Schooling

5 Things for TCKs to Consider When Choosing a University

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  Last week, my husband, myself, and our two kids traveled to the Midwest to visit family and attend the wedding of a good college-friend of ours. The wedding took place near where my husband and I both went to university and this was my first time back to that place since our college days several years ago.  

There is something about going back to a place that makes you see it in a new light - through new eyes. If I'm being honest, my memories of our college town are stormy and dark. The thoughts of my time there have always been accompanied by an anxious, sick to my stomach, thank-goodness-I'm-not-there-anymore feeling. If I'm being honest, I was really dreading going back to that place. I was excited for the wedding and elated to see old friends but was not thrilled with the geographical location.  

But, Indiana surprised me. As we spent the weekend exploring Indianapolis with our kids, I kept saying to my husband, "Wow! Indiana isn't as horrible as I remembered!"  

So why did I remember it that way? Why did I picture a dark, dreary, lifeless place when I would think back on my time in Indiana?  

While I do believe that I was exactly where I was supposed to be for university and wouldn't trade the great friendships and amazing husband that I found there, I realized that there were some things that made my college experience very difficult. Things that I never would have considered before arriving at college. Things that I think are likely relevant to most TCKs.  

So now, when I talk with parents and their TCKs who are starting to think about and apply for universities, these are the things that I recommend that they explore.

1. A school with a TCK program or group. Because I went straight from Africa to school in Indiana, I was considered an international student. I quickly realized that, in that group, I was the odd one out. The international students were those who came from different parts of the world, but were not American and had, for the most part, never lived in the United States. I, on the other hand, was very familiar with the United States and knew how to grocery shop, open a bank account, dial 911, et cetera, so it was hard to be required to attend these "American Life" classes. While there were great people in that international student group, I didn't feel like I really fit, and it seemed like they didn't think I fit with them in either. Likewise, I found it hard to connect with the majority population of the university who were mostly from the midwestern states and hadn't traveled outside the country. These were the main two groups and I didn't feel like I really belonged in either one of them. Though I did end up making some great friends, it was a difficult process trying to figure out who I was and where I fit. I later found out that there were a few other missionary kids at the university who had similar experiences, but we never crossed paths during our college years because we were all TCKs trying to blend in. I think that things could have been so different for all of us, had we had a TCK group to associate with.  

2. A diverse population. Having lived in international communities overseas, I missed being surrounded by people from all over the world. The university had some international students, but there were not very many, and the American student population was not very ethnically diverse. I would also have loved to have had professors from different parts of the world who could offer a more globally-influenced perspective on the topics they were teaching. 

3. A multiethnic location. Along with the previous point, the Midwest is not incredibly diverse. Location wasn't something I had ever considered when deciding on a university, but I wish I had. I think that I would have felt more comfortable and less of an outsider had I been in a city that was more culturally diverse. The fact that I had to drive an hour to find an international grocery store and that ethnic restaurants were few and far between, was painful. 

4. An option that minimizes debt. Most TCKs end up going into a helping profession, according to David C. Pullock and Ruth Van Reken, (Third Culture Kids 3rd Edition, 2017). Unfortunately, many helping professions are not the most financially lucrative. This works fine for TCKs (who are generally not interested in wealth), but it does create a problem when they graduate from university with an average of $60,000 in student loans and a career path that can't pay those off in fewer than 25 years.  

The bigger issue with this, and something that I wish I would have considered when choosing a university, is the fact that student loan debt ties your feet. Tied feet is many TCK's worst nightmare. No longer are you free to travel, because you have lead ball of student loan bills chained to your foot. Paying bills requires a job, and maintaining a job requires sticking around long enough to avoid looking flakey on a resume. I ended up switching to a community college and finishing up at an online school to reduce the amount of student loan debt I accrued, but if I would have thought to do that from the beginning, I could have significantly reduced the debt that I graduated with and thus would be more financially free to travel. 

5. A school and major that allows for travel. I didn't consider, as a young college student, the fact that my TCK-self would have a need for change and travel. If I had, I would have chosen a school and major that required some sort of overseas study program, or an overseas university entirely. I would have also made sure that my degree was one that would yield a career that allows for travel. I ended up changing my major and now am in my dream career that does involve travel and cross-cultural work, but, if I was to go back, I would have started with that trajectory from the beginning- considering that I would want to travel.  

 

 Third Culture Kids experience an intense and challenging transition when they leave their globally-mobile lifestyle and head to university. Considering these few things could have eased that transition for me and allowed for a university experience that catered more to my TCK nature. If you are a TCK or parent of TCKs starting to think about university, keep things things in mind as you sift through your university options. While they may not be essentials for all TCKs, I do believe that they are worth considering, exploring, and having conversations about. 

5 Surprising Factors to Consider When Weighing Overseas Schooling Options

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  The question of schooling and education is often at the forefront of parent's minds as they prepare to live overseas. It can be challenging to drown out the multitude of strong opinions, and from what I have observed, there are many, many strong opinions.

If you are moving overseas and contemplating your schooling options, here are a few things to keep in mind that you may have yet to consider.

1. There are many potentially good options. It is true that not every option is good in every location, however, there is often more than one educational choice to consider. As one who has experienced nearly every overseas schooling option, I can attest to the pros and cons of each. Most importantly, I can tell you that there is often more than one good option! A colleague of mine told a story of a mom who said with immense relief, "You mean, I don't have to homeschool!? I thought that is just what missionary families do!" Unfortunately, this is the mindset of so many parents: they feel there is only one good and right option and thus feel either heavily burdened with choosing the "right" one or feel like they don't truly have a choice. In actuality, there is more than one "right" choice.

The article, "The Balancing Act of MK Education" written by Amy Medina, a missionary mom, school teacher, and elementary principle for an international school, explores the types of potential education options and some pros and cons each. Carefully explore the available options in your new area. Talk to parents who have used a variety of schooling methods and see what they have found has worked well and what hasn't. You can't truly make an informed decision until you know all of the options.

2. Think ahead. Whether your child is in Kindergarten or the 8th grade, it is important to consider what you would like them to have the opportunity to do for education (and ultimately for their career) down the road. They may not choose to go that route, but leaving the options open is wise. Some countries are very strict about the elementary and high school requirements essential to be accepted into a university in that country. In David Pollock and Ruth Van Rekken's book, Third Culture Kids, a story is told of a Norwegian boy who grew up overseas. When he and his parents were contemplating university options, they discovered that Norway required a test to be taken in the 8th grade that would be used to determine college eligibility. Because he hadn't returned to Norway to take that test in the 8th grade, he was not allowed to attend university in Norway and had to choose another country, completely foreign to him, for his education. Consequently, his degree, obtained in a country other than Norway, would not be recognized in Norway which meant he could never have a career that required a degree in his passport country.

Your child may not choose to attend university and if they do, they may not choose to do so in their passport country, but it is important that they have the option to, should they decided that they want to go that route. Research the requirements that your passport country has for university admission and then be sure that your education choice will allow your TCK to meet those requirements. If the Norwegian boy's parents had simply known he needed that test in the 8th grade, they could have made arrangements for that to happen and that would ultimately have opened up the door for him to study and work in his passport country.

3. Consider WHY your child is going to school. TCK Education Consultant, Barbara Tooley said, "It may seem obvious why you are sending your child to school, but it is not such simple answer when you are living overseas." We tend to think of the purpose of school as purely academic education, but it is also for social, cultural, and language education. If you are moving overseas with young children, you may consider sending them to a local school for the sole purpose culture and language learning. This is one of the best ways for children to fully integrate into culture and allows them to develop an academic proficiency of the language (the highest level of fluency). If you choose this option, you will likely need to supplement at home with the education requirements of your passport country to ensure that they keep up to par with their grade level as well as maintaining academic language fluency in their first language. Older children who move overseas may need to focus more on academic requirements and thus attending an international school, boarding school, or homeschooling may be the best option. Cultural and language integration may then need to be done outside of school.

Another "why" to consider is actually more of a "who". Who do you want your children to befriend? Is your family seeking to integrate completely into the new country and thus, befriending the local neighbor kids is important? Or, is your family seeking to be more involved in the existing expat community and thus, attending an international school and befriending other international students is a more appropriate goal? Because so much time is spent at school, that is likely where your TCKs will develop the closest friendships. Who do you want those friends to be?

4. Remember that each child is unique. Not all children are "cut from the same cloth" so it is important to consider your child's unique needs when looking at schooling options. Research how discipline is handled in the country you are moving to. How will it align with your child's unique personality and needs and your family's value system? If you are considering boarding school, think deliberately about how this experience might feel for you child. Some children are naturally independent and thrive in boarding school situations, others will have a more negative experience being apart from their parents. You may need to consider different schooling options for each of your children based on their unique needs. My brother and I differ greatly in many areas, so my parents strategically chose our schooling options based on our personal needs. Because of this, we attended different schools for the majority of our school-age years. I am incredibly thankful that they allowed us to attend the schools that were going to be best for us personally.

5. Let your TCKs take part in the decision making. This is not always possible, but often, there is a way to allow your children's input when deciding what type of school they will attend. This is one area (of many) that I am very thankful to my parents for: they allowed for my input in the schooling decisions. When we first moved overseas, we looked at all of the options, one of which being an international school. I looked at pictures online, looked at the subjects that would be taught and extra curricular classes offered, and ultimately decided to go there for our first year overseas. Unfortunately, it was not as I had imagined it would be and I had a very difficult year there. I asked if I could be homeschooled the following year and after talking extensively about the pros and cons, my parents agreed. Each time there was a schooling decision to be made (typically because of a relocation), my parents asked for my opinion and took my desires seriously. If they knew that my desired schooling option was not going to be a good choice, they walked me through that decision and helped me to see why one option was better than another. This allowed me to take ownership of the decision, which helped through challenging school years, and also allowed me to look forward to, and thus enjoy, many of my schooling options more than if they would have been "forced" upon me.

Tackling the education decision can be tricky, but thinking through these things can help narrow down your options. As Amy's article says, "There's never going to be a perfect situation, so trusting God is important." Absolutely give thoughtful consideration to your decision, but remember that ultimately God is working in your child's life and this includes their schooling. I was homeschooled, attended a public school, a charter school, a Christian school, and spent a year in an international school. Each experience had valuable implications on my life and each had their pros and cons. No option was perfect, but they all had unique benefits that shaped my education academically, socially, culturally, and linguistically. As you think about what schooling will look like for your TCKs, remember to think ahead, consider the "why", remember that your child is unique, and allow them to be a part of the decision when possible.