cultural world. Without the legal guarantees of colonialism, such children will not be able to do anything except move down the occupational food chain. They may become workers in restaurants or stores where only low-levels of language skills are necessary. They may even end up working in local industries where foreign language skills aren't important.

Searching for mishkids and missionary kids turns up some cases that look good:

"John Hersey, former Time correspondent and winner of a Pulitzer Prize, ... told of his early close relationship with Mr. Luce [that's Henry R. Luce, founder of Time] based in part on their both being 'mishkids' the children of missionaries in China."

as well as some sites devoted to cases that don't.

Here is a site devoted to TCK -- "third culture kids" -- under the headings of "missionary kids", "military kids", "diplomat's kids" and "business expat's kids". There's no category for "foreign language teacher's kids" -- maybe there aren't enough of them yet? This page on the site has some statistics on careers, education and relationships of adult TCKs, which includes the fact that "73% graduated from university (only 21% of American population graduates)". This makes it sound like a career flipping burgers, whether in Boston or Beijing, is probably not a dominant outcome.

[Update 4/6/2004: Scott Sommers coments further on this question, suggesting that the experience of children of foreign teachers in the Far East will be "very different from that of the missionaries, diplomats, expat businesspeople, and military personnel ", especially in terms of the nature of supporting organizations (churches, companies, embassies, etc.) and the nature of on-going ties to the country of origin., "compounded by legal and social systems that actively discourage legal immigration". These are good points and his whole discussion is worth reading, especially since the scale of the problem is potentially so large. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 5, 2004 11:46 AM