Thursday, January 16, 2014


Every Thursday morning I spend time at a local Junior High School, tutoring/mentoring immigrant students in an ESL class. I love this volunteer work--it keeps me in touch with the cross-cultural life that feels so comfortable to me. I never enter the school in fear, wondering if I will be able to help the student I work with or wondering if I will be able to communicate effectively. Like I said, it is a comfortable place for me as a TCA. I don't believe this is typical for Canadians who have not had any cross-cultural influence or experience.

I work one-on-one with the student that the teacher assigns to me. Often it's the same student but not always. Today was one of those times when I worked with a new student. This boy was from Seoul, Korea and had only been in this school for 2 weeks. I was asked to help him with the reading comprehension of a book the class was studying together. The teacher warned me that he was struggling but I had no idea to what extent until I tried to dialogue with him. He was shy and soft-spoken when he said anything at all. For much of our time together he said nothing and if I asked him questions he would stare blankly at the book or just look down. It was all so painful for him, like he was screaming inside to get out but living in this cold, foreign land was smothering him to death. I asked him if he missed his country, his family in Korea. He replied, "yes" very somberly. I wanted to hug him--to tell him I was sorry and that he would be okay--but will he be? Will he be strong enough to fight for identity? The only time his eyes brightened briefly was when I mentioned I had been to Seoul once, just for one night between plane transfers. I could tell he liked that but then the moment was gone. And then my time with him was done and I was gone.

As I walked to my car, I cried for him, my heart breaking. I felt his pain--the pain of the surreal, being surrounded by everything unfamiliar and missing home. And then I said a prayer for him, that God would meet him in his pain and give him comfort and hope. Because I know God cares and loves immigrant and TCK children.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cereal Overload

In 1992 my husband and I arrived in the Philippines with our three children, all under the age of 5. That reminds me, sometime I need to write about flying. But today I write about food surprises.

We lived very simply in the Philippines, especially when we were out in the village. Breakfasts were especially simple. During language school and when on the Wycliffe centre we had access to bread so we could make toast. Even then, though, there were few boxed cereals--corn flakes and maybe rice krispies. But out in the village there was nothing and I learned how to make very yummy granola in a cast iron frying pan. It became our staple.

Before going overseas, and in our first year overseas, we were required to read a certain number of book on culture, cross-cultural living and the different stages to expect when adjusting to life in a different culture, especially a third-world culture. It was good reading and helpful. However, when we returned back to Canada, we were given little to read regarding the reverse i.e. culture shock in the return.

I remember going grocery shopping for the first time upon return from the Philippines. There were changes, of course--new foods, new brand names. Nothing surprising. THEN I turned my cart into the cereal aisle. I remember freezing in my tracks. Cereal. Cereal. Cereal. A whole aisle--two rows--all devoted to cereal. I was overcome. It was a shock to my simple-lifestyle system. I cannot explain my emotions in that moment--fear, claustrophobia, sadness, shame, disdain. Just negative emotions. I just remember I was too overwhelmed to even look at it all. I quickly picked two cereals I was familiar with and got out of there.

The next time I went shopping, I prepared myself for the emotional onslaught and spent more time perusing the cereal aisle. I was okay. I could breathe. I learned to adjust to this small outcome of living in an affluent society. But even now, there are times I enter the cereal aisle and am reminded of that day and a tinge of emotion ripples at the bottom of my gut. It lingers still.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Smell of Shrimp Paste

 Today I write because I'm homesick--not homesick for the little town I grew up in but homesick for Thailand. I've started an assignment for an English course I'm taking called, "Creative Non-Fiction." My writing prompt is to write a story about being ambushed by a smell. Think about it. This happens to all of us--you enter a room filled with a certain smell and it takes you back to a place in time. Well, the smell I am writing about is typical of a TCA because it is the smell of shrimp paste wafting into our house from the neighbour's house almost every morning like clockwork. The smell assaulted me with memories that occurred in that house for 7 years of our lives as a family--especially morning memories when the smell was pungent in the air. Mostly mornings of trying to get the kids ready for school--mornings of loud arguments with my daughter who hated mornings, mornings of hunting for school uniforms, whether skirts or pants or even sports teams, mornings of trying to get my son to eat a little something before heading out the door. 

 Admittedly, these memories make me sad because I was often so impatient, so unkind--a reminder that I was and sometimes still tend to be a control freak. I've learned much about myself in that area in the last 7 years and am thankful that God is gentle and kind and patient with me and with my relationship with my children. I was so far from being the perfect mother and yet God protected these relationships and caused them to grow and flourish in Him so that despite my past failures, I have beautiful connections with my kids. I feel so blessed.

There were also happy memories mixed with the sad ones. MANY happy memories. Our dog Rosie would almost always make us smile in the morning as she attempted to attack our cat, who wanted nothing to do with the dog. I think Rosie was a morning dog and our cat, Kitty, was a night cat. Two opposites clashing in the morning like my daughter and me. But also memories of eating together, celebrating birthdays and holidays together, playing games together. Lots of love and good times.

And so I am homesick, all from writing about the smell of shrimp paste. Nothing triggers the TCA syndrome like food. Sometime I'll have to write more about that. But not today. And now that I've written here, I feel joy instead of sadness and am thankful for the gift of memory. God is good.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I recently read an article that I found thought-provoking on life overseas and saying good-byes. It's worth sharing so here is the link.[702236749800456]&action_type_map=[%22og.likes%22]&action_ref_map=[]

I never thought of the sadness over saying good-bye to people AND places as grief--but it is. Calling it grief helps to better understand the emotions and accept them for what they are. I have experienced this grief for myself but, as a mother, it has been harder to see my children grieving, because I feel like I am partly responsible for their grief. It was not my children's decision to live and work overseas. The calling was placed on my heart long before I was even married. This is definitely a part of being a TCA and a parent of TCKs.

That being said, I have learned to rest in a God who is gentle and loving and kind. He does not leave my children alone to deal with their grief alone. He understands their hearts and He understands my heart. He has an answer for any guilt I have felt as a TCA parent because the guilt is not from Him. It is from the enemy who wants to prevent me and my children from living abundantly and in freedom. So, I leave the guilt burden at the foot of the cross and He willingly takes it and replaces it with peace. And I leave my children in His care, like the Great Shepherd that He is in taking care of His sheep. It is and has been a process but through it all I have come to a greater understanding of how much He LOVES us. He LOVES us. He LOVES us. He LOVES us. I am still so far from understanding how much He LOVES us but the process is beautiful and I rest in His love.