When I found this week what his grades were for last year, I was bursting with pride, but I was also filled with relief! My friend asked, “Why? Were you worried?” Yes! I was… I am. I feel as though I’m always expecting something to go wrong. When we moved here and met new people, we began to hear all kinds of stories: the good, the bad, the ugly. We also meet a lot of transient people, so they often share before they leave what they learned from their experiences; their mistakes, their successes, etc… We heard various things like,
“One thing we learned about this culture is that it was more aggressive than we thought it would be – especially the boys.”
“If we could do it again, we would’ve taken our kids out of the National schools earlier because we’ve learned that kids really form their identities between 5th-8th grades.”
“It worked for us to have our child in a smaller classroom so they could learn the language easier with more teacher attention and involvement.”
“We’ve been able to keep all our kids in the National school system until 4th grade.”
We’ve seen the gamut here: some go to National schools, some are homeschooled, some go to the private “American International” school, and some have done a combination of the above. And while each family has had a different experience and approach when it has come to schooling, they each seem to take into account that each of their children are individuals, and I’ve seen a commitment on their to do what’s right for that particular child. And I’ve realized there is no formula.
Early on though, as a family we made a decision to commit to learning the language. We also recognized that JJ is very extroverted and needs friends. Wherever we went he was meeting Croatian speaking children, not English speaking children. These were the main reasons why we really wanted JJ to learn the language right away. So, we decided a path of school for him that would hopefully encourage this process along. Some decisions we made were on faith, and some were based on the advice of others. Sometimes we made hard decisions, decisions against our level of comfort, and decisions that were even against the instruction of one Assistant Principal he had, which was to put him in the "English room" at that particular school. She said, "We've watched JJ for 2 weeks, and he's played by himself, and he hasn't really made any friends". Fighting back tears, I responded, “Wow, that is really hard to hear, because it’s not who JJ is. BUT, we’re just asking that you give him some more time, he really needs to learn the language, and we know he can do it!" We soon found out that he told this Assistant Principal the next day that indeed he didn’t want to go to the English room but instead started asking his teachers how to say certain phrases in Croatian, so he could ask his Kindergarten friends. Things like; "Can I play with you?” “What is your name?” I'm again bursting with pride just thinking about how he put himself out there like that. Even though it may have been hard and uncomfortable, he was eager to learn and make friends.
So, before his teacher handed me his grades for school last year, I quickly, without her noticing took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and said a little prayer: "Please let it not be too bad! We can help him in the areas he's struggling in." And then I saw them...all 5s, all "Odlično" (Excellent)! And I could've cried right then and there. I just let out a huge sigh of relief and thanked her! Then I showed JJ, who also was beaming with pride! "Wow - all 5s! I did it! All 5s!” he said. Does this kid not know how amazing he is?
Will JJ experience challenges and setbacks in life, in this country, in an academic setting here, even with this language? I'm sure he will! Every kid does, no matter what country they live in. But, we also want to be sensitive to what he, as an MK, is and will go through. And so this week I've begun reading a book called "Raising Resilient MKs". I’m learning about the challenges of the MK lifestyle, but also feel encouraged by the advantages I’ve read about.
One big one is that "...intercultural experience carries with it the kind of flexibility that allows well-balanced young people to get a head start in coping with interpersonal relationships." (p. 61) Another benefit is the world view that is developed by MKs; "it is three-dimensional, with not only knowledge but understanding and empathy." (p. 52) The author says there develops a "sense of security in getting around in the world and acting appropriately in it is significant preparation. The person can become a cultural bridge and an active, positive influence in an increasingly intercultural world." (p. 52) And now that JJ has spent ½ of his life overseas, having lived in two different countries so far, I’ve seen that he is sensitive, flexible, adaptable and an overall positive kid!
They also learn, as one contributor describes, that foreign is only a word – that every culture in the world is foreign to someone. It seems that his children began to develop naturally from an early age a global perspective. He says you can tell who an MK is by the answer to this question, “What is the color of money?” They will most likely answer “From which country?”
I decided to describe to JJ what a TCK (a Third Culture Kid: a child who finds himself in between two cultures – in which he may not fully identify with his passport culture and not fully identify with the culture he lives in) was to see if he resonated with this concept. The author describes one of her sons as the “Observer”, the stereotypical “Third Culture Kid”. She said “his greatest affinity is with others who are from one place, raised in another but part of neither.” (p.96) When I then asked JJ if he felt he was caught in between being an American and Croatian, he said “No. I feel Croatian.” Then I asked him what the color of money was, and he proceeded to describe Croatian money.
JJ seems to be what the author describes as the “Member”, or the “Bi-cultural” kid. This is the child that seems to be well immersed and bonded with the culture, may go to the local school, and is more or less “bi-lingual” (someone who has age-appropriate abilities in both languages). The author says of her “bi-cultural” son that today he still speaks the Filipino language, has an affinity with the people and can move in and out of the culture at will. I have known many of these kinds of MKs. These are the kind of kids that when they are in their passport culture for an extended period of time, they ask their parents, “When are we going home?” This is who JJ is now. I know it can change, and for many MKs it has as they got older. For now, JJ is well adjusted, he relates well to Croatian children, he loves living here, etc… But as we started another year in National school, we’ve realized the responsibilities we have as the parents of a “bi-cultural” kid: 1. A commitment to supplementing his education in English at home. 2. A commitment to our own language acquisition, so that we can contribute to the success of his education here, and so that we as a family move toward being bi-lingual and bi-cultural together!
Today I feel a sense of pride and relief knowing that for now JJ is doing really, really well. For this we are beyond grateful. We know caring for a an MK is not a “formula”, but we just try to continue to do our best to know who he is, prayerfully and intentionally give him to God, be there for him, and encourage him to be the person God has created him to be.
I’m sure soon there will be a post about what it will be like to raise Emma, a girl who was born in Hungary, being raised in an American home, and surrounded by a Croatian culture. What an adventure!