In the past month, I read several engaging articles in the 2017 winter issue of ChinaSource Quarterly. One article I want to highlight is from fellow Columbia International University grad, Stephen Sark. My family discussed his article, "Kids in Transition,” over dinner one night, and it brought about a great deal of reflection concerning our own transition to the States 19 months ago.
I agree with much of what Mr. Sark said and would like to respond with thoughts that I hope can add to this vital topic. Although one could conclude that I resonated with much of the article since Mr. Sark and I both served in large cities in China for many years and raised children there, anyone who has recently moved to a new culture (with children) can gain insight from reading the piece.
Mr. Sark starts his article talking about Buck. Buck’s parents were missionaries overseas, and now Buck was having difficulty fitting in at a Stateside college. Buck didn’t wear the latest fashions and didn’t know much about pop culture, and this made his cross-cultural transition challenging. Although you won’t find my children wearing the latest Nike athleisure and watching the most binged shows on Netflix, I want them to build relationships with others. I’ve taught my children about various athletes and entertainers so they aren’t left out in the dark. As Mr. Sark pointed out, technology has permitted us to not be such outsiders so we can actually converse with others and hopefully discuss deeper matters.
Mr. Sark goes on to provide five points that his family learned in their transition back to the United States.
1. Connect to a church. Definitely. Our home church was absolutely instrumental in helping us in our transition to Indiana. My children saw the church load a 26-foot U-Haul truck entirely with donated furniture, toys, kitchen accessories, and more. The bed where I sleep, the table where I eat, and many of the chairs where we sit were all gifts from the church. They invited us to speak at a missions conference, attend a fall retreat, and always welcome us with open arms.
I located our church in our current city through the Gospel Coalition network while still living in China. My children are hearing solid expository sermons, receiving good instruction at Sunday School, and have met others at youth gatherings. Additionally, my daughters have served at a summer camp for disadvantaged youth and heard powerful testimonies at activities for women in the church. All of this has encouraged my children and has helped them make roots in their new community.
2. Connect to mentors. This isn’t something we’ve formally done, but we’ve seen key people in our school community be salt and light to our children. Our oldest child had the easiest transition of our three children, and I’m thankful that she genuinely enjoyed all of her 8th grade teachers. To my surprise, my middle child had a difficult time adjusting to her new life in Indiana. I’m grateful that her 5th grade teacher took time out to talk to her about China and share Scripture that my daughter still remembers.
3. Make wise education choices. This was an easy one for us. My children attend the school where I’m employed. I felt confirmation that this was the right choice after a middle school student and his classmates prayed for me. I’m thankful to have found a school that embraces adoption, different ethnic groups, and is open to people from various backgrounds.
All three of my children enjoy various activities at the school, and sports became a way for them to quickly connect with others. My oldest daughter joined the cross-country team and middle child was selected to the soccer team. Both of them participated in track together. My youngest son picked up chess and joined the chess club. All of these activities were extremely affordable and provided my children with great learning experiences and points of connection.
4. Connect to their TCK friends. We’ve been blessed to host and meet up with many people we did life with in China. My children have had several of their former teachers and friends visit us. Last year we experienced two mini-China reunions, one at the wedding of some friends and another at a friend’s guest home. Each time we’ve been able to spend time with friends we served with in China, my children have come away with lasting memories.
5. Laugh. Mr. Sark’s final recommendation is an all-important one. Proverbs 17:22 states, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Transition can be hard, and it’s important to smile and laugh when you can. Laugh when your dad doesn’t know how to use the Keurig coffee maker. Laugh when the family can’t figure out how to use the self-checkout machine. Laugh (and rejoice) at the enormous selection of cereals at your local grocery store. All of these examples can easily result in frustrating moments, but make the choice to laugh instead.
If I could add just one more point, make an effort to connect to your former host country in whatever ways you can. Trips to the international market, enjoying mooncakes from our new Chinese friends, and taking Chinese language classes have all been highlights for our family.
Everyone’s situation will be different with unique challenges and blessings. I’m thankful for the way the Lord in his sovereignty grows his children in times of transition.
Mark Wickersham is the middle school principal at Evansville Christian School in Southern Indiana (United States) where his wife, a 19-year Middle Kingdom resident and ESL instructor, corrects his grammar. Mark taught in Indiana and South Korea before serving as a coach, teacher, or principal in China for 13 years.... View Full Bio