Living abroad as a family often forces you to rise up to numerous challenges and stretching experiences. Sometimes, you move forward eagerly. Other times, you find yourself reluctant.
What We Encountered
When we lived abroad as a family in China, we found ourselves faced with challenges galore.
One case had to do with the education of our three children, then ages 14, 12 and 8. My husband is a public school teacher, so he had direct access to the teachers and materials our kids would need for their upcoming school year. He did a great job “gathering” what we needed to homeschool our kids while living in China for a year.
Morning routines had us all at home, in our small, minimalist apartment, working through the curriculum of the day. Sometimes, lessons with one child or the other went smoothly; sometimes not. Our eight-year-old needed the most consistent attention.
Our 12 year-old daughter has been highly self motivated since about age 5. Although one or the other of us would check in on her at times, she got herself through the 7th grade. And then there was our 14 year-old son.
Our Biggest Challenge at the Time – and How it Stretched Us
Our oldest son is a very balanced person now, many years later. But that year was hard. Hormones. Acne. Being far from home. Cut off on social media. Stuck with parents and two kid siblings in a rather nondescript apartment in a foreign land for a year.
It was a dark season for him and a huge challenge for us.
The homeschooling work wasn’t difficult for him, but he often struggled in the motivation department. We often found ourselves at wit’s end, especially when a petulant attitude in the morning led to intense foot-dragging about heading out to Chinese school afterwards.
Our youngest son attended a Chinese elementary school just five minutes away each afternoon. But our two older kids had to cross our city of over 5 million people – a journey requiring two bus transfers and over an hour of time each way.
You see, apparently our university had a “special relationship” with this particular middle school. So, even though there were closer options, our Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO) had made this arrangement for our older son and our daughter.
We worked with our kids and took turns accompanying them on the journey. For us, as parents who had been raising our kids in a simple and safe enclave in the States, sending our 14 and 12-year-olds out on their own like this was an act of faith. Or, at least it seemed huge at the time.
They mastered it. In fact, it grew both of them up. But many times our older son just didn’t make it. So, for us, sending our 12-year-old daughter out on her own was really faith-stretching.
During that time, we managed to secure a driver to help a couple days of the week. And the university recruited my husband and a couple other teachers for weekly English lessons at the school, so a university van brought the kids on another day.
Still, one time when the bus got a flat tire? Fortunately, our kids had the wherewithal to hail a taxi. By that time, they had enough Chinese language to give directions home. But our hearts skipped a beat during that ordeal.
Reflecting Back on the Challenges that Pushed us to Rise Up
Looking back on it all now, such challenges seem like they are run-of-the-mill. But, in the midst of them? We often felt ourselves backed up against a wall, with nowhere to turn but to God. Our prayers (especially for our oldest) ran deep and constant.
It wasn’t only our children who grew that year. We did, too. In the end, each one of us would rise up to the challenge. But that involved intense, heartfelt prayer (our own and others). We faced our own limitations; we needed to rely upon something – Someone – more powerful and wise.
Yes, we used our ingenuity. Yes, we tried to make use of the resources available. But when you live in a land where you barely speak the language, you face new, unexpected challenges. You often don’t catch what’s going on and miss cultural cues.
Still, you find yourself rising up…and reaching up. As you reach up, calling for wisdom from one beyond yourself – and earnestly waiting for the situation to become clear – you gain strength to rise.
This article is an excerpt from Caroline's recently published book, Jumping Out of the Mainstream: An American Family's Year in China. Interested in reading more? Download a free preview here, grab yourself a copy via our website or on Amazon today!
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