How Will Our Children Adapt?

Our questions breeze right in through the open windows of our minds: fearful reactions can grip us with chilled anxiety, while sun-kissed, hope-filled responses enable us to envision a bright future. When we decide to enter into another culture, we truly don’t know how that choice will affect each of our uniquely-designed children. How will they choose to follow our host culture? Will they learn how to fit in and adapt without losing their sense of identity?

After having grown comfortable living in a large city on the east coast of China for 15 years, our family relocated to central western China in 2011 for my husband to pursue his PhD. Through his field research, the door opened for us to live in a Muslim minority village for weeks at a time, which needless to say was a huge change for us.

Our 13 year old daughter Jordan felt at home right away, and she couldn’t wait to be done with home school so she could spend time with her new friends. One of her writing assignments when we were back in the city was about her life in the village:

“The bus bumped over the village roads pulling to a stop at the entrance of an alley, the alley which would lead me to my new home. Excitement about this new move bubbled up in me, as I stepped out of the bus into the cool night air. I looked up to see the sky shining brightly with more stars than I had ever seen in my life. We got our bags out from the side of the bus and started down the alley that would soon become familiar to me. As we walked up to the door of our home and stepped in, I was astonished at the size of the place! It was huge! It had a gigantic courtyard with a little garden area in the middle that had a few trees but no flowers yet. That night I slept in my own room, and the next day we all unpacked and started getting accustomed to life in the village.

“The village was gorgeous; with lots of trees and hills and streams. The next day on a walk around the village I saw a girl by the road with her little brother and I smiled at her, she smiled back with a big, warm smile. At that moment I knew that we would be friends! That weekend she came over to play and we baked, sewed, played outside and even fished for tadpoles in the river! I absolutely loved life there and soon grew used to it.

“We could wake up each morning to the sound of birds chirping and breathe clean, fresh mountain air. While eating breakfast outside we could see the mountains with snow on them in the distance. Around lunch we could play badminton in our courtyard. Sometimes, if I was out getting something I would see a friend coming home from school and go over to play at her house for a while and every weekend my friends would come over to play. Overall, I absolutely loved life in the village and the friends that I have there!!!”

Our 15 year old son stepped off the same bus into village life, but with much more hesitation and resistance. Over time, however, as he and his older brother learned how to participate in the Sufi festivals that honored the deaths of their shieks, his perspective began to change. Through joining in with the other young men of the village as they served food at the festivals, Joshua became part of the community. This is what he wrote in a college application essay about what village life taught him about adaptability and diversity:

“This experience was hugely significant in stretching me well beyond my comfort zone and in teaching me the importance of adaptability. While my participation in Model United Nation conferences taught me how to adapt while representing the diverse opinions of different countries, my experience of serving in the village taught me how to adapt, not merely with words, but through fulfilling my role in a diverse context in a very real and practical way.

“I have found that adaptability is not simply the ability to be a chameleon by always changing myself in order to fit into the surrounding environment, but that rather it is the ability to grow myself through living life in somebody else’s shoes.

“Growing through such adaptability has made me appreciate the importance and power of unity within diversity. Through embracing the diversity of life in the village by serving alongside other young men, I realized that in spite of all our differences, we were still united by a common desire to serve others. I believe that this common desire extends beyond my specific experience of serving in the village and is in fact something that we all share in common. While this desire manifests itself in a variety of ways in different cultural contexts, it nonetheless can serve as a unifying factor to spur collective action. I hope to use my life experiences and exposure to diversity to build bridges across cultures to help others discover the significance of such unity within diversity.”

What have been your experiences of seeing your children learn to follow (or choose not to follow) the ways of your host culture? What are your fears? Your hopes for them?

Do you have questions for Jordan or Joshua about their TCK experiences?

22 Comments

  1. Brooke roush March 22, 2017

    “The importance and power of unity within diversity”…I hope that truth was the key to gaining admission at every school your son applied to. I wish I knew your children. They sound awesome!

    1. Jodie March 22, 2017

      Thanks for your encouragement, Brooke. Joshua is a sophomore at Notre Dame (our oldest son CJ is a senior there) and Jordan is a freshman at Calvin College. It would be fun for our families to meet! Loved your post from yesterday.

      1. Brooke March 23, 2017

        Ah! One of my best friends is an architecture professor at ND! Would love to meet sometime! Let me know if you are ever in San Francisco.

        1. Jodie March 23, 2017

          Ok and let me know if you’re ever in Colorado Springs! That’s great you have a friend at Notre Dame. It has been a wonderful place for our boys. They have been positively impacted by the way faith and learning are intertwined there, and they have professors who have been great mentors for them in both of those areas. Our daughter has loved her experience at Calvin so far, as she’s starting to pursue social work as her area of interest. I just wanted to mention both of those schools as good options as you think about looking at colleges down the road.

  2. MaDonna March 23, 2017

    Please tell your children thank you for letting you post part of their writing. I always find it interesting how siblings have different reactions to the same experiences. It just shows how creative God really is.
    How have they adjusted to living in the US? What did they find that was helpful in the transition? (a few questions for Jordan and Joshua)

    1. Jodie March 23, 2017

      Thanks MaDonna. It is really interesting how different are kids are! I would have to say that my reaction to being in the village was more like Joshua’s (cautiously sticking my toes in the water) rather than Jordan’s jumping in with both feet. The way that I saw him gradually adapting to life there actually helped me in my adjustment. Have you ever found that to be true: with your kids helping you? I passed on your questions to Joshua and Jordan. Joshua is in Beijing this semester for a study abroad program and Jordan is on her spring break trip this week in Mississippi…

    2. Joshua Pine March 25, 2017

      Hi! Thanks for the questions (Joshua here). I’ve found adjusting to life in the US a lot easier than I thought it might be. I think a big reason for that was the campus family that I was able to find for myself while attending the University of Notre Dame. While there were definitely elements of culture shock and other aspects of life that I needed to adjust to, for the most part the transitions that I was going through (living life by myself, highschool to college, etc.) were shared by all the other freshman so that made it a lot easier to make friends and “fit in”.

      1. MaDonna March 27, 2017

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. I’m sure you are busy with your studies and eating all the good dishes and street foods.
        It’s good to hear that you and Jordan both seemed to have found your group. My oldest is a freshman in hs, so his time is coming. His dad is a German MK who went to US university his first 2 years….it wasn’t so good, but he did end up figuring life out by the time we met. Haha… thanks again, and enjoy the rest of your time.

    3. Jordan March 26, 2017

      I agree with Joshua that my transition to America was better than I expected. For me joining a cross country team in Colorado was a big part of making my transition smooth as I learned that I could relate well to other girls my age who had grown up in the States. I’ve also found that it is super important to be intentional with making friends and spending time with them.

      1. MaDonna March 27, 2017

        Thanks Jordan for taking the time to answer my question. Sounds like you have adjusted well. My oldest is a freshman in high school this year, so his time is coming.

        1. Jodie March 28, 2017

          MaDonna, Hope the transition goes better for your kids than it did for your husband. Maybe he can pass on to them what in hindsight could have made it better for him. You may have heard of the book Third Culture Kids. The original author David Pollock’s son Michael lived in our first city for a number of years. He’s now in the States and helps TCKs in their transitions. Jordan just went to a weekend TCK/MK conference for Calvin College that he and his wife hosted. He recently finished the 3rd edition of the book and you can preorder it now: https://www.amazon.com/Third-Culture-Kids-3rd-Growing/dp/1473657660/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1490368158&sr=8-3&keywords=third+culture+kids+growing+up+among+worlds

          1. MaDonna March 28, 2017

            Yes, I have that book. We know the Pollocks, too. We worked with Michael in China, though I think we were in a different city at the time. Uwe and Michael worked on curriculum and principal things. Small world.

          2. Jodie March 28, 2017

            That’s great! It is a small world 🙂

  3. Lisa March 23, 2017

    Thank you – and your kids! – for writing this! I appreciate your perspective. It really struck me that you seem mostly to be talking about the transition from living in a city IN CHINA to a village (assuming, also in China). Most of us – at least me – think of cross-cultural living as going from the U.S. (or the parent’s passport country) to living overseas. But for TCKs like your kids who have lived in one place internationally for a long time, going to another place is at least as big of a transition. I’m sure the city in China where you had been living felt like “home” to your kids especially. We are mostly done with our second year overseas after having uprooted our four kids (now aged 11, 10, 9, and 5) from a very stable community in the U.S. Previous to our international move, we had lived in the same house for 15 years! Each of the kids is making the transition in their own ways, according to their own personality. We struggle with making friends and feeling at home here. The questions I think my kids would ask your kids – are the sacrifices “worth it” in the end? How can we make it easier in the short-term, until we feel more at home? How can we achieve fluency in the local language?

    1. Jodie March 23, 2017

      Those are great insights and questions Lisa! First, I think your whole family is really brave for taking this huge step. Leaving a stable community is an incredibly hard thing to do. Especially when it means learning a whole new language and culture. We also left a stable community of 15 years, which was the only home our kids knew (for them, America was just where we went to visit). One plus is that we could continue to speak Chinese in our new city and in the village, although we still encountered communication problems when they used their local dialect.

      With our move, we found that Chinese Muslim culture was completely different than Han Chinese culture. One of the issues for our sons was wearing the white prayer cap. Our oldest son was excited about the idea, but Joshua was very resistant at first, because he didn’t want to “pretend” he was Muslim. But the grandfather of our host family told our guys when we first arrived in the village that he wanted them to wear the caps to the festivals as a way of showing respect. When it was clear that he was wearing the cap to show respect, Joshua was fine with it. The village custom is for women to wear a head covering after they get married. So I did, but Jordan didn’t. It was interesting though that because of arranged marriages and girls marrying young, several of her friends who were 15 were already married and needed to be covered.

      Are you homeschooling? We found that homeschooling was great for our family in our first city because we were part of an amazing homeschool community with extracurricular opportunities and strong friendships for our kids. A big blessing for us was that the foreign families we were closest to had been there as long as we had (but it also made it harder to leave!) Homeschooling in our second city was much more isolating. There was a small homeschool group for foreigners, but everyone else had young kids. We had to look for ways to connect with the community that had been more natural for us before because of living there so long. Our kids’ friendships with each other grew deeper though because they didn’t have many other friends nearby. Have you found that to be true of your kids these past two years?

      I will pass on your questions to Joshua and Jordan…

    2. Joshua Pine March 25, 2017

      Hi! Joshua here. To answer the question of whether the sacrifices are “worth it” in the end, the easy answer would be yes, but that’s obviously not the complete story. As my mom shared, we also move from a stable home where I had lived for 14 years to a completely new city/environment where it was hard the make friends. There was definitely a lot of loneliness during that time that wasn’t all positive and that was hard. But from a positive standpoint, two of my biggest takeaways would be: 1. Growing closer to God and to family. While there is obviously a hugely important role for community and friends, it was also helpful for me to spend that time growing closer to Him. And as a side-effect, our family also was able to grow a lot closer and us siblings became really close friends during that time (not without conflict of course :)). 2. Another positive take-away in the cultural experience and expanded worldview that comes from living overseas. Without even consciously realizing it at the time, I can look back now and see how influential my time in Lanzhou was in forming some of my beliefs about the world and expanding my ability to step into other people’s shoes and look at the world through their eyes.

    3. Jordan March 26, 2017

      I definitely agree with Joshua that the costs are worth it. But there are certain things that you have to give up like the comfort of fitting in and the ease of making friends. Being close as a family was a huge help in growing up in China. Also as far as becoming fluent in the language, it was easier for us kids who grew up learning both Chinese and English. But one takeaway I have is the value of spending time outside the home and with local friends.

      1. Jodie March 28, 2017

        I’ll just add a little to Jordan’s comment. Our kids all did some Chinese school in addition to home school, and I think that really helped with friendships and understanding the culture of Chinese education. We also lived in an an apartment complex for 12 years in our first city with a courtyard where neighbors tended to congregate. This really helped our kids connect with neighborhood kids and they grew up together with them, playing tag and riding bikes…As Chinese kids get older we found they have less free time to play because they are always studying. Having local friends is definitely a big plus in learning the language!

  4. Marla Kohne March 25, 2017

    Jodie,
    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and the essays of Jordan and Joshua, and the ‘conversations’ and questions of your friends, and Joshua’s answers. It makes me feel a bit closer to them, him. What an intuitive and insightful young man. It sure sounds like your time over in China (their whole life span) has played a very important part in shaping their lives.

    1. Jodie March 25, 2017

      Thanks Aunt Marla, you’ve always been one of our biggest supporters and cheerleaders from afar! I think the last time we actually saw you though was when our big kids were about David and Daniel’s ages. Hope we can connect in person again. You’re right that China has helped to shape each of our kids into who they are today in very positive ways. We are thankful for God’s hand on our family.

  5. Leigha March 28, 2017

    I’m catching up on last week’s posts but I enjoyed reading this and hearing the perspectives of your kids, Jodie! And those photos! Love. We’re just wrapping up a year in the city after spending our first 5 in a remote village, and even though we’re on the same island even, the culture and environment is VERY different! My kids are still pretty little so I suspect the adjustment has been hardest on me, though it will be interesting to see how they respond to the change when we go back to the village long-term next month. Since we were in the States for a while before coming to the city, my littler ones hardly remember what it was like to be the only foreign, English-speaking family within a day’s drive, and the little bit of language they knew has mostly disappeared in the time we’ve been away. Praying they can jump back in and feel at home once again! I’m encouraged that even though your kids had different responses, they all found a way to find their place in their new community (and did so again, stateside). Thank you for sharing.

    1. Jodie March 28, 2017

      Leigha, thanks so much for sharing your experiences! I think one characteristic that’s common in our TCKs, with all their different personalities, is their resiliency. And it’s what we can keep praying for them on their journeys of discovering who they are as they cross cultures throughout their lives.

      We returned to the States for 7 months in 2004 and Jordan started first grade in Chinese school right after we got back. The first two days were really rough for her as her Chinese language wasn’t so fresh and the teacher called on her in front of the whole class. I can still remember picking her up from school on the third day and when instead of her head down in tears, I saw her normal bubbliness returned, in the way she walked out with her class, I knew she was going to be ok. And she was.

      You’re doing a great job mothering your kids! Look forward to following your journey…

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.