Missionary kids bring diverse culture to U.
Rachel Schupack '08 sat outside Wu dining hall, preparing to recount her upbringing in Central and South Asia, an experience unusual even by Princeton standards. Just as she had begun to spell "Kyrgyzstan," she was interrupted by a cheerful Russian greeting from a sophomore friend.
Schupack later explained that her friend had just started learning Russian. "A lot of people like to practice with me," she said.
The eldest of six children, Schupack — who has lived most of her life in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — is one of a handful of Princetonians who come from missionary families.
Called "missionary kids" or "MKs," these students boast an understanding of the world that stretches far beyond fluency in a foreign language.
Schupack, whose family moved to Pakistan through Worldwide Evangeliza-tion for Christ when she was two, remembered the intense Islamic influence in Pakistan. Schupack's mother, for example, had to wear traditional Muslim garb in public, she said. Schupack, however, was too young to be required to do the same.
Perhaps because of the government's political fundamentalism, Schupack's family was ordered to leave the country when she was four.
"[The Pakistani government] had been asking . . . all these missionaries to leave," Schupack said. "The police came to our house one night and told us we had 10 days [to exit the country]."
After briefly returning to the United States, Schupack's family then spent five years in Kyrgyzstan and six years in Kazakhstan, where Schupack attended a school for missionary children.
She also assisted with humanitarian work, including an "eyeopening" summer spent at a camp for impoverished children.
"[The children at the camp] had one outfit for two weeks," she said. "They hoarded things like toothpaste, combs and pencils under their pillows like treasures."
And the camper's enthusiasm about having the chance to partake in activities with other kids was one of the best parts of the experience, Schupack said.
"It was cool to do things with people who appreciated their novelty," she said.
Brad Milligan '08 also had a nontraditional upbringing. Milligan lived in Zimbabwe with his family when he was four, before spending most of his middle and high school years in Tanzania and Kenya. His family worked with the group African Inland Mission.
"In Zimbabwe, we lived five minutes from the border of Mozambique [where there was a war]," he said. "We went to bed in black pajamas in case we had to sneak out during the night, and we had backpacks packed beside the bed."
Life in Kenya was also uncertain, he said. In addition to exotic dangers — at a hospital where he volunteered, Milligan met a man who had been mauled by a lion — there was also political and social unrest.
"There were hijackings pretty regularly on roads we traveled a lot, and we had evacuation and lock-down drills at schools all the time," he said.
Yet Milligan said these experiences gave him an indelible, unique perspective of the world.
"When I see bombs going off on TV, it really means something to me, because I've known people who have experienced this stuff," he said.
In addition to appreciating the differences of life in other countries, some missionary children grow quite fond of their adopted cultures and homes.
Lisa Frist '06, who lived in Brazil until she was 5 and has returned regularly ever since, said she considers the country a second home.
"In a way, you become a fuller person," Frist said.
She recalled the farm her family lived on, 12 kilometers [7 miles] away from the village of Bauru.
"I remember fishing with a bamboo pole and string, making a makeshift tricycle out of scraps of wood, building a raft out of bamboo," she said. "We had no TV or phone."
Frist is now on the missions committee for Princeton Evangelical Fellowship and has had the chance to watch other missionary children adapt to campus life. They often feel a "different level of homesickness," she admitted.
"You're not only missing your home and family," she said, "but also a different culture, a different language, a different way of life."
Frist added that some who had led the missionary life have a more difficult time identifying with a single culture.
"On the one hand, you're American, but on the other hand you've grown up in another country and have ties there," she said.
Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye said her office valued some of the unique qualities missionary kids bring to campus.
"[If] a student has grown up in a missionary family, they often have wonderful perspectives from living in different cultures and adapting to new languages, customs and living arrangements," Rapelye said in an email.
"They are often open-minded and tolerant, which are qualities we look for in a residential community such as ours," she added.
Even though growing up may have presented unique challenges, Frist, Milligan and Schupack said they are happy to have had the chance to led the nomadic missionary life.
"It's one of the best things my parents have ever done for me," Frist said.
Milligan agreed. "Living in Africa was so incredible, any [negative aspects] are outweighed by the great experience of living there," he said.
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