The first time we put our oldest daughter on a plane to send her back to Ouachita, I cried for two days. That is how long it took from the time we said goodbye at the international departures area of the Beijing International Airport until we heard her voice again after she arrived safely in the U.S.
Sending a child off to college is never easy. When you live in another country, it comes with some additional challenges. For instance, even though your teenager may be completely comfortable taking public transportation across a city of 24 million people, it doesn’t prepare her for driving in Arkadelphia, Ark. And, although your college-bound kiddo may be able to maneuver a menu in a different language, it doesn’t mean that he knows how to use a drive-through window at McDonald’s!
Most incoming freshmen feel awkward with all the new adjustments to college life. For MKs (missionary kids) and TCKs (third culture kids), the awkward feelings are especially high – like, “junior high awkward.” Besides adjusting to their new college culture, they also are adjusting to U.S. culture. They may look like a typical U.S. student, but they don’t feel like one on the inside. They have learned how to fit in and succeed in their family’s foreign assignment culture. However, they have a lot of fear of not fitting in and of failing in their home country culture, fear that they may not be able to voice or even understand.
Thinking back to my first time returning to the U.S., I remember being overwhelmed by just going to the grocery store. The aisles were too wide; the lights were too bright; the air conditioning was too cold; there were too few people; there were too many choices. I was so overwhelmed that I walked out without buying a single thing. Thankfully, those feelings didn’t last long, and soon I was able to successfully maneuver a U.S. grocery store!
For those overseas parents who move their students into Ouachita – or who send their students to move in on their own – one of the best things a parent can do is to let their child know that failing is okay because it is a part of learning and a part of succeeding.
A friend of mine who sent her son off to college in the U.S. shared the conversation she had with her son on his move-in day. Iris said she could tell that Lewis was really uptight and nervous, but she thought it was just about the looming separation. When it was almost time for Iris and Tom to leave, Lewis finally opened up and said, “Mom, what if I fail?” Iris responded, “Lewis, of course you are going to fail! If you don’t fail, you won’t grow!” His shoulders relaxed and the tension was visibly released. He just needed to hear that it was okay to fail.
For MKs and TCKs, the distance away from home is really tough to handle. However, it is the distance that gives them room to fail and succeed – and ultimately to grow into an adult. (It also helps us parents grow up, too!)
Angie Schleiff, a former Ouachita student, served overseas with Bible Study Fellowship. She currently serves as campus visit coordinator at Ouachita. Two of the Schleiffs’ kids are Ouachita graduates, and two are current students.
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