This month our resident adult TCK Gill Gouthwaite reflects on her experience of being educated abroad.

So how did I become so fabulously educated, growing up in the wilderness of a third world country?  All of us went to Brazilian primary school, and for secondary transferred to an International British School.  That meant going where the British school was, in second-biggest metropolis in the world.

Going to a British school overseas was glorious.  It was the poshest school in town, and we studied in company with the state President’s grandchildren.  I remember one boy announcing to me that his grandmother had funded one of the largest bridges in town (I’m still not entirely sure what he wanted me to do with that information. Ask her for money?).  Another had received kidnapping threats, so he had two bodyguards whenever we went on field trips.  Of course it did mean we got dead good birthday presents from our school friends, but then we had to wear a bizarre uniform: pinafores and blazers are weird in a country where jeans and a t-shirt are the standard school uniform.

It also meant we lived away from home in a special house, called the hostel (nicknamed the mental hospital).  We were looked after by the lucky missionary couple who pulled the short straw to look after that madhouse.  It was unique.  Having people who aren’t your parents making decisions about your life is surprisingly stressful on a kid.  I dreaded spending time with them so much that I would rather go to school if I had the flu (through no fault of that unfortunate longsuffering couple’s, may I add).

In Brazil there were always bars on the windows, which to me meant we were trying to keep someone out.  Whoever that someone was, they presumably wanted to attack me (hence the bars); it happened on the news all the time.  So I kept the door to my room open so I could run out into the (in my head) safer communal areas of the house in case that happened.  The only problem with my cunning plan was that Auntie Betty* (our housemother) used to vacuum every morning, including on Saturdays.  Today I can applaud her cleanliness, but at the time I cursed it (not with actual curse words, I was a missionary kid after all; but I think she got the gist…).

The day that I asked (I say I asked, but it might possibly have come across as a criticism) why she was ironing my nightgown, we finally had our bust-up.  I got told off for being rude to her, and from then on I decided to keep my opinions and my feelings to myself.  For years after that crying was hard for me – it was just a sign of weakness.

So the salient feature for school for me wasn’t actually school, which was excellent by any standards, but the separation it entailed, and the differentness that it gave us.  Like so much in life, it wasn’t the experience itself that mattered so much as the people I met, and their reactions to me.

*name changed

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Editorial comment

Education for their children is one of the biggest concerns of most mission workers who have young children.  The trauma of long-term separation, the risk of compromising a child’s future by not giving them the best educational opportunities, and the sheer cost of some of the alternatives weigh heavily on many people’s hearts.  However many TCKs grow up to be well-rounded, sociable people who look back on their school experience as a time of building lasting relationships with people from all around the world.

Options for educating TCKs include homeschooling, using the local education system (and quite frankly many people’s concerns that the schools in the countries they’re serving in don’t reach the standards of their sending country are frequently unfounded), leaving children ‘at home’ with friends or relatives, sending children to international schools in a major city or sending them away to boarding schools (Christian or otherwise).

There are no easy answers as the ideal situation will depend on each family, and the options available to them.  However we recommend that you read the excellent articles published on the website of our good friends at Oscar.