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How National School Prepared Me for College in My Passport Country

In May of 2013, I walked out of a very familiar gray building—my Czech high school—for the last time as a student. The relief of completing my final cumulative exams sunk in, and then a twinge of sadness washed over me as I realized that it wouldn’t be long now before I moved away from the place I called home. After growing up as a missionary kid in the Czech Republic my entire life, I was college-bound and moving to my “passport country.”  

Before college, I had never experienced formal education in English, my mother tongue. As a Third Culture Kid (TCK), the longest continuous stretch I spent in the States was three months. I sometimes wondered if I was behind my American peers when it came to college preparation, considering the differences in language and education systems. 

Many missionary kids (MKs) in Josiah Venture (JV) attend national schools here in Central and Eastern Europe. We learn all of our math, science, and grammar (among other subjects!) in our second languages, with a high focus on memorization over writing or creativity. Might these aspects of national schooling, among others, be a disadvantage to us in college?

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Over the years, we’ve been surprised to find that most TCKs in JV—who go to national schools here in Central and Eastern Europe and then transition to college in North America—have thrived in their new academic settings. School in a second language can feel like a constant uphill battle. Yet, the Lord uses our experiences to prepare us, in unlikely ways, to navigate North American college academics. 

Every JV Kid has a unique story of their education. Here are four valuable lessons God taught me throughout my own education story that helped equip me to transition from national school to college in my passport country.

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Adapting when I felt uncomfortable

Czech school was all I knew before college, but it still managed to keep me on my toes constantly. I found myself guessing at how to respond to various cultural or academic situations. I didn’t always understand word problems in math class. I didn’t know what snacks I was supposed to bring on school trips (kids often brought potato salad and schnitzel sandwiches if anyone is wondering). When it came to Czech writing, my vocabulary never measured up. My only way to survive was by listening and observing, then adapting to any given situation. 

I spent my first semester of college figuring out the system of syllabi, learning the correct way to use citations, and navigating group projects. Each professor had different expectations in class, so I had to listen closely. The experiences of adjusting to new and unfamiliar situations in Czech school made this transition feel more natural than I would have expected.

Receiving help and digging deeper to understand

My parents did their best to help me with my schoolwork, but we didn’t always understand the assignments or materials in our second language. Because of this, I had a Czech tutor from second grade through my senior year of high school. Having a tutor was a lifesaver. Sometimes I felt embarrassed telling my Czech classmates that I had a tutor because it highlighted that I was different and needed help. At some point, though, the Lord softened my heart. The support of this tutor made it possible for me to make it through schooling in my second language. 

My tutor helped me study, understand homework questions, and practice my Czech grammar. However, his help had a far more significant impact on my life. He taught me a valuable skill — digging deeper to find answers to questions. My tutor had experience teaching history and Czech classes but was as confused as me about chemistry or biology. When I didn’t understand the material at school, we would spend an entire hour Googling explanations, comparing articles online with my textbooks, watching YouTube videos, and making sense of the subject matter. I learned to dig deeper to understand confusing concepts and words. 

I needed all of these skills in college. There were plenty of times when I didn’t understand assignments or concepts in my college classes. So, I did what I always did in Czech school — I asked for help and dug deeper. My older brother coached me through research papers, and my professors were always willing to clarify assignments or questions I had after class. I discussed challenging concepts from classes with my friends. And, yes, sometimes a Google search helped clarify things as well.

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Memorizing information (lots of it!)

Much of our national schooling system revolved around rote learning. This meant that I spent hours each week reading and re-reading my notes and textbooks to memorize dates, lists, and whole paragraphs of information. It was challenging in my second language, even though I spoke it fluently. While memorization is tedious, doing it often taught me how to approach memorization creatively. This skill came in handy in college while studying for exams. 

Most of my college education relied on critical thinking and understanding concepts and ideas. However, even college courses sometimes involve memorization. If I had to memorize a list of definitions or theories, I would feel strangely excited. While it could take hours to write an essay during my freshman year of college, memorization was one thing that felt familiar and came naturally to me, thanks to the national school in Czech. 

Relying on the Lord in my weakness

National schooling was hard. If you ask TCKs in JV what the most stressful part of life is, they will almost always tell you that it’s school. I felt this way throughout my childhood as well. 

As a student, I didn’t always get a lot of heads up before our written and oral exams, so had to be prepared at all times. My parents prayed for me and with me for school since day one. The seemingly never-ending cycle of studying and exams caused a lot of stress in my life as a kid and teenager. That was tough. God showed his kindness in redeeming these difficult experiences by developing muscles in me that I ended up needing in college and even in life as an adult. I learned to run to the Lord when I felt pressure or anxiety. I knew I couldn’t handle everyday life on my own.

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In the midst of national school, the Lord, in his grace, prepared me for college in many unexpected ways. And more importantly, I could see his mercy and compassion throughout the daily struggles of going to school in my second language. I am so thankful he walked with me every step of the way.

From One TCK to Another

While national school did prepare me for college in many ways, my parents also made some investments into our education that made a huge difference. I took an online English writing course for four years, read books in English at home, and had a tutor who helped me with Czech school. A foundation of English reading and writing was the most practical supplemental education I received. All together, these three supplements to my education gave me firm footing and much more confidence in preparation for college.

Written by Claire Patty
September 2021



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