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Missionary Kid Career Development: A Consensual Qualitative Research Investigation Through a Social Cognitive Lens.

Repatriated, young adult children of international missionaries (missionary kids [MKs]) face unique challenges in education and career development. The authors conducted a consensual qualitative research investigation, grounded in social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986), as it informs social cognitive career theory, of career planning and decision making with 11 repatriated MKs. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 23 years (58% female, 67% Caucasian) and had repatriated to the United States between the ages of 14 and 19 years, spending between 4 and 19 years abroad. The authors' interpretation of the study findings led to a context-specific revision of Bandura's (1986) Triadic Reciprocality Model. That is, regarding career development, faith intersects environmental variables, personal attributes, and overt behaviors in unexpected and multidimensional ways. Recommendations for researchers and practitioners include (a) attending to issues of sociocultural adaptation, (b) continuing to offer empirically supported (standard) career services to MKs, (c) using contextual and developmental approaches, and (d) inquiring about faith and calling.

Keywords: acculturation, social cognitive career theory, third-culture kids, consensual qualitative research

Third-culture kids (TCKs; Pollock & Van Reken, 2009) are individuals who have spent a significant portion of their developmental years in a culture/country that is different from their parents'. Children of international missionaries, or missionary kids (MKs), are a TCK subgroup whose childhood occurs in faith-based, global contexts (Choi, 2004; Davis et al., 2010; Pollock & Van Reken, 2009). Increasingly, scholars have recommended that MK researchers focus on specific psychosocial developmental tasks associated with young adulthood repatriation (Bikos et at., 2009; Wrobbel & Plueddemarm, 1990). Some have speculated that the simultaneous repatriation to the United States and transition to college (Choi, 2004; Cockburn, 2002; Hervey, 2009) amplifies education- and career-development-related difficulties, making it one of the most difficult developmental tasks that MKs face (Choi, 2004). Therefore, the present study examined postsecondary career and educational planning, development, and decision making within a sample of repatriated, young adult MKs.

Challenges Associated With MK Repatriation

Acculturative stress associated with MK repatriation is well documented (e.g., Huff, 2001; Priest, 2003). In a consensual qualitative research (CQR) study of readjustment to the United States and Canada, Bikos et al. (2009) reported a variety of challenges related to making friends, understanding the dominant culture, navigating activities required of daily living, and other issues. Additionally, Klemens and Bikos (2009) reported that, compared with non-MKs, MKs experienced higher psychological distress, and this was mediated by sociocultural adaptation. Hervey (2009) reported that when college-age MKs compared their college-age transition with a previous transition, they ranked the challenge of the college-age transition as more difficult in every dimension (e.g., saying good-bye, making friends, starting at school).

A history of international relocations is a likely contributor to the success of the college transition. Hervey (2009) reported that 25% of the MKs in her study moved 11 or more times. These changes are accompanied by changes in schools and school types (e.g., home, boarding, international, host national). Even in the national context, changing schools can result in negative social and educational consequences (Dixon & Hayden, 2008). Cockburn (2002) suggested that TCKs (especially those with special needs) are vulnerable to risks related to frequent school change. The MK college transition represents another in a series of geographic transitions (Choi, 2004; Cockburn, 2002; Edwards&Steinglass, 2001; Hervey, 2009), requires an international separation from parents (Choi, 2004), and requires sociocultural adaptation to the United States (Bikos et al., 2009; Davis et al., 2010).

The influence of the international and faith-based contexts of MKs' childhood and youth likely contributes to repatriation success and difficulty. Choi (2004) speculated that the international context allows the MK "more opportunities than other students," hut "this mobility can bring more disadvantages to MK students than benefits" (p. 259). Repatriated, young adult MKs in the Bikos et al. (2009) study frequently made comparisons (e.g., about time, hospitality, the importance of relationships,. consumerism) between home and host countries, and many of the comparisons were value laden, in favor of the host country.

Framing a Triadic Inquiry

Our qualitative inquiry was grounded in social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). Specifically, we used Bandura's (1986) social cognitive model of triadic reciprocality as the basis for exploring how the three interacting elements of (a) external environmental factors (contextual barriers and supports), (b) personal attributes (e.g., cognitive-personal variables), and (c) overt behaviors, influence the tasks involved with career and educational planning and decision making.

Although the population of interest in our project is college-age, repatriated MKs, the issues they face (e.g., relocation, acculturation, adjustment to college) are shared with others (e.g., TCKs, children of military personnel, international students, children ofimmigrants, first-generation college students, members of racial/ethnic minority groups, college students in general). Therefore, as we discuss the triadic elements (Bandura, 1986), we provide examples from the research literature where the characteristics of the sample likely share similarities with the characteristics of MKs.

External Environments

Contextual issues have been shown to be barriers and supports to college student adjustment and academic achievement. Filipino undergraduate nursing students (Restubog, Fiorentino, & Garcia, 2010), Asian Americans (Fouad et al., 2008), and university students in Hong Kong (Cheung & Arnold, 2010) and China (Wong, Wong, & Peng, 2011) indicated receiving positive support from parents and family. In contrast, Murphy, Blustein, Bol-dig, and Plan (2010) reported that the lack of support from the family of origin and the social climate of the current environment (coworkers) were barriers to successful transition from college to career for young adults. In the college context, career counseling services for the nursing students in the Philippines (Restu-bog et al., 2010) and university faculty for the students in Hong Kong (Cheung & Arnold, 2010) were protective factors.

Certainly, the influence of external environments include more than relational supports. For example, Navarro, Flores, and Worthington (2007) reported on the predictive relation between social class and math/science performance accomplishments in Mexican American college students. Fouad et al. (2008) also noted the contextual influences. of culture and role models in Asian American career development.

Personal Attributes

Numerous personal attributes, particularly cognitive-personal variables, have been investigated with regard to various educational and career development processes and outcomes. Among African American undergraduates, the personal attributes of achievement motivation, perceived value of education, and cultural mistrust explained a significant proportion of variance in academic performance (Caldwell & Obasi, 2010). In fact, high levels of cultural mistrust (i.e., mistrust of the majority culture) were related to lower levels of motivation, and both were associated with lower academic performance. Among Mexican American college students, college self efficacy predicted positive anticipated outcomes for pursuing college education, progress toward academic goals, and academic satisfaction (Ojeda, Flores, & Navarro, 2011). Additionally, acculturation was associated with strong beliefs about performing well in college and positive expectations related to obtaining a college education. Results of a qualitative exploration of the influences on the career development of Asian American adults (Fouad et al., 2008) identified work values and personal characteristics as important influences.

Overt Behaviors

In social cognitive models, overt behaviors are frequently assessed as past performance accomplishments. For example, in a sample of Mexican American youth, Navarro et al. (2007) demonstrated that past performance accomplishments predicted math/science self-efficacy. Similarly, Cheung and Arnold (2010) reported that prior levels of career exploration predicted subsequent levels of exploration: The more individuals engaged in career exploration, the more individuals were likely to do it again.

Triadic Reciprocations

The influences of external environments, personal attributes, and overt behaviors never operate in isolation. In fact, in many of the aforementioned studies, the triadic influences on various aspects of educational and career development are interactive and indirect. For example, in the Navarro et al. (2007) study, social class predicted math/science past performance accomplishments. Those variables, in combination with perceived parental support, predicted math/science self-efficacy. The results, however, are not always as expected. In the Navarro et al. study, generation status, Anglo orientation, and Mexican orientation did not predict math/science past performance accomplishments and past performance accomplishments did not predict math/science outcome expectations.

In a detailed analysis of the effects of international relocations to children of U.S. State Department families, Edwards and Steinglass (2001) suggested that a history of mobility (children in their study relocated between two and 11 times [M = 5.7]) interacted with personal variables age, race, a propensity to perceive social interactions as negative) in their relation with outcome variables (psychological and social adjustment). A positive emotional climate in the family and a high-functioning mother buffered the negative effects of relocations.

Purpose of the Study

On the bask of the foregoing literature review, the purpose of the present study was to explore aspects of postsecondary educational and career development within a sample of 18- to 25-year-old, repatriated (to the United States) children of international, Christian missionaries. Specifically, we used a qualitative research approach and our interview protocol was based on Bandura's (1986) triadic framework of the influences of external environments, personal attributes, and overt behaviors.

Method Locating the Paradigm and Method of Inquiry Our research design began from the theoretical frame of SCCT (Lent et al., 1994). We used the CQR method as the strategy of inquiry and followed recommendations provided by Hill (2012). Scholars suggest that CQR contains constructivist and postpositivist characteristics (Hill, 2012; Ponterotto, 2005). Constructivism is found in its naturalistic and interactive qualities. Furthermore, words and text provide the source for meaning making. Postpositivism is evidenced in the use of a semistructured interview protocol, the requirement of consensus regarding emergent themes, and the goal to objectively present the findings.


Hill and colleagues (Hill, 2012; Hill et al., 2005) recommended sample sizes ranging between eight and 15, suggesting that smaller samples are appropriate when participants are homogeneous and results are stable. Individuals were invited to participate in our study if they (a) were between the ages of 18 and 25 years, (b) were a U.S. citizen, (c) were currently repatriated to the United States, and (d) had spent a minimum of 1 year of high school in an international Christian mission setting. Participant host countries (prior to repatriation) included Mexico, Belize, Guinea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, France, China, Nepal, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Papua New Guinea. Our sample included 11 repatriated MKs ranging in age from 19 to 23 years (M = 21). The MKs spent between 4 and 19 years abroad (M = 12.67), changed schools benveen one and six times (M = 2.28), and repatriated to the United States between the ages of 14 and 19 years (M = 17.5). Fifty-eight percent were female, and 67% reported being Caucasian with the remainder self-reporting being multiethnic.

Data Sources

Researchers as instruments. The research team consisted of a European American, female faculty member and six industrial/organizational psychology doctoral students enrolled in a qualitative research methods class in which CQR was the primary method taught. Topics in international psychology (particularly regarding expatriation, repatriation, and acculturation for international sojourners) have been a primary research trajectory of the faculty member for more than 15 years. Additionally, she has lived and worked for an extended period of time (more than 3 years) in a single international setting.

Demographic questionnaire. Open-ended questions inquired about current residence, age, age of repatriation, gender, and race/ethnicitv/ nationality. Participants completed a table summarizing their residential locations and school settings as a function of dates and locations. Additionally, participants identified the nature of their parents' employment.

Interviews. Each interview followed a semistructured protocol, was 30 to 90 minutes long, and was conducted in English. The protocol was based on social cognitive theory (SCT; Bandura, 1986) and SCCT (Lent et al., 1994) and was intended to understand how external environments, personal attributes, and overt behaviors contributed to educational and career development. We invited each MK to describe his or her experience in the mission field. Subsequently, we inquired about how personal attributes (i.e., "cognitive-personal variables, such as your attitudes, expectations, and beliefs") contributed to educational and career development. Similarly, we asked about overt behaviors (i.e., "In what ways did specific actions, habits, or commitments that you took influence your career planning?") and external environments (i.e., "In what ways did your parents, your school, your international location, or other contextual factors help you get to this point [or prevent you from getting somewhere else]?"). Although scripted, the interviews were conducted so that we could follow the interviewees' lead to obtain a richer, thicker description of the participants' lived experiences.. We always asked, "We intend for the outcome of this research to be a negotiated text. ... What other questions should we be asking?" Upon request, a complete interview protocol is available from the first author.

Documentation of the interpiew. Interviews were conducted with at least two members of the research team present. In this manner, one primarily served as the interviewer and the other as the note taker. In many cases, both interviewers took notes. Immediately after the interview, the interviewers created a single case record. In as much as possible, these transcript-like narratives reflected the words and perspectives of the interviewee and not the interpretation of the interviewers.


Data collection. Repatriated MKs who met the inclusion criteria were identified through networking. We placed research announcements with requests for participants in faculty, staff, and student newsletters of Christian universities. Members of the research team e-mailed personalized invitations (with requests for forwarding to additional qualified participants) to individuals (e.g., missionary families, faculty advisers) and organizations (e.g., Mu Kappa--the social fraternity for MICs).

Once we identified potential participants by name, we e-mailed them a scripted invitation and attached an informed consent form and demographic questionnaires. Participants were invited to participate in the manner most convenient to them. Options included (a) individual interviews on the campus, (b) telephone interviews, or (c) online interviews (e.g., voice/video conferences). After the participant selected an option, a member of the research team confirmed the appointment and forwarded the semistructured interview protocol. Irrespective of the format, interviews began with a quick review of informed consent, confidentiality, and purpose of the project.

Data analysis. Using an Excel spreadsheet, we divided the responses from interview case records into units that consisted of one complete thought. After reviewing the units of data, we suggested domains (major themes) to which each unit would belong. After we determined that the domain list was sufficiently informative and inclusive, each team member independently assigned each unit of data to a domain. Disagreements and inconsistencies that emerged during this process were resolved through consensus, and, when necessary, the domain list was revised. After establishing a stable list of domains, we divided the content of each domain into categories (subthemes) and subcategories. In a manner similar to the development of the domains, team members developed the categories/subcategories independently and then discussed these ideas until consensus was achieved. A CQR frequency table (see Table 1) was constructed, and frequency labels were assigned.

TABLE 1 Summary of Domains, Categories, Subcategories, and Frequencies

Domain, Category, and Subcategory         Frequency  Respondents

External environments
Global family structure                     General           11

Geographically distant from parents         Typical            6

Support from extended family, friends,
church members/leaders                      Typical            6

Supportive parents                          Typical            7

Parents as role models                      Typical            7

Variety of primary/secondary education      General           10

Pieced-together program of education        General           10

Limited education and career development
resources                                   Variant            3

Childhood context of an international,

mission field                               Typical            8

International, faith-based context          Typical            8
influences values

Narrow exposure to role models may limit
career choices                              Variant            4

MKs may reject the lifestyle of their          Rare            2

Repatriation support                        Variant            5

Assistance from university programs,
faculty, and staff                          Variant            3

Shared vision by faculty and student        Variant            4

Specific supports for missionary               Rare            2

Presence of God                             Typical            8

Personal attributes

Recognition of skills, interests, and       Typical            7
personality traits

Variety of decision-making styles and       Variant            5

Evaluating education and career             Typical            9

Traits of a TCK                             General           10

Acculturative stress                        Typical            8

Global values, interests, and skills        Typical            8

Flexibility                                 Variant            5

Driven to make a difference                 Typical            9

Christian identity                          Typical            7

Overt behaviors

Using traditional career planning           General           10

Asking others about educational and

options                                     Typical            6

Trying out career-related activities        Typical            8

Gaining work-related experience             Typical            6

Making plans and evaluating them            Variant            5

Staying connected to international          Typical            6

Maintaining connections with the

missionary community                        Variant            4

Planning for international opportunities    Variant            5

Seeking God's direction                     Variant            5

Note. N = 11. Frequency labels (general - applicable to 10 to 11
cases; typical = applicable to six to nine cases; variant =
applicable to three to five cases; rare = applicable to one to two
cases) are consistent with Hill's (2012) recommendations.
Respondents refer to the number of cases in a particular category
or subcategory. MKs = missionary kids; TCK = third-culture kid.

Auditing occurred throughout. Our audit trail included original case records; their unitization in an Excel spreadsheet; the assignment of domains, categories, and subcategories; working definitions of the domains, categories, and subcategories; and a resultant case report. The initial audit occurred in rotating teams. As our teams categorized the units in each domain, we called attention to units of data that we believed to be incorrectly assigned to the domains we were categorizing. We brought these to the attention of the entire team and negotiated (a) reassignment of the unit of data to a different domain or (b) refinement of a domain name or definition. Further auditing occurred in writing the article. That is, it sometimes occurred to us that categories might be divided, subcategorized, or collapsed, or that the assignment of certain data units would fit better in other subcategories, categories, or domains. In a final audit, a single auditor was asked to ensure that (a) the material was assigned to the correct domain, category, and subcategory; (b) the categories and subcategories represented the content of the domain accurately; and (c) the wording of both the domains and the category structure reflected the raw data well.


The trustworthiness of our project is supported by our attention to several criteria (Morrow, 2005). Credibility was established through persistent observation of the phenomena (we interviewed 11 MKs) and by writing thick, rich descriptions of our results. The transferability of our findings was supported by (a) clearly defining our phenomena of interest, (b) sampling broadly within that definition, and (c) providing a detailed description of our research method. Dependability was supported by creating an audit trail and executing multiple waves of audits. Con firmability was supported through our acknowledgment that the result was a negotiated text. That is, although we attempted to record and interpret the participants' perceptions as accurately as possible (e.g., by careful note taking, by arguing to consensus), we expect that our own biases entered the analysis in ways that remain unknown to us. An additional method to support confirmability was to seek, receive, and incorporate formative feedback from three groups to which we presented our preliminary results ( a stakeholder presentation scheduled as part of the doctoral course and two invited workshops at a campus-wide event). The feedback resulted in significant adjustments to our category structure and emerging model.


Results included 14 categories (with 21 subcategories) organized within the three social cognitive domains of external environments, personal attributes, and overt behaviors. Readers are encouraged to read the results narrative in tandem with the CQR frequency table (see Table 1); it serves as an outline and provides an index to the salience of each theme. The representativeness of each category is indicated in the frequency column. General means that the category/subcategory is applicable to all or all but one of the participants (90%); typical means that it is applicable to more than half of the participants; variant means that it is applicable from three cases to up to half of the participants; and rare means that it applies to one or two cases.

Quotations from the stakeholders are presented throughout the results. At times, the grammar in these quotations has been amended to improve the readability of the article. All changes have been made with care so that the quotes reflect the speakers' intentions.

External Environments

Global family structure (general). It was typical for MKs to be geographically distant from their parents. In many cases, the parents (and perhaps siblings) remained in the international mission field while the MK attended college. Several had made plans for visits (usually the MK traveling to the international mission site) during holidays or school breaks. On rare occasions, such as graduation, the parents traveled to see the MK. For some, there were years between visits. Several MKs reframed words such as stability and closeness. Despite multiple geographic relocations and separations, one stated, "I feel like my family has helped make me very stable--even when there is a lot of uncertainty." MKs and their families relied on support from extended family, friends, and church members/leaders. The location of domestically based extended family and friends frequently played a role in choosing colleges and universities. Additionally, church members/leaders and family friends often helped with transitions, holidays, and housing.

MKs noted emotional and practical examples of parental support. Some indicated that finances were a family obstacle, but parents were effortful in providing essential and extra resources. Parents remained supportive as the repatriated MKs entered adulthood. Parental support was perceived on a continuum from endorsement (of MK choices) to clear direction. Exemplifying the latter, one MK stated, "My parents pushed me to look. ... My dad dragged me to a bunch of college fairs. ... They specifically wanted me to go to a Christian college." Another said, "I'm tentatively thinking of teaching. My dad has always planted it in my mind: 'You should teach here in [country]--be the girls' dorm mom at the high school."

MKs saw their parents as role models. They referenced the nature/ content of their parents' work, educational traditions, work habits, and values/attitudes and described how they wanted to be similar and different. For example, one participant said, "I really want to be a missionary. I think I would like to follow my father as well. ... That seems like a pretty good role model." Another said, "I've known that I wanted to be a missionary since I was a little girl. But the only missionaries I knew were Bible translators (what my parents were), so I assumed that's what I would do." With regard to work habits, an MK said, "The biggest contribution to getting into the nursing program is the background of taking school seriously. My parents always stressed good grades and always felt that education was important."

Variety of primary/secondary education experiences (general). MKs reported that their primary and secondary educations were pieced-together programs of education, including home schools, boarding schools, local national schools, international schools, Christian/MK schools, and schools in the United States (e.g., during furlough). Most MKs reported three or four changes, but some reported more. One student reported,

  I was never at the same school for more than a year or
  had the same teachers or same situation, depending on
  whether I was homeschooled or whatever. It was a
  supereclectic education--a new way of doing things all
  the time.

MKs verbalized that the educational experiences were substantially different from what their U.S. counterparts were experiencing.

Not surprisingly, educational and career development resources were limited. An MK boarding school offered a contemporary issues class in which the instructor's primary goal was to prepare the students for repatriation to the United States; an MK student was grateful for one

teacher who spent time teaching the students to research colleges and universities online. Others reported that the sole educational and career development focus was the SAT. The varied school experiences provided challenges for the college admissions process. For example, one MK student said, "My morn kept typing up transcripts, and [university] kept telling us that's not what they wanted. It was a long, drawn-out process." MKs voiced strong desires for additional resources such as college fairs in international locations and high school classes or extracurricular events (online or real time) that focused on college preparations.

Childhood context of an international, Christian, mission field (typical). The international, faith-based context of MKs' childhood provided exposures to contexts that were different from the ones that they would have had in the United States: extreme poverty/slums, political instability, war, overt racism, natural disasters, and multiple languages. Several MKs proposed that their exposure to poverty, combined with their modest missionary lifestyle, resulted in a reduced valuing/expectation for financial gain in their own careers, as can be seen in the following statement:

  Growing up overseas, wc were in a very third-world country, saw
  extreme poverty, lived in a small village. The country is very
  unstable. Political upheaval impressed upon me as a kid how needy
  people arc, and we as Christians should do something to alleviate
  suffering. My dad said as a Christian it was our job to meet physical
  and spiritual needs; you can't have one without the other. Even
  though I didn't know what career Pd get into, I knew I'd want to do
  something to help people.

Although MKs were influenced by their exposures to role models, they were also influenced by their absence. In fact, this narrow exposure to role models may limit career choices. One MK chose a career in nursing but recognized she had few childhood role models for this. Numerous MKs voiced desires to return to the mission field. One said, "I've been learning about missions since I was young. You could think about this as something I've been limited to or that I've been trained very well in. I can't see myself trained in doing something else." One MK offered a more cautionary note:

  With MKs, it's important to explore whether they are doing that
  (choosing a career) because they feel that's what everyone should be
  doing or if this a call from God in their own life. A lot of MKs
  choose missions because that's what they know. It feels comfortable
  for them.

Others suggested that MKS sometimes reject the lifestyle of their upbringing. One said, "Exposure influences things, but I've seen MKs who want nothing to do with it." Another said, "Some don't want to be identified as MKs. They feel it's weird they grew up overseas. They try to blend in with people around them."

Repatriation support (variant). Several MKs identified assistance from university programs, faculty, and staffas supportive. For example, one MK student said, "My [Christian university] really does want international students; there are probably 500 MKs and internationals." Another described the important role played by her college adviser. One student was encouraged by the small size of her Christian university and its requirement for all students to participate in study abroad. MKs identified the importance of a shared vision by faculty and students for valuing and participating in international, service, and faith-based work.

Occasionally, Mks referenced specific supports for missionary families, particularly during repatriation. On campus, the social fraternity Mu Kappa was helpful: "Mu Kappa provides a large group of people that I can share experiences with that have had similar experiences. ... I've heard several people say that they wouldn't have come to [university] if Mu Kappa weren't here." Another described a reentry camp that he and his family attended. The camp was especially supportive in that previously repatriated MK participants could have summer work as counselors, helping incoming MKs.

Presence of God (typical). MKs perceived God's presence in their environments. One said, "God will take care of you even if your parents are halfivay around the world." Regarding career planning and decision making, MKs referenced *seeking or responding to "God's call." MKs expected that God would "open doors" and "use me." One participant said, "I feel confident that God has something for mc here, and I think it is bigger than what I can imagine." Another said, "God is going to provide opportunities. There will be hard times, but it will work out. He wants to use us." Numerous comments made specific attributions to God for past and present circumstances, for example, "I see God's hand in bringing me here" and "God loved this path even when I didn't know it was the right thing to do."

Personal Attributes

Recvnition of skills, interests, and personality traits (typical). Regarding the factors that influenced their present educational/career position, MKs identified interests and skills they believed to be characteristic of specific college majors or careers that they discovered during their childhood, teenage, or early college years. Several MKs began statements of interest with "I've always liked ... ," "I've always wanted to ... ," and "I found it fascinating, so ... ." MKs also mentioned their recognition of certain skill sets and personality characteristics.

Variety of decision-making styles and strategies (variant). MKs described a variety of decision-making styles and strategies. Several described intuitive strategies, for example, "When I visited campus I knew that this was where I was supposed to go" and "Intercultural studies felt right."

A variation from raw intuition was the following: "I picked psychology by looking at a list of all the majors ... . I just picked psychology as a process of elimination." Another MK narrowed her choices to two majors and indicated that her selection was a "toss-up." Although most MKs acknowledged having come to some certainty about education and career decisions, others remained undecided about which major to choose or how to transition the college major to employment. One said, "I do enjoy language a lot, but I'm not sure what I'm going to do with that."

Evaluating education and career decisions (typical). MKs voiced that they were "on track" and "wouldn't have done anything differently." A few indicated they were "pretty much on track." Several self-reflective comments pointed to areas for self-improvement (e.g., accountability, grades, and "not as on top of things as I should be on occasion"). A few MKs reflected on how their expectations for education and career changed over time; one attributed this to "reconciling idealistic high school expectations, " and another described how she "loved the whole learning and growing thing."

Traits of a TCK (general). MKs acknowledged traits common to TCKs. Among these was acculturative stress. MKs described difficulties in adjusting to U.S. culture. Descriptions ranged from "not a big deal" to being "freaked out" by certain cultural elements, such as going to. "big stores like Costco." Often, comments involved relational confusion and frustration. For example, one MK noted, "Sometimes I don't know the American culture, so I feel blind in some situations because it is a different culture." Another added, "A lot of times I think I'm weird and no one understands me." One MK perceived Americans as "SC) shallow," and another suggested that "they [Americans] don't really know how to relate when I'm talking about internationally related things." Adding to acculturative stress were inaccurate assumptions made by non-TCKs:

  People asked why I was just now taking driver's ed. When I
  told them I had lived in [developing country], they said
  things Like "Wow, so you have never seen a car before?" I
  know not all people arc like that, but it's really annoying.

MKs commonly claimed global values, interests, and skills. For example, one participant said, "Because I have lived in a whole other culture, I feel like I have an appreciation to different types of people, religion, etc." Several contrasted their worldviews with nontraveling U.S. counterparts and suggested that their global experience provides them with an ability to "look at things differently" and to "think in global contexts" without "American arrogance." Global competencies and interests often included a love for languages.

Particularly regarding the time and place issues of career planning, MKs were flexible. They were "open to whatever" and willing to "serve wherever." One MK said,

  You don't have to know exactly what you are doing. I watched
  a lot of my friends struggle. You can study things that you
  aren't going to be doing for the rest of your life. You may
  not understand how this will get you where you want to go.

Driven to make a difference (typical). MKs were passionate about using their careers to help others, as evident in the following statement: "I'm still thinking about where I can be helpful to people in need, how I can ease sufferings and meet physical and spiritual needs." Several MKs identified specific majors/careers, including nursing, teaching, disaster relief, medical missions, counseling, and nonprofit/nongovernmental organization leadership. Others offered more general and nonspecific desires to help, for example, "I try to aim for where I can benefit people the most." Several identified choosing benevolence over other, perhaps equally interesting, choices in majors and careers. One participant said, "I really enjoy interior design but couldn't justify designing houses when I had more knowledge to help people." Another echoed, "I really like art. But I love people a lot more than I love art." Yet another MK stated, "We're given gifts and brains, and if I'm not using them to help other people, what's the point?"

Christian identity (typical). MKs held strong commitments to the Christian faith, for example, "My trust is in the Lord" and "I've grown through the grace of God." MKs desired to "bring the Christian world-view" into their career choices. One said, "As a Christian, we should help our neighbors." MKs also voiced a desire to use their career to "to honor God" and "for the glory of God."

Overt Behaviors

Using traditional career planning activities (general). Generally, MKs reported using career decision-making strategies promoted by career development professionals. Exploratory behaviors included asking others about educational and career options, trying out career-related activities, and gaining work-related experience. As early as middle school, MKs began to identify their skills and interests and discuss them with those around them. One participant recommended the following: "Ask aunts, uncles, friends, and parents about their experiences. Ask about their experiences or their struggles--they will help steer you in the right direction." Another said, "I tried to surround myself with godly people . . . not being afraid to ask questions." As the MKs matured, these conversations became more intentional, perhaps reaching the level of an informational interview. Similarly, one MK reported experimenting with "different things, ever since I was little." For some, connections between career planning and the activities seemed serendipitous; for others, there was more intentionality. As MKs aged, they pursued more deliberate exposures to work-related opportunities, including job shadowing, volunteering, internships, and part-time/summer work. MKs found the opportunities informative. For a few, the activities resulted in logical next steps and increased experiences and exposures. In their repatriated status, MKs used volunteer, internship, and part-time work experiences to earn/save money and gain career-related experiences.

MKs varied in their approaches to making and evaluating plans. One reported that she "mapped out a career" in high school; consequently, she felt that she was "on track" because of her early and intentional planning. More commonly, MKs reported identifying short-term (e.g., earning/saving money, part-time work and studies), midterm (graduate school, postbaccalaureate employment, professional credentials), and longer term (paying off debts, owning/operating a social enterprise) goals throughout their college years. A few voiced uncertainty. For example, one participant said, "Having a goal and a plan is what people want to hear; they expect you to have a plan in mind. This can be good, but for someone like me, when people ask, I realty don't know."

Staying connected to international missions (typical). MKs maintained contact with the mission field and international communities. One MK selected friends of the same nationality from his mission assignment. Another recognized that the choice of school (a small, private, Christian university) permitted "good discussions with students who actually relate to and understand much of what I discuss." Others sought opportunities (e.g., internships,. postbaccalaureate experiences) for domestic and international mission/service. Additionally, MKs were participating in (and planning for) international opportunities, in short-term mission trips, internships, and study abroad. Some were strategizing how to pursue and/or finance more permanent options. For example, one participant said, "I know eventually I want to live overseas ... raise a family overseas... . I think the overseas experience is good." For some MK.s, the vocational and geographic goals were quite specific; for others, the options were more flexible

Seeking God's direction (variant). MKs sought God's guidance with regard to education and career decisions. Most used "prayer" to describe their efforts. For example, one participant said,

  As I got older, I started praying about it. Entering college, I
  thought this was the time to really think about what I should do. 1
  did a lot of praying. Missions became personal--it is my passion and
  it fits my gifts.

Another stated, "Ask questions about career. 'Why am I doing this ? ' and 'What should I be doing ? ' Seek the Lord. Ask for it to be revealed to you." Other MKs' faith-based behaviors included being "stewards of the time and gifts God has given me" and "seeing where the Lord leads me."


Results of our qualitative inquiry into the educational and career development of college-age, repatriated MKs map well onto the extant literature describing the repatriating MK context and college student development. Simultaneously, our results suggest deviations that may inform research and practice related to MKs and related groups (e.g., TCKs, children of military personnel, international students, children of immigrants, first-generation college students, members of racial/ ethnic minority groups). To facilitate a space-efficient presentation, we merge our synthesis of our findings with the extant literature into four recommendations for research and practice.

Attend to Issues of Sociocultural Adaptation

Even in the narrowed foam of our interviews, our results clearly echo the findings of others regarding MK repatriation difficulties- (Bikos et al., 2009; Choi, 2004; Hervey, 2009; Szkudlarek, 2010). Therefore, we recommend that career practitioners inquire about (and respond to) educational and career development as well as overall repatriation. When assistance 'vith reentry issues exceeds the array of services available by the career services practitioner, referral for personal counseling or specific services may be warranted. MK transition seminars have been shown to be effective in reducing depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as improving overall psychological well-being for repatriating MKs (Davis et al., 2010). In parallel, future MK career development research should also include variables (e.g., covariates) that assess the level of sociocultural adaptation.

Continue to Offer Empirically Supported (Standard) Career Services to MKs

Because some critical elements in MK career development may seem like atypical risk factors (e.g., irregular education, narrow exposure to careers/career paths, a strong influence of faith, a high rate of return to mission-oriented careers), practitioners may have concerns about the effectiveness of standard career services. Yet, our results also show that traditional career planning activities are known to and used by MKs. Additionally, results from a longitudinal study of a diverse group of college and work-bound youth suggest that career exploration during the ages of 19 to 22 years is multidimensional and nonlinear (Porfeli & Skorikov, 2010). Similarly, Durr and Tracey (2009) suggested that career decision making is complex, involving personal forces (e.g., self-efficacy and interests) and external and contextual forces (e.g., parental support and race/ethnicity). Because the MK results mirror the diversity in the general population, we recommend that college and university-level career practitioners continue to offer the standard, evidence-based practices that are common to university career centers.

We encourage those who support MKs during their elementary and secondary years (e.g., sending organizations, schools that host MKs) to incorporate evidence-informed career interventions and services into their curricular and cocurricular offerings. Additionally, Internet-based technologies may boost access to career services that are not locally available (e.g., Savickas, Van Esbrocck, & Herr, 2005). Individual families, schools, and sending -organizations might investigate the possibilities of these resources for the MKs and TCKs they serve.

Use Contextual and Developmental Approaches

Simultaneously, MKs' environments resemble Lo Presti's (2009) characterization of postmodern career development; that is, environments are defined by "globalization [and] increasing social complexity and flexibility, [where] careers have lost their linearity and predictability" (p. 125). For these circumstances, Savickas's (2005) Career Adaptability Model may have relevance. This developmental approach is appropriate throughout the life. span (beginning in childhood; Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2008; Hirschi, 2009) and focuses on four dimensions of career: concern, control, curiosity, and confidence (Savickas, 2005).

We also suggest that researchers adopt expanded perspectives. For example, Flu.m and Blustein (2000) proposed a framework for career exploration research that includes considerations from the (a) identity-formation literature (to inform differentiated developmental paths while attending to roles within the life space), (b) self-determination literature (to explore motivational processes that energize exploration), and (c) cultural and relational contexts that frame the intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of exploration. The simultaneous exploration of these contextual and developmental variables is critical.

Inquire About Faith and Calling

As noted previously, our interview protocol was based on SCCT (Lent et al., 1994). and organized as a function of Bandura's (1986) model of triadic reciprocality. As scripted, our interview protocol contained no questions about spirituality or faith. However, because we promoted a softly structured approach, we followed our participants' leads. We were surprised that elements of faith emerged as categories in each of the triadic domains. In external environments, faith was experienced as presence of God. In personal attributes, faith was expressed as a Christian identity. In overt behaviors, faith was expressed as seeking God's direction. Consequently, we suggest that in education and career development, faith intersects external environments, personal attributes, and overt behaviors in ways that are unexpected and multidimensional. Figure 1 provides a visual representation of our proposed extension of Bandura's social cognitive model of triadic reciprocality to the MK context. In light of our revision to Bandura's model and the preceding results, we recommend that researchers and practitioners acknowledge and inquire about the role of faith and calling. Several resources (e.g., Duffy, Allan, Autin, & Bott, 2012; Duffy 8c Sedlacek, 2010) provide practical recommendations for exploring this with gentility and depth. Should career counselors be reluctant to do this, referral to a religious or spiritual adviser might be appropriate (Hernandez, Foley, 8c Beitin, 2011).


Regarding the trustworthiness of our results, our research method generally meets CQR standards (e.g., Hill, 2012). We offer one comment about sample selection. Recruitment originated from a private, Christian, liberal arts university, and our connections were to similar institutions. Consequently, our sample does not reflect MKs who attend public colleges and universities. This likely narrows our boundaries of generalization. Additionally, our study fell short of the CQR requirement of audio taping the interviews. Although research team members worked in pairs (or more) to capture the words of the participants, we acknowledge that even the most talented note takers are likely to err.


Repatriated, young adult children of international missionaries (MKs) face unique challenges in the tasks of education and career development.

The findings from our CQR investigation, which was grounded in SCT (Bandura, 1986), as it informs SCCT (Lent et al., 1994), with 11 repatriated MKs map well onto the career development literature. Yet, MKs face unique risk and protective factors related to education and career development. The interpretation of our results led to a context-specific revision to Bandura's (1986) model of triadic reciprocality. That is, with regard to career planning and decision making, faith intersects environmental variables, personal attributes, and overt behaviors in ways that are unexpected and multidimensional. Recommendations for researchers and practitioners include (a) attending to issues of sociocultural adaptation, (b) continuing to offer empirically supported (standard) career services to MKs, (c) using contextual and developmental approaches, and (d) inquiring about faith and calling.


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DOI: 10.1002/j.2161-0045.2014.00077.x

Lynette H. Bikos, Department of Clinical Psychology, and Deanna Haney, Richard W Edwards, Mark A. North, Meg Quint, Jillian McLellan, and Diana L. Ecker, Department of Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Seattle Pacific University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lynette H. Bikos, Department of Clinical Psychology, Seattle Pacific University, 3301 Third Avenue, West, Seattle, WA 98119 (e-mail:
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Author:Bikos, Lynette H.; Haney, Deanna; Edwards, Richard W.; North, Mark A.; Quint, Meg; McLellan, Jillian
Publication:Career Development Quarterly
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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