The Story of

Third Culture Thriving

The Beginning

My story isn’t a pretty one. I’m sorry to inform you, if you think I’m writing this because I’ve had an exquisitely easy inculturation process, free of trauma and self-doubt, you’re sorely mistaken. 

Agreeing to move to Rwanda was as natural as breathing to me. My husband and I had known for years that we wanted to move overseas. No specific direction or country or type of work, but a deep willingness that we knew not everyone possessed. We gradually honed our interests into attractive skill sets, and when we were presented with a serendipitous opportunity to use them in a new culture, there wasn’t any hesitation. It was all finally happening! 

The Journey

The 16 months between our agreement to go and our actual departure saw us lose 2 babies (one a very traumatic second-trimester birth), move from Texas to Florida, and spend an exhausting 8 months criss-crossing the East Coast inviting (begging) people to be a part of our support team. Eventually, we left for Rwanda with six suitcases, no vision trip, no home or vehicles waiting for us, and 8 weeks pregnant. Zero stars, do not recommend. 

Over the course of the next three years, we tiptoed around depression, anxiety, culture fatigue, a budget lower than it should’ve been, and general burnout. We were witness to multiple traumas that stay with us even now, involved in several car accidents, plagued by illness, and struggled to find a place of rest. 

Living the dream

And yet, my husband’s ministry was growing rapidly and creating real, beautiful social change. The kind of elusive, sustainable, community-led, tangible-yet-spiritual change that you dream of seeing when you work overseas. He was living his dream. And I was absolutely drowning in it. 

About this time, around the three year mark, I had what I thought was going to be my life-changing revelation: this difficult life was going to be my sacrifice. I believed that we were supposed to be in Rwanda, and I believe wholeheartedly in my husband’s work, and so my suffering and general inability to come to a place of peace and health here was simply my calling. “Nobody said that this was going to be easy. Maybe it’s going to be really hard. I might never get healthy here, and I think that I simply need to recognize that maybe this is the thorn in my flesh that I’m going to have to live with for our ministry to be successful.” It seems crazy as I read it back now, but at the time, it felt like the wake-up call I needed to persevere to our next furlough. Coming to terms with it might be the next step.

A regularly-scheduled visit from our Regional Director turned into a kind-but-firm ultimatum: get help, or go home. Not quite that explicitly, but that was what we all understood. He didn’t buy my “difficult life as sacrifice forever for Jesus” narrative, and neither did my husband, and for that I am grateful. 

Big steps

We eventually decided to take a longer-than-planned trip back to the US for some intentional rest time and for some counseling intensives. This trip would prove pivotal in our journey to thriving as a family. We began to recognize how many of our daily stressors were within our control, and see how we were choosing this more difficult life, and not giving ourselves the best chance at health. 

This led to some coordinated “big steps” for us, big changes. These felt like Hail Mary’s at the time, but they were what tipped the scales. We moved to a safer, more convenient part of town. We purchased a bigger, newer vehicle that had air conditioning. We increased our budget for self care. I kept going to counseling. 

The Awakening

It felt like I woke up one morning andI realized that I was okay. I wasn’t the broken record of anxiety and stress anymore. I had a life I genuinely liked, and it caught me by surprise. 

There were so many factors that went into this shift, but ultimately, so many were within my reach all those years. We could’ve moved. We could’ve bought the car. We could’ve had the counseling. We could’ve upped the budget. But we were trapped in mindsets and routines that wouldn’t approve. We couldn’t see how much was available to us until we reached the end of ourselves and others had to step in.

The birth of TCT

My story isn’t unique. I’ve seen it play out time and time again within our communities, and often without the peaceful ending. When I think about the families I’ve seen leave their host countries because of burnout or difficulty, when I think about the good work they were doing, It always makes me wonder- did they really try everything available to them? Did they have all the resources available to them in order to thrive? I think, for many families, the answer is no. Not because they don’t want to try (they did, desperately), but because they just don’t know. OR they don’t have the people in their life they need to speak truth and love over them. They feel like the only people on the field walking this road, they feel trapped, and so they leave. It breaks my heart.

This is where Third Culture Thriving was born. I wanted to create a space where women wouldn’t feel alone, or like everything was out of their control. Where they could come for encouragement and camaraderie, and for practice resources to help them as they journey to create a home in a new place. Where struggling women could be seen, nourished, equipped, and supported in their journeys to thriving, whatever that means in their context. Where they could find hope. 

About Karli

Karli Von Herbulis lives in Kigali, Rwanda with her husband, Matthew, and children, Hallelujah (7) and Shepherd (4). After studying Cross Cultural Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, she became both a social media strategist and a birth doula before pivoting to homeschooling mom and podcast host while living overseas. So many hats to wear! Karli loves a long walk alone, a good acoustic cover, giant earrings, a creative cocktail, and reading books as fast as she can. 

Karli Vonherbulis
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