Reflections

the start of school and unexpected reactions

I am in northern Thailand, beginning my year-position as a boarding home assistant. The dorm is really just a big house for the children of missionaries belonging to one-particular organization. There are 15 teens living in the dorm here, ages 13-18. I work with one other boarding home assistant in addition to the dorm parents. The dorm parents, as suggested by the name, play the role of substitute parents for the teens. The dorm assistant is like a substitute aunt.

The kids arrived last week in time to settle into their rooms before school started. In applying for this position, I expected that the first week would be the hardest for the kids. I was very cautious in observing each teen and looking for those who needed to be comforted after having to say goodbye to their parents.

I was sitting in my room working on my computer when I heard it… someone was sobbing. I could hear the gasps that come when misery takes breath from you. I felt nervous and excited as I got up to find the one who needed to be comforted. “I can finally be useful!” I thought. I walked out my room and followed the sound to three of the dorm’s girls…they were huddled together, one of them laughing so hard that she could barely breath. I smiled and returned to my room. I made the same mistake repeatedly in the following days. I had been expecting the kids to be anxious, upset, and mourning the start of a year away from parents. Instead, the kids were ecstatic to start school. I heard girls screaming with delight as their roommate and fellow dorm-mates arrived. I saw the boys laughing and embracing their friends with heavy and good-natured slaps on the back. Some of those whose parents dropped them off to the house were eager for their parents to leave so they could begin “real” dorm life.

This, however, is only the nature of the kids in the dorm that I work in (and only what I have seen on the SURFACE!  There could be many things going on that I simply have not seen yet). The dorm next to us has a different set of kids of different ages. On one of the first days that kids were coming, we could hear a young girl next door sobbing as her parents gently walked her into the dorm, and then sobbing more as they hugged goodbye.

I have had the opportunity to talk with a couple of the kids in my dorm about this observation. Apparently, the return to school this year has been particularly joyful because it means being reunited with a set of dorm parents that were absent last year. They noted that it is still sad to leave their parents at the beginning of the year, and they are not absent from homesickness. They, also, mentioned that they purposely avoid letting their parents see them cry when saying goodbye because they don’t wish to upset their parents. They have taken a responsibility on themselves to protect their parents from any bad feelings. These are beliefs that I wish to investigate further.  What else to these kids do to protect their parents?

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