I arrived in Thailand on a Friday night. I slept through the night, and when I awoke, I went to eat breakfast at the mission home that I was staying in (a kind of motel for missionaries in the area). I sat down to eat with 2 missionary women, both of whom have children. As I sat down, they were already casually talking about what it is like to raise their children overseas. I listened as they talked with each other, sharing stories about the difficulties or ease that their children (of various ages) had with different things. One woman (a woman who I knew as a kid when she first moved to Thailand as a single) talked about the difficulty that came with their most recent move to Thailand. They actually returned to Thailand the same day as me after spending a year on furlough in America. Their two boys, about ages 10 and 12?, struggled with leaving their friends in America. I was amazed to hear that both boys are so used to packing already, that when they make a major move, their mom just tells them to pack their stuff and they are able to do all the packing on their own. One of the challenges she mentioned was when the boys had to choose what items they would have to permanently leave behind. When you make an international move, you can only bring so much weight and so much luggage, so a TCK eventually comes to terms with the fact that some things he will not have forever. And yet this woman mentioned how her sons have particular things that they always choose to pack, such as one son who made the decision to pack one of the socks he had when he was just a baby. The other son had spent his own money to buy a large stuffed animal earlier that year. Unfortunately, such a large stuffed animal would be difficult to transport overseas, so the boy found a good family to give it to.
Think about all the treasures you have had growing up. After our last move, my mom continued to save our tests and awards from school. We have huge boxes of archives for each of us. On top of that, we have loads of books, tons of stuffed animals we had as kids, and that’s just some our possessions that are meaningful to me. What about the simple stuff, like the bedsheets? Yes, you can always get new bedsheets, but sometimes, those bedsheets hold memories for kids. They grow accustomed to the texture, the pattern, the associations, and then when you move, a new set of bedsheets is just one more new thing to add to that kid’s list of changes in his/her life. I am thankful that my mom packed our bedsheets when we moved from Thailand to America. I don’t know why she did it…you only have so much stuff you can bring…but I can still identify which of the bedsheets I had as a kid and which bedsheets we bought in America. Maybe parents should consider how they pack in terms of what would cause the least amount of change for their kids. I mean, their kids will be entering a brand new country with tons of shock, but if there are little things that they find familiar (bedsheets, a stuffed animal, towels, buying the same brand of shampoo and soap), at least the kid has something familiar to find support from.
This is just part of one conversation that I overheard. I have heard many conversations among the missionaries here about their concerns or praises of raising their kids between cultures. I hope to conduct some video interviews if I can. I would love for you to hear from these amazing parents directly.
Ideas of how to make a new transition more “homey”:
- before leaving the old home, give your kids a disposable camera and take them to their favorite places so that they can always have pictures of that old home
- pack their favorite bedsheets and/or blanket
- Send yourself a care-package to your new address (or to a friend or family member near your new address) to save room in packing. Include: the same brand of soap if your new location won’t have it, a few favorite candies from the area, new pictures of friends or family left behind, and anything else that might be considered a “luxury” in your new location.
- Pack their favorite outfit (even if the shirt is faded and has holes)
- When at new location, rent a movie that your family has always watched together. Our family used to enjoy watching Jurassic Park, so when we got to the US, watching Jurassic Park was just another confirmation for me that our family doesn’t change even when our environment does
What else do you guys suggest? To our veteran TCKs, what was helpful in making a new location feel “homey”?