About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure (using font only to enable access in settings with poor internet)

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Third culture kids

A few years ago, I had never heard the term 'third culture kid' and now it seems we are raising them. Basically, it refers to a child who is from one culture (ie that of their parents), but is brought up in another culture (ie the country they work in) but in fact never really feels they belong to either. The term is more often used for those who spend large portions of their childhood in a particular culture; for us, it is slightly different as we move around quite a lot. But there are some important considerations. A couple of years back, I read this helpful book by David Pollack and Ruth van Reken - I'd recommend it if you want to know more about the topic, because it was easy to read, frank, accessible and written from two slightly different backgrounds (one of the authors is Christian). I remember recognising traits in friends who were 'missionary kids' and feeling I understood them a little more. But also, I wondered whether as Christians, if we are truly raising our offspring to 'be in the world and not of the world' as Jesus describes in John Chapter 17, then in fact all Christian children will be 'third culture' to an extent - living in a world that is not ever going to be truly home. And maybe especially the case for those who are home educating; our children form a slightly different 'culture' to those who are used to being surrounded by large groups of children of the same age as themselves. So some of the things I describe will be due to trips overseas, some due to seeking to raise the boys Biblically, and some will be due to home educating. But the challenges remain. Right now, I'm really tired so will probably describe what I've noticed (the potential problem) but not go on to discuss the ideal solution in detail.

We've just returned from a month in East Africa. Short, but in the eyes of a four year old or a two year old, this was easily long enough to settle, to feel at home, to establish rhythms and routines, to adapt to the climate and the diet, and to start to thrive. On return, things seem unsettling and strange. They are a little young to be able to articulate what they might be feeling, but some things we have noticed are:

1) They do not realise that it is quite unusual to have lived in five countries in the first four years of your life. They don't realise that most people do not fly long haul very often, and that many of the experiences they have known are things that others might only dream of. As parents, we don't want to hammer home the 'you don't realise how privileged you are' line, because it isn't all that helpful (I remember hating being told that as a child too!). But at the same time, we want them to recognise that not everybody they speak to will be able to relate to everything they go on to say.

2) That we LIVE in these places, and so it is quite different to having just visited. For example, somebody who has been to East Africa for a week long safari will have had a very different experience to what it is like to live and work in a bustling and noisy city.

3) That to an extent, many people don't really want to hear the details and descriptions. We find that hard as adults (I've read some helpful books about 'reverse culture shock' that remind you of this, and other challenges that can be faced).

4) Their love for the outdoors has flourished. As with many home educating families, we choose to spend many hours out of doors, exploring the world around us, learning about nature, seasons, geography and generally being active; in the UK, most children we know who are not home educated prefer to spend time indoors, watching television or playing other games. Its notable coming back - the past few mornings (and we are enjoying a beautiful, although cold, spring with sunshine, blossoms, buds, birdsong and clear fresh air) we have been out in nearby parks and barely seen a soul. Sometimes we invite friends to join us, but they will tell us it is too far to walk, too cold, that the child has a runny nose, or various other things. Whilst I encourage their love of the outdoors and of nature, it makes us a bit different and that can be lonely.

5) Their love of insects.... Again, makes them just a bit different. I love the fact they can tell me in detail about different types of cockroaches, and what makes each so especially beautiful. But not everybody enjoys this!

6) Climate. They are freezing cold. It's funny when their friends are in T shirts and they are bundled up for winter.

7) Changes in length of day. We were on the equator. It got light at 7am and got dark at 7pm. Here, it gets light early and they have to go to bed when the sun is still shining. That takes a lot of getting used to!

8) Attitudes towards children. I think the world can be divided into those who see children as people, and talk to them as individuals and listen to them, and those who see them as an inconvenience, or certainly unable to articulate their own views. The proportions of the two types seems to vary according to culture. Or perhaps it is that we are exposed to more of those who are genuinely interested in children when overseas. It is hard when people ask them about Africa, and they start to speak and the person doesn't listen.

9) Having seen real poverty and then returning to a materialistic culture. This year was the first Christmas in the UK that they could remember (previous ones having been in rural Gambia (mission hospital) or in Malawi, where gifts (if any) were home made and simple, festivities did not start until Christmas Eve, and the emphasis was on the birth of the Son of God). Christmas raised a lot of questions. But now it is Easter and the same has occurred. We went to a church event today where there were a lot of crafts, chocolate etc. The  boys were unsettled and asked to leave after about half an hour. One of them told me he had wanted to do 'Easter craft' and none of the things they did today were in the Bible. This is a four year old speaking, but he saw the inconsistency. What does eating too much chocolate have to do with the risen Saviour? And there are things like that all the time. I once heard African and European cultures broadly contrasted in the terms that 'they value people more than things' or 'they value relationships and spirituality more'. I would agree with that generalisation. And returning home right before Easter has brought its challenges. At the same time, I must confess it has brought me encouragement to see how they boys question what is happening around them. But it was sad to see them in a church building, overwhelmed by the activities that surrounded them, not really able to relate to the other children who were there, and asking to come home so they can read about Jesus dying on the cross.

10) The recognition that life brings pain. Again, not all of this is a 'third culture' thing. Our first child died in infancy, and the boys have been brought up to know all about her, to consider her as part of the family, to know that death is a fact of life and that heaven is real. Our good friends also had a daughter die more recently. In Africa we have seen children and young adults who look sick. We have seen mothers die in childbirth, and have known infants be thrown away into rubbish tips or otherwise abandoned because their parents or surviving relatives have been unable to cope. For us, these issues often come up in conversation; I've noticed other adults look uncomfortable at the questions that the boys can raise. But because we move around and they see things differently and ask many questions, we seek to answer them as simply and truthfully as we can. Perhaps they have understood things that many adults in more stable environments spend much of their lives running away from. But it makes you a bit different from other four year olds, and they don't always understand that.

With these challenges, there are blessings and encouragements, and as always home education enables us to work through and address some of these things at the time that they arise. So, rather than discussing in detail a biblical perspective, or summarising what other authors have written, I'll finish will a few encouragements:

1) Awareness of eternity
2) Thankfulness for our daily bread, our home, our clothes - having seen those without
3) A questioning attitude towards things they do not understand
4) A growing love of nature
5) Understanding of biology - I've been astonished by the descriptions of insects, plants and birds
6) Geography - they love drawing flight paths onto maps of the world and know all the continents, many countries and major cities - none of this is something we have sought to teach
7) A desire to explore and discover new things, new foods, new routes to familiar places
8) An unawareness of race, culture or nationality when they meet others
9) A Biblical perspective with regard to Christmas and Easter - being able to see what is Biblical and what is added on more clearly than many adults
10) That we can explore all of this together as a family

If you find yourself raising 'third culture kids' through geography or through choices your family has made, be encouraged. God can use these challenges as opportunities, and I think the greatest is that clear understanding of God and eternity. I pray that our children will overcome obstacles and flourish with the opportunities given. And I pray that as parents we can understand our children and guide them as they learn.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Urban Africa

We've been in a city in East Africa for three weeks now. Last year, I reflected on some of the lessons we learnt in rural West Africa. Here, life is very different. Rather than the sounds of the African night, we hear loud music at all hours, traffic and horns around the clock and just occasionally, a ciccada. Rather than having abundant space for boys to run and climb and jump, we are living in an apartment block with a small concrete forecourt and walking on the roads requires close attention for traffic, uncovered manholes and other hazards. Personally, I think we prefer wide open spaces, abundant nature, mountains to climb, rivers to swim in, being able to walk everywhere we need to go; yet for now, this is where God has brought us. And three weeks in, we can see different, but equally precious opportunities here.

10 things which have been helpful educationally are:

1) The markets. Uganda has been termed the 'fruit basket of Africa'. I can see why! It is great for the boys to see seasonal fruit in different stages of ripeness, and to bargain and negotiate for prices. We begin to form relationships with some of the sellers as they laugh at this crazy Bazungu family who visit so often. There are many lessons which are somehow richer than those gleaned in supermarkets (although I think a supermarket trip is also packed with learning).

2) People. Our ultimate goal is to share the gospel with people, and in order to do so, we need to build relationships. When we are living in close proximity with others, such as in the apartment block, it is easier to build a relationship than in the UK where we all tend to live in our 'castles' with the drawbridges pulled up. And reflecting on this, I can see why God might want us to spend time in a chaotic, densely populated region.

3) Entomology. The first morning, my eldest was delighted by a cockroach. He can now describe several different types and tell me how their wings are beautiful colours. They enjoy looking at a whole range of insects and creepy crawlies under their magnifying glasses, and their descriptions are astonishingly accurate.

4) Few resources. The other day, they saw a boy having a bath in a dirty storm drain. They couldn't understand why at first, but we were able to explain how access to fresh water is actually a privilege and something we should be thankful for. We have a very poor water supply in our apartment, and it makes them realise just how amazing the resources in the UK are. Water is one example, there are many more.

5) Realising how big God is. 'If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me and your right hand will hold you fast' Psalm 139. They are beginning to understand this.

6) Internet! We've been astonished! The connection is reasonably stable and fast, far superior to what we knew 4 years ago when we lived in a nearby country. This opens up certain opportunities, and as we consider how we might home educate if we come to live here for a longer period, it enables things that I would not have imagined possible.

7) That God changes your heart. We are coming to like the loud music, the humidity and the bustle. He is helping us to be 'content in all circumstances', and the boys similarly are adapting rapidly. We worked out that our four year old has lived in five different countries (three in African, two in Europe). We've read quite a bit about 'third culture kids' and know that there can be challenges that are faced; yet at the same time, there are many rich opportunities.

8) Family. I've reflected on this many times, but we are thankful that God has enabled us as a family to have one parent home whilst the other works. Overall we split it 50:50, but there are times when one of us does relatively more. Currently I am working more like 80%, and my husband is home. It is exciting for me to come home and see how their writing and drawing is progressing, and see the stability in our methods of education. I am extremely thankful to have a husband with whom I share my vision for our family, the desire to see the children grow to know and love God, to make stability in the home a priority and to educate them in a gentle, child-paced manner embracing the opportunities of daily life.

9) God's family. We met a friend of a friend the other night, and she also knows several other mutual friends and although we had just me, we were able to share a meal and encourage one another in Christ. The boys do not see this as special or unusual because to them it is just 'normal'. But we seek to teach them about how amazing God's plans and provision are, and to demonstrate to them that 'all men shall know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another'.

10) Attending different churches. Different music, different songs, different people, different styles, but the same Bible, the same truth, the same God. One day, every tribe and tongue will worship together. And here, we have another glimpse of that truth.