Reflections on National Schooling

C blog 9

{Claire’s class at graduation}

I remember my first day of entering a new school in the Czech Republic. I had already been going to public school in a different city in Czech since 1st grade, but we moved when I was 7, so in 2nd grade, I started all over again. I remember not knowing how things worked, how to sit right, how to even make friends. I had been speaking Czech for a few years by then, but I still felt it was a bit of a foreign world.

Though my experiences in a local school were different from most MKs, I still went through the culture shock. My parents did too! But I can’t express enough how much I value not only my education through Czech school, but also the community I was able to be a part of because of it.  There would have been no way I could have learned the language as quickly had I not gone to school, forcing me to speak Czech for 6 hours a day.

I’m on my way to college today. Yes, I am flying today to the States, where I will for the first time in my life go to an American school. Looking back on my Czech schooling experience now (and being finished with it – I passed those last exams!! Woohoo!), I thought I’d share a few tips with you on how to excel, when everything in your head says you can’t:

  1. Invest in going to a tutor – I have been going to tutoring since 2nd grade. My tutor was not professionally trained, but he has a knack for explaining things. He helped me with my Czech (drilling vocabulary and grammar), and then later on, with anything I needed. If I didn’t understand a biology assignment, he worked through it with me. If I was struggling with history, he was there. I always felt so comforted knowing that I wasn’t in school “alone”, and plus, it took off pressure from my parents who didn’t understand it any better than I did!

  2. Listen, observe, and mimic – these are TCK skills that I think you all have! But I put it in as a reminder. On that first day, if everyone stands up at the beginning of class to greet the teacher, do the same (yes we did this!). If everyone is writing with a ballpoint pen, go buy one too.

  3. Ask lots of questions – teachers realize you’re a foreigner. And usually if you show interest, they will be extremely kind and gracious, especially if you are respectful and kind to them too. This also shows you’re trying, and teachers value that!

  4. Let your parents sit in on a class with you – sometimes it helps if your parent understands your world a bit, and it’s safer too that they see what you’re in. Some schools have “visiting” days, but in Czech, they were always willing to work with my parents.

  5. Talk about it – there are going to be hard things. I guarantee it. People won’t understand you, you will always be different from everyone else, and goodness, you’re speaking your second language all day! Talk to your national friends about it – help them understand; tell your parents about your day; gush to your best friend about the hilarious things or the really tough moments.

  6. Laugh – try not to take things too seriously. If going to national school doesn’t work out, it’s ok! There are other options. If there’s a misunderstanding (yes, totally arrived at the bus station for a field trip at the wrong time once), make the best of it. Be willing to humor a situation, and humor yourself too.

Here are some of the things I value most about those 13 years in national school:

  1. I can speak the language without thinking! Not only is this good for me, but it meant a lot to Czechs that I cared about their language and was committed to them, and their country!

  2. I had Czech friends. Making friends in school is much easier than having to do it any other way. You are with the same people every day, and you experience the ups and downs together.

  3. I understood Czechs better. Experiencing what kids my age were going through in everyday life helped me know them better.

  4. The ministry opportunities were there. Most of my classmates weren’t believers, so I got to share about Jesus with my friends. What a privilege!

  5. Close-knit family. My dad worked with youth, my mom stood by him, serving with him. And us kids (me and my two older brothers) were in it with them! We didn’t stand apart, but felt like we were all missionaries together.

I know that national school is not the best option for everyone. It doesn’t always work out how we want it to. But, for me, as an MK who has gone through the Czech schooling system, I can say, it was worth it. I hope you consider trying the same at least for a year, or putting your own kids in national school some day if you live overseas!

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Read more from Claire on her blog!

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