Study Prep: Getting Your Kids Ready for College back in the US

August 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Now that your kids’ school year has started, it’s time to take in a big breath, let it out slowly . . . and start thinking about graduation. Ready or not, college is just around the corner.

Hear that sound? Listen closely. It’s the sound of time marching by.

While we can’t slow down the passage of time, we can prepare ourselves, and our children for what lies ahead. And if going to college in the US is part of your child’s future, then take a look at these tips for getting ready. They’re based on my experience sending two children back to the States for college while we were overseas, putting two into high school in the US (after home schooling and having them attend school abroad), and working in a university admissions office. Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments.

  1. Academics
    Before your child begins high school (or as soon as possible thereafter), find out the college-prep requirements and recommendations for the state in which she plans to continue her education. Each state will have its own list of required coursework for entrance into its public institutions, with courses in English, math, science, social studies, and fine arts. The list may also include classes in such areas as foreign language or personal finance. You’ll also want to check with individual colleges, public and private, to find out what additions or exceptions their requirements might have in comparison to the state’s core curriculum.
  2. Homeschoolers
    Most colleges welcome the addition of home-schooled students to their campuses, but homeschoolers will want to find out what documentation is needed and any hoops that they might need to jump through for admission. Students with diplomas from unaccredited high schools may have additional requirements, as well. Also, if students will be transferring to a Stateside high school before graduating, make sure you know the school’s policy on what courses they will give credit for towards graduation.
  3. AP
    For students taking AP (Advanced Placement) courses, check with potential colleges to see what level of test scores they accept. Also, find out if successful completion of an AP course will earn advanced placement (taking the place of a college-level course), credit (hours toward graduation), or both. While you’re at it, see if the school will allow a bilingual child to test out of foreign-language courses. This may or may not be part of CLEP (College Level Examination Program) testing. Testing out of classes not only can help meet degree requirements but can also be an easy way to add a minor.
  4. PSAT/NMSQT
    Students can take the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), during their junior year. The test, from the College Board, is used for awarding National Merit Scholarships. High-scoring students who receive semifinalist status can apply to be finalists. Interested students outside the US will need to find a local school that is administering the test. To help with this, the College Board offers a PSAT school search form.
  5. SAT and ACT
    While some institutions don’t require SAT or ACT scores, the majority do. But which one should your child take? There are differences between the two exams. For instance, the SAT emphasizes vocabulary more than the ACT, and the ACT has a science section while the SAT does not. Other differences are more subtle. For a helpful comparison of the tests, see “The SAT vs. the ACT,” from The Princeton Review. You can find international test centers for the SAT here, and ACT’s international sites here. Contact your target schools to see if they “superscore.” Superscoring combines section subscores from two or more test dates, using the highest from each section instead of using only the scores from one date.
  6. Deadlines
    Don’t forget to keep track of deadlines: deadlines for submitting university and scholarship applications, for filling out housing contracts, for making payments or setting up payment plans, etc. Check early, as some will be much sooner than you might think.
  7. FAFSA
    Another big deadline is for filing out the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid), found at fafsa.ed.gov. The FAFSA is used to determine how much a family is expected to contribute to a student’s college education and, thus, how much will be offered in financial aid and loans. Results are reported to up to 10 colleges at a time. The application period opens January 1 for the following school year, but each state has its own deadline, found here. Individual colleges may have earlier deadlines, as well. Tax data is necessary for completing the form, but updated information can be supplied later by amending the application. Even if students know that their family won’t qualify for federal or state financial aid, they should submit the FAFSA anyway, as it is often used for scholarship selection. It is important to remember that filling out the FAFSA is free, so if a site asks for payment, it’s not the official FAFSA.
  8. Scholarships
    When it comes to scholarships, there are those offered by individual colleges, and there are many, many more out there that are looking for qualified recipients. Some students treat scholarship application as if it were a job, and it can pay very well, with funds adding up well beyond the cost of school. For reviews on five top scholarship websites, take a look at Blake Sander’s article at MoneySavingPro. Remember that any scholarship or grant money that goes beyond paying qualified education expenses (tuition, fees, and books, but not room and board) is considered taxable.
  9. Transcripts
    Students will need to submit high-school transcripts to colleges as part of the admission process. For most schools, the transcripts will need to arrive in a sealed envelope from the high school in order to be considered official. Some will accept faxed copies from the high school. Foreign transcripts that are not from US accredited schools will need to be evaluated for authenticity, for diploma validation, and for determining a US GPA equivalent. Some colleges will do this in house, while others will require you to send the transcript to a third-party evaluation agency. If the transcript isn’t in English, it may be necessary to have it translated, as well.
  10. Campus visits
    Many colleges offer online virtual tours to help you get a good feel for their campus. Look at the institution’s web site, but you’ll also find a number of schools represented at YouVisit’s college site. If you’re in the States, it’s beneficial to have an in-person visit. If you give a school enough notice before you arrive, they should be able to arrange a tour for you.
  11. In-state tuition
    Back to finances: One of the biggest concerns for out-of-country parents is the issue of in-state tuition for public schools. Even if you’ve previously lived in a state your whole life, the fact that you don’t now means that your child will have to prove he deserves in-state status. The final decision will come from the university, and it will depend on such things as parents’ owning a house there (though that by itself is not enough), living there for a number of years, having ties to the state and other factors that show a probability the student will remain there after graduation, filing state income tax, registering a vehicle, registering to vote, having a library card, etc. Schools have widely varying rules on how students can gain in-state status on their own, such as living in the state as a financially independent adult for a period of time. Some schools offer in-state rates to children of alums or to residents of neighboring states or states with regional student exchanges. Words such as dependentresident, home, and domicile are important to define. (Hint: They may not mean what you think they mean.)
  12. Admissions office
    Make a friend in the admissions office of the colleges you’re serious about, someone you can email, or call, to get answers to your questions. You might get in touch with someone in international admissions, as well, for help with issues that are unique to students living outside the US.
  13. FERPA
    Understand that even if you want to stay in control of your child’s education, you will be limited in the information you can get from the school. Under FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act), the college cannot give you such things as grades, class schedule, or billing information without the students written consent—even if you’re the one paying the bills.
  14. Orientation
    Make plans for your child to arrive in the US in time for student orientation. The earlier she enrolls, the more classes will be available for filling out her schedule. Orientation is a good time for parents, if you’re able to come, to hear first-hand the details of college life. It’s also good time for releasing your child toward independence. (That’s why you’ll probably be sent to a different room while your child picks classes.)
  15. On campus
    You’ll want your children to find community when they relocate. Some campuses will have a residence hall set aside for honors students or a floor designated for students with common educational interests. You can contact local churches and campus ministries (some of which will offer housing). Maybe there’s a Mu Kappa chapter (for missionary kids) on campus. Or maybe the school has a recognized group for Third Culture Kids (TCKs). International student clubs may offer a good fit as well.
  16. Transition
    Our two sons who came back to the US for college while we were overseas attended reentry programs. These were very valuable in helping them understand the transitions they were facing and giving them practical advice for acclimating to US culture. The two seminars we used are sponsored by Barnabas International (they also offer one in partnership with the Narramore Christian Foundation) and Interaction International. For help in understanding the TCK mindset and how to navigate cultural changes, get a copy of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds (by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken) or The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition (by Tina Quick).

The kids really are growing up. It’s never too early to get ready. Hear that sound?

[photo: “Graduation Cake Guy,” by David Goehring, used under a Creative Commons license]

Harmonizing Sadness and Joy

August 19, 2015 § 2 Comments

5389355486_8ae3459399_oIn 2012 I wrote “Can Grief and Joy Coexist?” In light of our own recent sadness, I’ve adapted it and posted it at A Life Overseas. Go there to read it all (and to hear the song at the end.)

Let me add my voice to those who are praising Pixar’s Inside Out as a great movie for the cross-cultural community. I think we’ll be showing clips of it to expats, repats, and TCKs for a long time to come. (If you’ve not seen it and don’t know what it’s about, I suggest you read Kay Bruner’s discussion of the movie, from a counselor’s point of view.)

I hope that someday Inside Out is made into a Broadway musical. I’d like to hear Sadness and Joy sing a duet at the end.

Dealing with Loss

My wife and son and I saw the film in the theater a few weeks ago. It was rather cathartic, as the past several months have been a time for us, like Riley in the movie, to deal with our emotions—while our emotions learn how to deal with each other. It’s been an especially difficult time for my wife. Her father died in March, and then a brother died last month.

Those events have brought back memories of difficulties we faced while we lived overseas. During our time outside our passport country, we experienced the deaths of my wife’s mother and another brother and of my father.

When you lose loved ones, it can trigger so much emotional confusion. When you live far away from them, a whole other set of complications come into play.

It’s not just losing someone we love, it’s often losing the opportunity to say Goodbye or the ability to grieve together when traveling with the whole family isn’t possible.

When should we go back? Who should make the trip? How long should we stay? What if we don’t meet others’ expectations? What are the rules?

And when sadness comes into the life of the missionary, it is so easy to ask, “Where is my joy?”

Read the rest at A Life Overseas.

[photo: “Golden Hearts on Blue,” by Lea Wiertel, used under a Creative Commons license]


Rain, 2, 3, 4

August 13, 2015 § 3 Comments

Making Perfume from the Rain: Indian Villagers Have Found a Way to Bottle the Fragrance of Monsoons

The mitti attar was in an inch-tall glass bottle on the counter. I twisted off the little gold cap, closed my eyes, and breathed in the scent of the Indian rain. It smelled like the earth. It smelled like the parched clay doused with pond water in the Siyarams’ backyard. The aroma was entirely different from the memory of rain I carried from my childhood and my part of the world—ozone-charged air, wet moss, Wolfe’s “clean but funky” scent of the south. But it was entirely appealing: warm, organic, mineral-rich. It was the smell of waiting, paid off: 40 years or more for a sandalwood tree to grow its fragrant heartwood; four months of hot, dust-blown summer in northern India before the monsoons arrive in July; a day for terra-cotta to slow-fire in a kiln.

Cynthia Barnett, The Atlantic, April 22, 2015

“As Soon as I Fell”: Tumbling off the Missionary Pedestal

August 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

41FnzYpGVPLI have two new friends I’d like to introduce you to. Their names are Andy and Kay Bruner.

I first met up with Andy not long ago through email when he helped me with some of the technical details of writing for A Life Overseas. Then, a few weeks later, I got to know his wife, Kay—and got to know Andy better—by reading her memoir As Soon as I Fell.

I’m not usually a fast reader, but I started her book in the afternoon after work, kept going until I fell asleep that night, and grabbed it off my nightstand and finished it when I woke up in the morning.

It’s a fun read, as Kay tells how her family of four (in time, growing to six) moved to Papua New Guinea to learn about village life. Then they relocated to the Solomon Islands, where she and Andy worked to translate the Bible.

On their first trip to their new home in the Solomon Islands, Andy went ahead on a cargo ship, while Kay and their young daughter and son made their way on the torpedo-shaped Ocean Express, a boat that rolled violently in rough seas. After someone gave the children hard-boiled eggs to eat, and the waves grew larger in open water, Kay writes that she made her “first ship-travel resolution.”

Never, ever let anyone eat boiled eggs on a ship.  I’ve heard that there are two stages of seasickness. First, you are afraid you will die. Then you are afraid you won’t. When you are on the receiving end of egg vomit from two small children, both stages pretty much hit simultaneously.

This was not the only stomach-churning adventure that they had. In fact, throwing up is something of a common theme in Kay’s writing. As I read through the book, I thought of playing a drinking game, taking a swig (of Maalox, of course) every time someone lost her lunch. The nausea seemed to reach its apex when Kay was pregnant with their third child. While describing the intricacies of prenatal care in an island town, she says that she “was sick as [she] never knew it was possible to be sick.” “The smell of the kitchen cabinets made me throw up,” she writes. “For the next four months, I threw up. Throwing up was my life.”

As Soon as I Fell is also a challenging read. Kay writes candidly about the times when the difficulties were no longer humorous, when reaching a breaking point was not a concern but a reality. She tells how her upbringing had led her to strive for perfection, and when that wasn’t possible, to “perform at any cost.” This was part of what led her to mission work, but it was also what led her to a place where she couldn’t continue any more.

In the middle section of the book, she shares journal entries, giving more day-to-day details of their lives as Bible translators.

Then, returning to a more reflective style of writing, she introduces the book’s third section with

How do you write about something so horrible, so disgusting, that it makes you feel like you’ve been vomited on? Something that makes you feel like a bag of garbage, thrown on the side of the road?

This time, the nausea was worse than seasickness. Kay had already written about the strains on her marriage with Andy, fueled by the unhealthy ways each dealt with stress. Now she had discovered that her husband was addicted to pornography.

My heart breaks for what the two of them went through.

There were the struggles that caused them to leave the field. There was the leaving itself. And there was the difficult task of returning to the leadership of their mission organization and life in the States.

While you can read Kay’s perspective of their experiences in As Soon as I Fell, Andy is open to sharing about it as well. In his blog post “Want to See What a Porn-Addicted Missionary Looks Like?” he tells of the prevalence of pornography among Christians and discusses ways to confront the issue. One is to open up conversations about pornography so that those who need help will be willing to ask for it.

Of his addiction, I would have to paraphrase the English chaplain John Bradford: “But for the grace of God, there goes Craig Thompson.”

After returning to the States, the Bruners began attending a new church. Kay spoke to a pastor there whom she’d not met before. “I wanted to tell him a little of my story,” she writes, “but all I could say was, ‘I’m a missionary,’ before I started sobbing.” That brought tears to my eyes, too.

I am so glad that Kay was able to tell more of her story in As Soon as I Fell. I’m so glad for her honesty and that of her husband. I’m so glad I have two new friends.

Now I hope to meet them some day.

(Kay Bruner, As Soon as I Fell: A Memoir, CreateSpace, 2014)

G. K. Chesterton, the Prince of Paradox, on Travel

August 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

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The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

So says G. K. Chesterton, prolific British author and Christian apologist, whose life bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.

Chesterton has much to say about travel, largely on how to do it well and how it can affect the traveller.

The quotation above comes from “The Riddle of the Ivy,” a short sketch in his Tremendous Trifles. When a friend asks why he is packing his luggage, Chesterton tells him he is traveling through Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort, with the aim of finding the Battersea district of London.

Knowing that his destination is their current location, his friend says, “I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you that this is Battersea?”

“It is quite unnecessary,” I said, “and it is spiritually untrue. I cannot see any Battersea here; I cannot see any London or any England. I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair: because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany? I shall enjoy them both; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea. The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

And then the man who deals so much with paradox that he has been called “the prince of paradox” cautions his friend, with threat of physical harm, against referring to his thoughts as paradoxical:

“Now I warn you that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and that if you utter that word ‘paradox’ I shall hurl it at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, that the only way to go to England is to go away from it.”

A month later, his opinion is confirmed when he returns to England and sees it with a wonderful freshness. An American traveling companion is struck by England as well, but for her it is because this is her first time there.

“I have never been in England before,” said the American lady, “yet it is so pretty that I feel as if I have been away from it for a long time.”

For the American it is déjà vu. For Chesterton, is it déjà new?

Not Seeing What You See

Regardless of the destination, believes Chesterton, there is much more to traveling than simply taking a trip. He writes that “true” travelers let the experience of a destination come to them, without manipulating it with expectations and prejudices. Therefore he says,

The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.

This comes from the following passage in his Autobiography:

I had pottered about in France ever since my father took me there as a boy; and Paris was the only foreign capital I knew. I owe it to him that I was at least a traveller and not a tripper. The distinction is not snobbish; indeed it is one rather of epoch than education; half the trouble about the modern man is that he is educated to understand foreign languages and misunderstand foreigners. The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. A true traveller in a primitive epic or folk-tale did not pretend to like a beautiful princess because she was beautiful. It is still true of a poor sailor; of a tramp; in short, of a traveller. Thus he need form no opinion of Paris newspapers; but if he wanted to, he would probably read them. The tripper never reads them, calls them rags, and knows as much about the rags as the chiffonnier who picks them up with a spike.

I understand why the common version of this quotation uses tourist in place of tripper. We don’t use tripper much today, at least not with this meaning. And I don’t think that Chesterton would mind. He writes,

It is the most sincere compliment to an author to misquote him. It means that his work has become a part of our mind and not merely of our library.

Bevis Hiller, in The Wit and Wisdom of G K Chesterton, gives the origin for this quotation as the December 31, 1927, issue of GK’s Weekly, though I couldn’t track down the original source. While I have no reason not to trust Hiller, wouldn’t it be ironic if Chesterton never said this?

The Broad and the Narrow Ways

They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind.

One of the characters in Chesterton’s stories is the crime-solving poet Gabriel Gale. In “The Shadow and the Shark,” Gale discusses Mr. Amos Boon, a former missionary who has decided he prefers the Philistines of the Bible to those biblical characters who follow God. While defending Boon against charges of murder, he does not defend the “broadening” of his mind.

“Boon is a good man,” said Gale, calmly; “he is very stupid; that is why he is an atheist. There are intelligent atheists, as we shall see presently; but that stunted, stupid, sort is much commoner, and much nicer. But he is a good man; his motive is good; he originally talked all that tosh of the superiority of the savage because he thought he was the under-dog. He may be a trifle cracked, by now, about sharks and other things; but that’s only because his travels have been too much for his intellect. They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind. He had a mind for a suburban chapel, and there passed before it all the panorama of gilded nature-worship and purple sacrifice. He doesn’t know if he’s on his head or his heels, any more than a good many others. But I shouldn’t wonder if heaven is largely populated with atheists of that sort, scratching their heads and wondering where they are.

If “they” say that travel broadens the mind, Chesterton himself says traveling presents the danger of making the mind more narrow:

I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders, embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart in Hampstead or Surbiton, but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what they looked like. This is not meant for nonsense; still less is it meant for the silliest sort of nonsense, which is cynicism. The human bond that he feels at home is not an illusion. On the contrary, it is rather an inner reality. Man is inside all men. In a real sense any man may be inside any men. But to travel is to leave the inside and draw dangerously near the outside. So long as he thought of men in the abstract, like naked toiling figures in some classic frieze, merely as those who labour and love their children and die, he was thinking the fundamental truth about them. By going to look at their unfamiliar manners and customs he is inviting them to disguise themselves in fantastic masks and costumes. Many modern internationalists talk as if men of different nationalities had only to meet and mix and understand each other. In reality that is the moment of supreme danger—the moment when they meet. We might shiver, as at the old euphemism by which a meeting meant a duel.

The paradox of travel.

(G. K. Chesterton, “The Riddle of the Ivy,” Tremendous Trifles, Methuen, 1909; Bevis Hiller, The Wit and Wisdom of G K Chesterton, Continuum, 2011; Chesterton, Autobiography, Hutchinson, 1936; Chesterton, “The Shadow of the Shark,” The Poet and the Lunatics: Episodes in the Life of Gabriel Gale, Cassell, 1929; Chesterton, “What Is America?” What I Saw in America, Hodder, 1922)

[illustration: “G.K. Chesterton,” by giveaway boy, used under a Creative Commons license]

Mom and Dad, Thanks for Letting Us Go without Letting Go of Us [Repost]

July 24, 2015 § 2 Comments

[In honor of Parents’ Day, July 26, I am reposting an open letter from my wife and me to all parents of missionaries. We wrote it during our time serving in Taiwan.]

Dear Mom and Dad:

Thank you for raising us to know about God and his love for the world.

Thank you for letting us go without letting go of us.

Thank you for forgiving late birthday cards.

Thank you for praying for us.

Thank you for giving up time with your grandchildren.

Thank you for your e-mails and letters and calls.

Thank  you for sending Barbie Dolls, Tic Tacs, Koolaid, socks, Reader’s Digests, and Lucky Charms cereal.

Thank you for your questions about our new home and work.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when we tell you how exciting it is to live in another part of the world.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when, two days later, we complain about living in that same place.

Thank you for not making us feel selfish for wanting to go.  Sometimes we feel that way on our own.

Thank you for listening to our stories about people you’ll never meet with names you can’t pronounce.

Thank you for being our ambassadors.

Thank you for sending clippings from our hometown newspaper.

Thank you for telling us about our neighbors, classmates, and cousins—all the stories that don’t make the news.

Thank you for letting our brothers and sisters stand in for us when we’re too far away to do our part in the family.  (They really should get their own letter.)

Thank you for loving us.

Thank you for trusting Jesus to take care of us when you can’t.

Thank you for being proud of us.  We are proud of you.

We chose to be a missionary family, not you, and we understand that our move has meant many sacrifices for you.  You are not only a part of our family but an invaluable part of our team.

With all our love,

Your children

[photo: “leaving us,” by Petras Gagilas, used under a Creative Commons license]

Encountering God: A Tale of Two Bushes

July 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

[I’ve written a post for today at A Life Overseas. The introduction is below. Come join me there, finish the post, and stay awhile.]

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A fresco by Raphael, in the Vatican Museums

I want to hear God. I want to know his specific will for my life. I want him to tell me what to do next. I want . . .

A Burning Bush

It worked for Moses. When he was on Mt. Horeb and saw the bush that burned but didn’t burn up, he went over to get a closer look. That’s when God spoke to him in an unmistakable, clear, audible voice.

God called him by name.
He announced who he was.
He told Moses the overall plan.
He answered Moses’ questions.
He promised to be with him.
He gave Moses a sign to show that he had sent him.
He revealed his name to him.
He gave him step-by-step directions.
He told him what to expect.
He gave him the ability to perform three miraculous signs.
He promised his help.
And he responded to Moses’ fears by allowing him a helper.

Yeah, a burning bush. That’ll do it.

As a former missionary—oh, forget that—as a believer in God, I’ve faced many times when I’ve wanted him to communicate with me through a miracle. I’ve even been tempted to let my imagination wring meaning out of not uncommon occurrences: The supermarket is selling spagghetti 50% off? Surely that means that God want’s me to move to Italy . . . and I can leave with only half the money raised . . . right?

But when it comes to hearing from God, I think there’s another kind of Old Testament bush that we should look for—

A Broom Bush . . .

Go to A Life Overseas to continue reading.

[photo: “O Adonai,” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license]

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