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?