Keep On

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{source}

A few weeks ago, in one of my classes, we had a guest speaker. From her first carefully pronounced word, it was evident that she was not a native English speaker. As I listened to her throughout her talk, I was struck by how well she was speaking. I mean she was doing such a good job speaking English, which she should since she was teaching a college class with an English-speaking audience, but still. I was impressed.

I’m not sure if anyone else in the class thought much about her accent, but I did. I thought about all the work that went into knowing the phrases and colloquialisms she was so fluidly using. Behind each word was probably a moment of confusion, a fear of never being understood. All of that work had paid off though and I hope she feels that.

I often mention the importance of truly connecting with the culture you live in on this blog, but I don’t always talk about how stinkin’ hard it is to learn the language you need to connect.  I clearly remember sitting in an Italian classroom, my neck aching from stress, struggling to understand the words being spoken to me. I know how hard it is, but as time has passed I’ve forgotten how truly difficult it is to live in a different language.

So, for those of you who don’t speak your country’s language and haven’t had the opportunity to fully learn it: I understand how hard learning a new language can be. You don’t have to know the language to be valuable.

And for those of you who are in the moments of confusion and translation and vocab charts: keep on.

Reflections on National Schooling

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{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!

Diving into the Local Culture

This summer, I’m writing a series on being a teen TCK for Denizen, an awesome online magazine for TCKs! Here’s part of my second article on getting involved in your new culture…

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{my wonderful Italian friends!}

The bright Italian sunshine bounced off a jagged piece of metal, catching my eye. My feet pounded on the warm concrete as I ran to investigate. I squatted down and shielded my eyes to get a better look. Victory. Another beer bottle cap, bringing my total to twenty-two and also putting me in the lead against my brother.

Call me crazy, but somehow, when I pictured living in Florence, Italy, scrounging for beer bottle caps on a large slab of concrete before the Pitti Palace did not come to mind. But here I was, in my first week living in the great Renaissance city, doing exactly that. My mom sat close by, reading a book, probably trying to cram a few more Italian words into her head.

“Courtney, look! Birra Moretti!” My brother shoved a yellow cap in my face, featuring a green-suited man looking suspicious and strange. Maybe he too was sentenced to finding beer bottle caps in the heat of the day.

We laughed about his funny name and kept looking. When the sun began to sink and the air was laced with an autumnal chill, our mom finally got up and called us. We followed her like ducklings through the narrow cobble-stone streets of the ancient city.

When my parents first told us we might move to Italy, I wanted to go. Even though I had lived in Austin, Texas my whole ten years of life, adventure pulsed in my veins. I was ready to board that plane to a completely different life.

Our first year in Florence was certainly a change from life in Austin, but most of it was spent in our sunny, yellow house homeschooling. Every day was the same. My brother and I worked on school, then language tutoring, then we would trudge to the local library, or biblioteca, in the chill of evening so my mom could check her email, our one link to our old life.

Our slow integration into the Italian culture was perfect for the fall, but after Christmas, life seemed to drag a little. I began to wonder, what next? What’s going to happen for the next four years while we’re here? I missed the interaction that school and sports had provided me back home.

Not being plugged in to the local culture greatly hindered my knowledge of the language and prevented “real” life from happening. Though getting involved in activities in a new country may seem daunting, it is crucial to being able to best enjoy and profit from your time overseas. To each his own level of cultural immersion, but I would encourage you to venture out of your comfort zone. There are countless ways to live with the locals instead of just in their country, but I think three of the easiest ones are through school, sports, and neighborhoods. Allow me to explain…

Read the rest on Denizen!

On Dance and Sacrifice.

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{not me}

I was talking with a someone recently who hopes to be a missionary when she’s older and she mentioned how many sacrifices people who choose that life have to make. It made me pause, because I don’t usually think of the word sacrifice when I think about my time overseas. But the more I think about it, there are so many sacrifices involved in flying across the world and scattering your heart along the way.

This past weekend, I was in a dance recital for my school. I needed a fine arts credit to graduate so I chose dance. Even though I haven’t danced in forever, the teacher let me skip Dance 1 (which is just a PE credit) to Dance 2. While I’ve overall enjoyed the class, it’s been rough. And I wasn’t so sure about this required recital we had to be in. But as the day drew nearer, I was ok with it…not super excited, not dreading it. It would be fine.

On the day of, I got to school early with everyone else in my class and we did our hair and makeup. And it was even kinda fun. I hadn’t gotten to get ready for a game or meet or recital in years and it was fun to feel those flutters of excitement and nervousness again.

Before the show started, everyone had to watch the drill team perform (our show was just high school and middle school dance classes…the ‘real’ show was that night) their opening number. And they are good. So good. I was so sad to miss their show.

As the lights dimmed though and they started to dance, a familiar feeling crept into my heart. What if. What if we hadn’t moved…would I be on that stage with them? Would I be on some other sports team? What could I have done if I hadn’t moved? Oh so familiar tears filled my eyes as the dancers on the stage blurred under the bright lights. Every football game. Every dance show. Every school dance. Every homecoming. Those tears. Sacrifice.

The actual show was great. No one messed up and it was fun to finally perform the dance we’d practiced so long. The feeling of “what if” faded, like it always does. But it lingers in the back of my mind – the constant struggle to accept that God’s plan for me overseas was better than my dreams of having a “normal” high school life.

But, honestly, if I had the chance to go back and do it all again…I’d still choose Italy. I’d still choose the long hours in an Italian classroom. I’d still choose the loneliness. I’d still choose the house that was freezing in the winter and dizzingly hot in the summer. Because with those moments came meeting my Italian friends. Learning the language. Seeing places I only dreamed of visiting. Finding community with other MKs. Starting Not of this World. Seeing the world with a different set of eyes. High school is only four years of my life and in a few years, it will be a distant memory. But Italy. That’s a forever memory. And it was worth the sacrifice.

English Class by Claire P.

Classroom

{via Claire’s blog}

Thankfully, my English classes are taught by Americans. Most Czech schools don’t have this privilege! I have actually learned a lot in and through my English classes.

If I think about it, the only things I know about American history, I know from movies, my uncle (he likes to “enlighten” me about my “homeland”), from listening to random conversations, and from my English classes in Czech school. It’s sad how little I know about American history! Ask me about the Premyslovci, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or Communism, and I (hopefully) will have something to say. But ask me about the Alamo or the Civil War, and I won’t be very helpful.

Like I said though, thankfully, I have American teachers! Part of Maturita (a European final exam at the end of high school) is an oral exam in English. We have to talk about all sorts of topics, including some about American culture and history. So I am learning, alongside my Czech classmates! (You should be proud, Uncle Mike!)

Some people might be concerned that I don’t know a lot (don’t worry, I’ve visited many times, and have internet, so I know some!) about my own country. But truth be told, I can’t say that American history feels like my history. On the other hand, Czech history doesn’t feel like my personal history either.

I brought this dilemma up with my dad after seeing the movie Lincoln a little while back. Dad is also a former Missionary Kid, so he understood how I felt! What he told me in response totally altered my thinking about “my” history. He reminded me that my lineage is in Christ. I may not belong fully to one culture or another, but I DO belong to God, and am a part of His family!

In talking about this, Dad referenced Israel. He’s right, when I was there, I felt this truth – my heritage is here! I walked around with such excitement and anticipation, knowing that THIS is where God’s work began. This is where the first Christians were born!

When I realized all these things, I felt so much better. We all love to “belong” somewhere, and as a Missionary Kid, sometimes it’s hard figuring out where you belong! But knowing that my citizenship is in heaven, and that is my eternal home, is so comforting.

I’m thankful my English classes don’t only consist of history, grammar and conversation exercises, but that we also have Bible class once a week.* I love learning about all those other things, but what I love most is learning about God’s history, and understanding who I am through Him.

“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”
– Philippians 3:20 (NLT)
*Side note: BMA is a Christian school, but you don’t have to be a Christian to attend. Its’ high quality language education is what students mostly come here for. If you want to learn more about this, go to BMA’s website!
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this article was written by Claire P. and taken from her blog with permission. visit her blog here.

Thinking about Thinking by Amanda C.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God,” (I Corinthians 8:1-2, NIV).

Here are a couple other translations:

“But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church,” (NLT).

“Knowledge makes us arrogant, but love edifies,” (v. 1, NASB).

These verses are profound, and not only because they were written 1950 years before modern psychology documented the “ignorance of one’s own incompetence” phenomenon. (i.e. Most students scoring at the low end of tests in grammar and logic, for example, believed they had scored in the top half. Since they didn’t know what good grammar was, they were unaware that their grammar was poor.) And these verses resonate closely with me, because I’m a person who loves to learn. I love random facts; I love understanding aspects of the world better; in short, I love to gain knowledge. And I’ve seen first-hand how it can puff up.

But as personally convicting as verse 1 is, it’s verse 2 that’s truly profound. “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.”

Verse 1 causes me to wince, to realize that this is an area of my life in which God still needs to work. But verse 2 is the one that gives us a course of action. Possessing knowledge is okay; it’s when we grow arrogant in our knowledge and think we know more than we do that we’re in danger. How do we avoid falling into arrogance and conceit? Looking up. No, not looking it up in a how-to book; looking UPWARD. Only when we look at the Creator of all knowledge and realize how vast His knowledge is—and how infinitesimal ours is—are we able to pursue learning without growing falsely proud.

And then, just in case we happen to fully grasp how minute our cognition truly is but feel discouraged by this revelation . . . there you have the final part of the verse: “But the man who loves God is known by God.”

In other words, God’s huge! We’re tiny! God’s understanding is infinite! Our comprehension is miniscule! But IT’S OKAY, because we are KNOWN BY GOD. Sure, we aren’t as smart as we think we are, and never will be. But really, how dissatisfied can we be with that in light of the fact that the only One who knows as much as we wish to know happens to know and love us personally? That’s SO exciting! So much more exciting than a high test score or a graduate degree.

I’ll suppose I’ll end with the well-put words of The Message:

“We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all” (MSG, v. 2).

Fiction by Lizzy G. // Part Two

Look for part 1 here

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…I thought, well, maybe I could work with this. ‘Home’ is a relative word, right?

At least I was feeling that upbeat about it until after I had sat with a forced smile through my first two class periods on Monday and I met that Freshman. My first day of school in America was an experience that is impossible to describe, but I’ll try my best. Maybe it was the fight in the hall or the first time someone asked me if I liked fortune cookies. Or maybe the hardest part was sitting alone at a desk, unsure, and unknown, wondering how long it would be before I could stop making small talk and laugh a real laugh with a real friend.

But because I hate to dwell on things that bring one down, I’ll tell you that the best part of that morning was meeting people who genuinely cared. In each room circumstances and my hungry eyes located a few students who gave me reassuring smiles, a few who stayed with me for the second minute and said “You’re from China? I think that’s really cool.” From a few people, that was a sincere statement, beautiful in its simplicity and cherished in its reception. When the first girl said that to me, a wad of feelings loosened themselves in my gut and rose to press gently in my head. The only one I could pull from the tangled mess was gratitude—tentative, wistful, dependent gratitude.

The girl’s name was Sharon. I told her “thanks,” and as I spoke back I knew three things:

One, that I would always, always welcome future new kids with all the strength and love that I had in me;

Two, that I would push my body and my brain until every last smile and piece of shallow conversation had left me, that I would make connections and small talk also with all the strength and love I had in me;

Three, that if I stepped out onto the slippery wet floor of relationships and worked to gain new friends in this frightening new place, there I would find what “home” was.

As an overseas kid, I know what a real friend is. The relationship formed between the two of you is made by each taking a reckless step of faith to trust. We settle and move again across the world so fast that we have to have the confidence to make friends when we know our time together will be shorter than a celebrity dating relationship. So we make the friends and we leave them, but connections are wrought between us that are never broken and span oceans and cultures. They are small, taut strings that stretch across the globe and are more than just video chat calls and tweets—they hold you together when you need it most.

I knew I was in trouble if I wanted to find friends like that in a sleepy American high school in the suburbs. But by third period I was also really, really determined.

As I remembered all this and felt the emotional pressure again in the practice room, I was seized with a mad impulse and said “Wait, David.”

He came back, possibly surprised that I’d remembered his name when he told it to me.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Kathryn. You’re in ninth grade, right?”

“Yeah,” he said cheerily.

“Awesome,” I said. “Can you write? Because I’m thinking that I do need to write some songs and they are going to have words.” He sat down eagerly and I thought aloud. “Music can express what someone is feeling, and so can words. Words are probably really important, actually…and wow, do I have a lot of expressing to do.”

He wasn’t really listening, but he started in on playing something. It was upbeat. Words are first steps, I thought. First steps toward friends, and first steps toward a new home.

 

Fiction by Lizzy G.

I blame the Freshman for everything. It’s his fault I got on this wearying mission in the first place. He was one of those disappointing ones, the awkward boy just out of middle school who speaks in a low, macho vibrato. He’s disappointing because when you hear him behind you you’re expecting a hunky, suave athlete and then you turn around and see a spindly stick of a person who is unmistakably, unfortunately, a Freshman.

I was in practice room two fiddling on the oldest of Mr. Yackley’s pianos, a weathered, brown piece of work with yellowed keys. It made that hollow echoing sound that an aging piano forte makes to tell you that it is not “cheap,” but it should not be expected to have the lifespan of a Steinway.

The Freshman came in—he actually had the nerve to open the door and come in—and said “Oh. Do you play piano?”

“Yes,” I said. I did not feel beholden to make eloquent replies to ninth graders.

“That’s cool.” He paused, and I thought he would leave. He didn’t. I glared good naturedly at him. “How long have you been playing?” he asked.

“Since I was little,” I told him, my left hand fingering an A minor chord. It was one of my favorites. I liked things in minor keys.

To my continued surprise he stuck out his hand pompously and said: “I’m David. I like music, too. Do you write songs?”

It took me a moment to address his question; I was still wondering how on earth he thought he could freely bother an upperclassman like this in the first week of school.  “I—no. I don’t,” I said, not worrying because if there was any awkwardness in the room, it had to be coming from him. That was just a rule.

“Why not?” he asked. His eyes searched mine eerily. I wondered if this was some strange, unusual sign, and an underclassman had caught me in a strange, unusual mood and was seeking to tell me something strange and unusual.

I thought a moment, determined to keep my dignity and give a reasonable reply. I tilted my head and looked at a spot on the wall.

“I guess I’ve had the notes but…I’ve never had the words.”

That was what set things rolling.

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I loved the blue sky almost more than I loved the half gallon ice cream tubs and Friday night pizza deliveries. I had few qualms about moving halfway across the world to a place called America, a country that was like a dream to me. Maybe I thought that ice cream and real candy bars would solve all my problems—don’t look at me like that, we all have false hopes sometimes that worm their way into each human’s subconscious. I happen to entertain more ideals than other people.

My family had just moved back to the USA after living in Asia for the past eight years of my life. I was American, but on the day we landed I did not know all the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and I had never thrown a football or eaten a Reeses cup. But I was not Chinese…as far as I could tell.

I wearily handed the guy in the customs booth my battered passport. He thumbed methodically past the first page to the shiny one that had my picture and information imprinted. The dark hair in the photo seemed to obscure my face and almost the rest of the page, scattered across those glossy pictures that are hidden on the pages of the new US passports. I had spent many hours in grungy airports making out those pictures aided by fluorescent lights. They were Americana to the extreme—a pumpkin, the white house, an ocean wave, fireworks, and the words to the Star Spangled Banner printed backwards…don’t ask me why. These were as far as I had made out, but as I sat in every one of those airports, the pictures were shiny symbols to me, of the tantalizing land, The United States of America.

“So…Kathryn,” read the customs guy. “I hope you had a good trip?”

“Oh,” I said, “we lived there actually.”

“That’s great. Welcome home!” he waved me through.

I smiled cynically and rolled my suitcase to the exit. ‘Welcome home’? I thought. Am I in the wrong terminal, sir? Because I don’t call this place ‘home.’ Home is…

I stopped next to an immaculate metal bench.

Home is…not here. That I know. Come back to me on that. 

I walked out onto American soil with my parents and sister, and together we breathed in the clear air and greeted a world of sunshine, consumerism, and major league baseball. My dad was probably thinking about football season and the flat screen TV he was waiting to buy. My mom was thinking about her Kitchenaid mixer she had left in storage all those years ago. I’m pretty sure my sister, Alice, was thinking about hot American guys and college looming in the future. I thought, well, maybe I could work with this. ‘Home’ is a relative word, right?

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Read part two here.

A Spirit of Power and Love

Yesterday, in French class, we had sub since our teacher had to leave during class. She left us some work to do, but everyone was mainly just talking. One boy sitting near me got up to go get his workbook. He had on a shirt that basically said he was against all religion. As he was walking back, someone asked him about his shirt. He replied that he was against all religions because, as a Christian, he had a relationship not a religion. The boys were understandably confused so he sat down and explained more.

For the following thirty minutes, until the bell rang, he shared the Gospel with them. The whole time I sat there watching them and listening, so impressed and amazed he had the courage to do that. Not many people would. In fact, when I told the girl sitting next to me (who I knew was a Christian) we should pray that they would open their hearts to his words she just shrugged and said she didn’t like getting into debates over religion.

Another girl entered the discussion only long enough to say she didn’t believe in God since He had never done anything for her. I almost said something to her, but held back. I wasn’t sure what to say and I was afraid she’d be able to throw everything I could say back in my face. So I just prayed for the three boys who were hearing the Gospel.

I think we all fall into one of those three categories when it comes to sharing our faith: courageous and fearless of what others think, apathetic, or shy. What’s sad is that most of us probably don’t fall into the first category, including myself. I think what’s also sad is how impressed I was that this guy was sharing his faith so openly. Shouldn’t that be an everyday occurrence? Not something that is shocking because it’s never done?

Watching that boy share his faith really inspired me. Listening to him made me excited, excited that those boys got to hear the Gospel. When I go back to school on Monday, and every other day, I want to try to live out my faith more. I don’t want to have a spirit of timidity, but one of “power and love” like it says in 2 Timothy. Will you join me?

If you want to reach out to your friends, here is a list of other blog posts on the topic of evangelism: A Light for Jesus, Thanksgiving Evangelism, The Aroma of Christ, Using Harry Potter for Evangelism, Can God Use You?, and How Will They Remember Me?