Summer Camps for a TCK

Camping kids 3-a
Summer camps…Oh, the memories.

Swimming in the lake after tipping the canoe over…

Raiding the boy’s cabin and having our cabin raided…

Shooting the bow and arrow, sometimes hitting the mark…

Pounding wet leather keychains with my initials…

These memories took place at church, 4-H, and in FFA camp (remember I grew up in Small Town, USA). They were fun times away from home for one week, but I learned new skills, made friends, and began to practice my independence. I had to remember to change my underwear, brush my teeth, and all those things that my mom probably reminded me everyday to do.

Now, my kids are getting older and we have been looking at sending the oldest to camp. Living overseas sometimes makes it hard to find camps because either 1) there are very few or none in your area or 2) they are in the local language, which is fine if your child speaks the language well enough to cope for 24/7 for a week, but doesn’t workout if you just recently arrived.

As I’ve been looking around, I’ve actually discovered – probably because I’ve never looked before – that there are more and more camps geared towards those kids living overseas. You can google “TCK camp” and get a few hits. Here is what I found:

Thousand Hills TCK Camp – They only had a Facebook page, but they are a cattle ranch in Guizhou province of China.

OSCAR – is a site for Missionary families in the UK. They have a listing of many events going on for kids re-entering the country.

Camp Beyond – geared for older kids who want to experience America, who may not have a chance to do so otherwise. They target the Asian community, but I think it would be a great experience for anyone wanting to experience outdoor education. They have a Youtube video linked to this site that really shows what they do during their sessions.

This year we are breaking in slowly. We are not traveling “back” to the US or to Germany – so we are looking at a Bible Camp for GeGe that is put on here, on the island, during the summers. He is excited – I am too, but as I remember my list of memories I take a deep sigh and think, “Oh, what goes around may just come around…my poor mother.” HA!

Your Turn: Have you ever sent your child off to camp before? Share below your experiences with us.

 

What does a TCK do with St. Pat’s Day?

St Patrick's Day Parade San Francisco 2012

*photo by David Yu via flickr

Today was Saint Patrick’s Day. In Asia it is not really celebrated. So, for the past fifteen years or so, the day usually went by just like any normal day in March. Some days that was filled with reheated coffee and mountains of laundry. Other days it was a classroom of kids from all around the world. Some days in March I was putting sunscreen on my kids at the zoo. Other days I wore gloves while I taught because the small electric heater just didn’t put out enough heat.

As the kids got to be school-age, I still didn’t really pay attention too much because they were in local school. Then they started attending an “American” school. I  didn’t anticipate the holiday; I hadn’t worn green on March 17th intentionally in years.

This year though, my kids are older. They don’t attend an “American” school, but a homeschool-coop. Many of their classmates, though, are American with both parents being American. So, when my Facebook newsfeed filled with St. Pat’s parades and such I looked at the calendar and saw that it fell on a school day. I remembered some of the traditions, especially the one about not wearing green.

My mother-protection mode kicked in.

This morning I told them to wear green. They looked at me strange, but at breakfast I explained the holiday. Call it a crash-course in holiday tradition. I didn’t care. I just didn’t want my kids to get pinched because they didn’t wear green, but more importantly I didn’t want them to get pinched and not understand what was happening.

Results? I found out my kids were the ones to start looking for the ones who didn’t have on green. Can someone say, “Backfire?” *throws hands up in the air* 

Your Turn: Have you ever held a crash-course on holiday traditions from your passport country? How did it turn out? Please share in the comments below.

Expat Fathers Uninvolved?

That is the question that I have tried to tackle over at Expat Child this week. Here is a snippet of that article.

“Research has been published regarding the uninvolved father. The United States Child Welfare Department has issued findings that children whose fathers were involved in their lives have higher cognitive development, feel more emotionally stable, and are less likely to get involved in drugs or violence. It also found

that boys with involved fathers had fewer school behavior problems and that girls had stronger self-esteem. .

Are the TCKs whose fathers are absent for several weeks at a time doomed?”

If you want to read the rest, head over to Expat Child where you will find the full article.

 

Including Your TCKs….

I grew up in a family that worked together. What I mean is that my parents expected us to help each other out with family projects. For instance, every fall we helped Dad cut and haul wood; every summer we worked in my grandmother’s very large garden, and then at the end of the summer we canned everything; and as we got older we helped each other move into our homes. It is like that still . Almost every return visit there is usually some family project going on that we (my husband, kids, and I) help with. Like a few years ago we helped my brother-in-law build his barn; and last summer we helped my mother tear down an old building. Everyone that was able helped in some way, even if it was just refilling the water jugs.

My husband grew up somewhat the same, so he jumps right in and helps with no complaints when we are back. And because of this, we have tried to include our kids in whatever we are involved with while living overseas. When they were younger my husband was a principal at international schools, so I would take them to all the school programs. It was a way we could support him and be a part of each of those communities. When our kids were toddlers, we wanted them to learn to help others – so I had them help me pick up trash after school events or other small jobs that they could handle.

Now that they are older, our work focus has changed. My husband is now the director of a not-for-profit that helps families of children with special needs. We wanted to include all of our children, not just our child with special needs in this new endeavor. The other two “get” to help in appropriate ways like volunteering as a buddy for a child with special needs at activities we host or they help with the preparations. It’s a family project, not just my husband’s job.

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Why do we do this? We want our kids to feel involved in the work that we are doing. We want to them to experience different aspects of life, not just what they see at school or with their friends. We want them to do something meaningful. I just read an article* that says that “adult MKs who felt they were a significant part of their parents’ ministries had, as adults, a greater sense of spiritual/emotional stability” (“Raising Resilient MKs” by Diane Morris). That MK, could be replaced by TCK for those who are working with humanitarian organizations. I believe our kids need to see what we do and why it is important.

Do we force our kids help us? Honestly, sometimes, but not always. We ask and see if they want to help out, especially if it is volunteering to help other people. We challenge them to try it, but we don’t force them to volunteer if they are uncomfortable. Now, we might force or bribe them to help with preparations when we need extra hands to sort T-shirts and medals, but most of the time they do it because they want to – but not always. They are children.

“But, I work with organizations that work against child trafficking and sex-slavery, there is NO way I’m bringing my children anywhere near those places,” you say. I hear you. I wouldn’t either. I want to protect my own children’s innocence as long as I can. I’ll be honest, this is not an area I’m an expert in – but I’ve had my kids help me make cookies and color eggs that were to be delivered by another organization to “tea shops” where some of the women worked. My kids did not and still do not know what kind of work these ladies do, just that we were making cookies for some people to make them happy. What kid does not want to make others happy.

“But, I’m not a missionary or a humanitarian,” you say. I still think you can get involved in something with your community. I’m sure you may already are. I know of other traveling spouses that volunteer at orphanages, help with fund-raisers for needs in their city, or other “humanitarian” type work. Try to work in times to get your kids involved with you. It’s great for kids to see their parents helping others, and it’s even better when you see them and can honestly say “Great job, today. I’m so proud of you!”

So, I challenge you. I challenge you to get your children involved with whatever it is you do. It can be simple like making cookies or it can be more difficult like building new homes after a natural disaster. Whatever you do make sure it is age appropriate, meaningful, and that you do it together.

Your Turn: How do you involve your children in the work/ministry that you do? I’d love to hear of more examples and stories, so please share below in the comments section.

*Taken from the book, Raising Resilient MKs edited by Joyce M. Bowers.

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Expat Special Needs Parent: Marriage Homework

Expat parents of children with special needs know a few secrets. They experience

wedding picture

loneliness, and the feeling of “alone-ness” like other expats, but many times even more so. Let’s face it, between therapy sessions, outbursts of children, and the mobility of the expat community these seasons of being lonely are often. The last secret that expat parents of children with special needs know is the secret of marriage: Being married is super hard work

Divorce rates are extremely high for parents of children with special needs. Many sites like this one, states that the rate could be as high as 90%! That is high! I don’t know what the rate of expat parents are, but I’m sure it can’t be too far off from that statistic.

Why is the rate so high? Stress is the simple answer. Stress of money or lack of it. The cost of the various therapy classes, the surgeries, and the medical equipment required for the child is not cheap, and depending on the country you live in it can even be more expensive than in your home country. It all adds up quickly. The other factor is the stress from the demands. Children with special needs require a lot of attention. They splatter Nutella, they climb into the bathtub fully clothed, and many are toddlers running around in bodies of a preteen. The time it takes to teach, re-teach, and re-teach again just basic living skills takes away from time together as a couple. If you have other children in the home, then more time is needed for them as well. Not spending time with your spouse causes stress on many levels – communication, intimacy, friendship, etc.

With odds like that, it seems hopeless – even to me.

Hope is there, though…

It is there for me because I choose to not dwell on that 80-90%. Instead I focus on the 10-20% that I want to be in. My husband and I made an agreement when we were married that we would not even joke about divorce. When Jie Jie was diagnosed and we read the statistics, my husband boldly told me that we would work harder to maintain our marriage, that he’d work harder to keep our marriage a priority~I’m such a blessed woman.

Has it been an easy road laid with flowers and fairy-tale music playing in the background? Wish I could say YES, but I have to be honest. It has been tough, and I mean T.O.U.G.H. I’m married to a great guy. He is. He’s patient with my emotional whacked out side that comes out after I’ve had five days of not much sleep due to a little girl (or two) walking around the home in the middle of the night. He’s great, but he’s not perfect. And sadly, neither am I. It takes work.

I want to share with you what we do to keep our marriage strong. We’ve been married for 14 years this July, but these idea were shared with me from couples that have been married much longer than we have.

We choose to make time for each other. That’s it. It’s simple, but it works. We’ve had seasons of “date” nights, where we went out once a week on a date. We had a friend that could watch the kids and we’d catch a movie, supper, or something as simple as coffee. Now, we are not able to go out as often, but we still take day trips or spend a night at a local hotel every once in a while. Since we can’t go out as often on typical dates, we take an evening walk. We are able to do this after the girls are in bed asleep and our son is still awake. We walk around our neighborhood and talk about jobs, problems with kids, future moves, and whatever else that comes to our minds. It’s been a great way to stay connected.

Your Turn: Maybe you don’t have children with special needs, but what do you do to keep your marriage strong? Please share in the comments below.

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Make Sure To Say Good-bye

It’s the end of the school year, which means traveling with family, moving to a new place, or hanging out at home. Most parents and teachers of third culture kids know that they need to make sure there are opportunities for students to say good-byes properly. They have “Good-bye Parties” for their children; they take photos of their favorite places, and/or they have dinners with special people before they leave.

Alloway Kirk and Burial Place of Burns's Family

Photo by The Commons at flickr.com

Saying “Good-bye” well is something we should have our children do at the end of every school year or long vacation no matter if we are leaving or not.

Just last week I put in a music DVD for Jie Jie that we’ve had for over ten years now (Have DVDs truly been around that long now?). She requests it once in awhile, and on this particular morning I sat and watched her dance along with it. A song came on, this song in particular, and my heart wrenched.

I was flooded with memories from 10 years ago.

It was the last week of our time in Shenyang, China. Due to SARS, the school had ended a week earlier. My husband was the principal at the time, so we were making our last rounds of dinners and lunches with various people. This day we happened to be eating fish head soup with a Korean family when my husband got the phone call. An elementary student had gotten pinned down by a large iron gate just outside his home. He was dead.

In a haze of confusion and pain, a memorial service was arranged. The students who were still around all showed up, along with teachers and friends of the parents. “With All of My Heart” by Jana Alayra was one of the songs that was played that day. It had been one of his favorites.

Many of his classmates were not there that day. They had already traveled back to their passport country. *

We can’t know for sure that when school resumes in the fall, that your child’s classmates will all be there. So, if you have the chance help your young children say “Good-bye” well this year. Maybe it it’s just a handshake and the words spoken or maybe you go all out and have an end of the year party where the kids say something nice about each other. Either way, from this experience, I learned the importance of saying “Good-bye” every time.

*The school had another Memorial Service in fall for all the students, along with counselors to help them deal with such a huge loss.

Your Turn: What do you do to help your child/student say “Good-bye” at the end of the school year? Please comment below.

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An Expat’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

I’m sure you are one busy man this time of year. I can’t imagine, as I only have three kids, not millions to check on. I don’t want to take up too much of your precious time, as I know you have quite a few of these letters to read. So, here it goes:

This year I’d like…

 

1. Language – the ability to communicate clearly with the locals around me. I know I could study more, but if you could just give me the language, then I would be able to understand the man on the phone telling me that a package has arrived for us and I need to get it soon. I’d also like to be able to read in this new language. It would be so helpful with the public notices in our elevator, especially today when the water went off during my shower. That would have been very helpful.

2. Lifetime of free airline ticketsOkay this maybe steep, but hey I’ve been REALLY good this year. I love to travel, but it just costs so much money to go places, especially with a family of five. So, maybe you could put at least a few years worth of free tickets in my stocking?

3. Cooking classes – A personal tutor to teach me how to make all the wonderful food that I have eaten in the various places that I have called home. It is difficult to find the exact same food after we move on to the next destination. I’d even settle for a recipe book, but they have to be authentic recipes. Please don’t send me the recipes that are westernized.

4. Home – Yes, this maybe the most difficult as we are not really sure where home is. To spend the holidays with the entire extended family each year would be just a dream come true. For us it’s difficult because my family and my in-laws live on different continents. You are creative, so I’m sure you will come up with a grand way for us to be able to celebrate with both families this year. (If it doesn’t workout, then I’ll settle for a GREAT connection on Skype.)

Thank you so much in advance. And in case you didn’t know, we no longer live where we did last year. In fact, we don’t even live in the same country. So, be sure to pay attention to the return address. Don’t worry though, I smuggled in my suitcase the special ingredients so I can make your favorite cookies.

Your Biggest and Most-Well Behaved Fan,

The Expat

Your Turn: I had fun thinking about what an expat might ask for. Now if you could ask Santa for anything, what would you ask for? Share in the comments below.

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*Photo Credit: Flickr, The Commons

 

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Nontraditional Holiday? Why not?

For the ‘American’ part of our family, the big holiday is coming up quickly. You know, Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potato souffle, pumpkin pie, and all the rest of the good stuff. In the past we’ve celebrated with fellow expats (aka adopted family) gathered around our own table or their table – or even larger gatherings where we rented space at the international school to feast.

This year is different.

This year we did not buy a turkey. I did not make stuffing. I didn’t even make a pumpkin pie. In fact, we are not even going to be home for Thanksgiving. We are leaving and taking a much needed mini vacation.

How do I feel about this? Actually, relieved. I’m not stressed about putting food together . I’m not worried about how Jie Jie is going to act/react at the gathering. I’m excited. We haven’t vacationed as a family in quite a while – like two years. We’ve gone to the US and visited family, but we didn’t go anywhere to shut off completely as a family. We’ve had stay-cations  but we tend to work anyway. We need to go away with books and games. I can’t wait -(actually, by the time you read this we will already be gone).

Why be nontraditional when this is the time I should be teaching my children about “their home” culture?

1. The thought of being away from family is too much this year. This is what one of my friends told me as she related their plans for the Thanksgiving break. They were planning to not have a huge feast at their home as they have in years past, but instead go to a different city and help at an orphanage with a group of other expats. I thought this was a brilliant way to fight the holiday blues. Go and serve others. And with that they are teaching their kids empathy for others.

2. The thought of doing anymore work is going to kill me. This is me, I raise my hand waving my white flag. I’m tired and the thought of cooking and prepping makes me swoon. And we have an “I Am a Hero Game” that we will travel six hours for the day before, so we decided to add time away and explore a small island off the main island.

I totally agree that holidays are a great way to teach kids about your own home culture. It helps them relate and understand where they came from. I understand that and agree. I get the full blown celebrations with all the fun crafts, food, and pre-recorded football games. I have done this – except the football game. We are European football fans, not so much the American football. So, my kids are not going to get a turkey this year. Will they survive? YES.

We really went wild this year – we put up our tree before Thanksgiving! We usually do this the weekend following Thanksgiving, but I wanted to come back to a decorated apartment. 

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you all! If you are eating turkey and pumpkin pie I wish you well as I sit at the beach reading a book and watching the kids play in the ocean. I’m thankful for time with my family.

Your Turn: How do you celebrate holidays? Do you go all out with every tradition? Do you ever do a nontraditional type of holiday? Please share in the comments below.

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Language and TCKs

“Which language should we speak at home with our children?”

“Which school should we send our children to? Language is important, but I’m afraid my child will forget or not master our ‘mother tongue’.”

As an expat parent, I’ve asked those same questions. As an international elementary teacher, I’ve heard those questions from parents about their own children.

They are legit questions, ones that should be addressed from the get-go when deciding to live abroad with your family. When I was pregnant with our first child my husband, being German, and I decided that I would speak English and he would speak German. Let me just say this, in theory it was a great plan, but for our family it didn’t happen. My husband rarely spoke German anywhere. His working world was in English and Chinese. His world at home with me was in English. He didn’t think about speaking German unless he was talking with his parents, but even that was a mixture of English, German, and a bit of Chinese. Please know that I do know of families that spoke dual languages and it worked wonderfully for them. It just wasn’t for our family. If you have a mixed family, this is definitely something you need to discuss as a family – which language(s) will we speak at home with our kids?

Schooling affects language as well…

Yes, which school do we send our child to? Local? International? Home-school?  These are questions that you definitely need to discuss with your spouse. Something to think about though, is what language do you see your child using as an adult? Is it your mother-tongue? your husband’s? English – if that isn’t your mother-tongue? As an educator, I can’t say this strong enough – Whatever language(s) you decide your child will be educated in make sure your child masters a language – and what I mean is they have mastered both speaking and writing. If your child cannot fully function in one language, they may never be able to fully express their feelings.

Once GeGe was almost pre-school age, Uwe and I discussed what language we wanted him to be educated in. We wanted him to be able to speak Chinese well. We had planned for him to attend local school until Grade 2, with me home-schooling him in English to keep up his writing. We chose this grade level because we knew that he would most likely go to an English speaking university. The English writing begins to expand quickly to paragraphs in grade 3. We didn’t want him to fall too far behind and not master English. Well, this plan didn’t workout for us. He attended only Kindergarten at the local school, then in grade 1 we switched over to the international school, but requested that he be in the same Chinese level as the native speakers in his homeroom. This worked out well for him. Our decision to pull him into the international school was due to the fact that Jie Jie needed to start school and her school was not at the same school. They were not really even close to each other and there was no way for me to get them both to school. GeGe could go in early with my husband, and I could take JieJie.

We speak English in the home, so these questions were not so difficult to answer, but for those expat parents whose language at home is not English this decision must be weighed out carefully. And many times a sacrifice of the mother-tongue happens. The language spoken by the parents is learned, but not fully mastered.

When raising kids abroad, the question about language is huge. It’s one that every expat parent must think through and discuss with their spouse. It is a question that my in-laws had to make over thirty years ago when they decided to send their very young children to the American school versus the German boarding school that was located in a different country. And it will be the question that probably my children will have to make should they choose to live abroad with families of their own.

Your Turn: What language do you speak at home? How did you make the language decision about education? What school do you send your kids to or did your parents send you to? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’m really interested.

This post was inspired by a blogpost I recently read about raising kids overseas. She is a TCK herself and understands the advantages and the disadvantages of living abroad. She listed questions one should ask when they begin to think about raising TCKs. The one suggestion that she gives to expat parents is to READ. Read books, articles, and blog posts about and authored by adult TCKs. If you are not currently following DrieCulturen, you should. Great resource!

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The Working Mama Weekend Saga~

I just joined the work-outside-the-home Mamas Club this fall. I am working part-time as a teacher for a small bi-lingual school where my kids are now attending. It has been both wonderful and challenging. If you are in this “Club”, then you know exactly what I mean.

It’s a Wonderful Life…

I LOVE teaching. I forgot that I loved it. I have been out of the classroom for about ten years now. I was a bit intimidated at first, but I really do love everything about it…being in the classroom, doing projects,sparking interest in learning (occasionally get to see this), planning the lessons, and yes even some grading (I’m a little odd though).

Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a SAHM (stay at home mom), but the kids are now ALL in school. Jie Jie even has a teacher and goes half days – which is why I’m part-time ~ and I’m okay with part-time. Part-time is E.N.O.U.G.H. Really.

It’s a Crazy Life…

I am part-time, but my Mom and Wife duties are still full-time. I still take Jie-Jie to therapy twice a week. I still have meals to cook. About Thursday, the laundry becomes Mt. Darks, Mt. Lights, and Mt. Whites. My floors and bathrooms still need cleaning. Life is crazy. My weekends are bogged down with housework and lesson plans. I feel like I’m just surviving at times.

I don’t want to just survive, I want to thrive.

You, too? We can thrive, I just know it. I’ll be honest, I don’t have all the answers, but here has been my weekend saving trick. It will blow your mind. It is so cheap, so easy to find (okay, you may have to look under a bed or in a closet), and some of the time easy to use.

The Children…yep, I’ve recruited the kids to help out with the chores. They can vacuum, fold clothes, clean the bathrooms, dust, and take out the trash. Some of these chores they get paid for, like taking out the trash. The others they don’t – it’s just what they do as part of the family. Kids learn valuable life skills while doing chores. And we all want them to be able live on their own when they graduate from high school, right? Right! And since your TCK will probably not live that close to home after graduation, all the more reason to teach them a few skills while they are still under your roof.

So, get those kids geared up to grab the dust rag and help out around the apartment. Sound difficult? It is, but giving them the option of going to friend’s house or having friends over afterwards motivates them pretty quickly.

So, here’s to the weekend. Hope you are able to get outside or do something you enjoy to do that is not on the “To Do” List.

Your Turn: Have any tips of your own that helps lessen the work on the weekends? Please share in the comments below.

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