During my second year of teaching TCKs in Africa I asked one of my students what her sister who had graduated the year before was doing for Christmas.
“Is she coming home to Africa?” I queried.
“Ummmmm . . . no . . . it’s too expensive,” the high schooler answered.
“Well, what’s she going to do? Will she go to your grandparent’s house for her break?” I continued.
“We don’t really know our grandparents. I think I’ve seen them for about 3 or 4 weeks in my entire life. She might go there for a few days, but that’s all, ” responded the sibling.
(That had certainly never occurred to me that TCKs might not really know their grandparents. My grandparents were still alive, well and a significant part of my life at that point.)
“Well, then what will she do? Where will she go?” I continued to ask.
“She said she was going to stay in the dorm until it closed. Then she was going to our Aunt’s house for Christmas. After that she thought she might go visit a family from our mission who’s on home assignment until the dorms open up for the winter term. Then she can move back into her room.”
I was blown away. Not once had I thought about what kids do for the holidays when their dorm closes and their family is a very expensive plane ride or three away. I naively assumed everyone went home for the holidays.
My heart broke as I pondered my former student’s predicament. My heart split a little more as I thought about her high school classmates and how many of them faced a similar situation.
While that conversation took place over 20 years ago many things have changed, however some things remain the same for some TCK’s and some international students. They are separated from their immediate families by thousands of miles and thousands of dollars. This may be the first time they encounter a Christmas alone.
Do you know a TCK? Do you know what he has planned for Christmas? Do you know how long her school break is? Do you know what’s planned for the time between Christmas and the beginning of the next school term? If you’re not sure, ask and act.
As well as the questions listed above, ask about his family’s Christmas traditions. Ask about how the local people from her part of the world celebrate Christmas—or if they even do celebrate Christmas. Ask about foods he normally eats at this time of the year. Ask about New Years’ celebrations in her other home. Ask if he has a way to talk to his family over the holidays. Ask when she’ll get to see her family again.
After you’ve asked, do. Invite him to join your family for a celebration. Include her and one of favorite foods at your Christmas meal or ask her to teach you to prepare it. Set up a skype connection or buy an international phone card as a gift for him. Help her find a clean, inexpensive, safe place to stay while you and your friends include her in both the special and the mundane activities.
Whatever you do, don’t leave any TCK you know home alone wishing he was a world away.
photo courtesy of Ani-Bee