This is all new to me. I’ve never sent a kid to college. And certainly never sent one to the other side of the world during a pandemic! There were so many skills I felt he needed. So many supplies, life lessons. So many adult things he knew nothing about. We held a little James-specific TCK Boot Camp: Banking, buses, bike safety, phone plans, health insurance, modern food systems, choosing a church and job applications. Just in case it helps another Mom going through it… I’ll detail a bit about the process.
PREPARATIONS: MOM-IN-A-BOX & HOMESICKNESS PREVENTION
Last year a good friend of mine put together what she called ‘Mom in a Box’ for her daughter heading off to college. Mom-in-a-Box included a first aid kit, some essential snacks, vitamins and a document that included subjects like: Sickness, Finances, Job, Church – things that you might definitely want to ask Mom about that first year away from home. Sickness includes which vitamins to take, which hospitals are in-network for us, etc. For James, I expanded this to include a Contacts list and a Food Source list. Contacts includes full names, address and phone numbers for local family/friends who have offered to be there for him when we cannot. Under each name I included tags: Emergency – for those who would do anything for him 24/7, Guest Room Offered/Ready – for those who offered him a place or had one ready now, and then other tags like Files or Storage – in case he needed to find things we left behind in a garage. Under Food Sources, I listed his closest grocery stores and where to find some of his favorite allergy-free foods.
I both Emailed him this document and printed it hardcopy. I filled the box with every medicine, vitamin, cream he could need, three jars of organic chicken soup, tea (for when he’s sick), a sewing kit, and an envelope. In the envelope, I wrote out 12 little post-it encouragements with prayers for his year. I only told him about them the day I left and encouraged him to pull one out and read it each month or on a hard day. I won’t be local to send him little things or visit, so I tried to front-load the Mom encouragement inside Mom-in-a-Box.
I know there is absolutely no way to avoid all homesickness, but as a TCK who has grown up in 5 countries on 3 continents, sometimes you need a piece of a place that feels like home. I wanted to provide James with that, and I’m a quilter. I quilted him a graduation stole with a fabric for each place he celebrated a birthday. I quilted him a Fibonacci Sequence quilt out of African cotton wax print (kitenge) for his bed. For graduation, he also asked for two African-style shirts and I made him matching masks. These fabrics can surround him with his TCK heritage when he needs it. This could also be done with family photos, a flag from your country other traditional wall hangings to remember your last feeling of ‘home’ on the other side of the world.
TCK BOOT CAMP
[These activities will need to be determined by where your kid will be and what they need specifically.] James had his driver’s license already, which was helpful for many other things like getting his student ID card. He wasn’t going to own a car, so instead purchased a bike, was given a helmet and awesome locks. He has complicated food allergies, planned to live on campus and get around by bike and bus, so our boot camp focused on that. We complicated things a bit further because he won’t be 18 until October, so he can’t have his own credit card yet and I had to co-sign anything to do with finances in person. We traveled to his college town 10 days before he moved in and stayed nearby so we could get to know the area well, and I’m so glad we did. We could take our time purchasing items for his dorm room ahead of the crowds, check out different churches, tour the nearby grocery stores, try out a couple allergy-friendly restaurants, etc. Here are the topics we covered and practiced in Boot Camp:
– Cell Phones: plans, payment, apps, cases, cords, etc
– Groceries: sourcing clean foods, reading ingredients, budgeting, dorm cooking
– Transportation: reading bus routes/schedules, biking rules & safety
– Banking: deposits, ATMs, cash-back, app management
– College: campus tour (with specifics in mind), ID card, first semester books
James is a kid who is usually up for an adventure if someone else plans it, but who doesn’t naturally go explore new things. This Boot Camp had some days where I required weird jobs and forced him to do them. I had a long list of tasks to master or practice and most often he could choose between, for example, planning a bus trip across town to Trader Joe’s, or walking the college campus to find his dorm room window and get his ID card and books. Our bank account appointment was thankfully on our first full day in town and they gave him his debit card on the spot, so over the next 10 days I had him do much of the purchasing on his own and then we could log into the banking app and check his account as we went. Once, the register asked him if he wanted cash back. He just froze. He’d never heard of it. These are the little things that make coming from overseas a challenge. And I’m thankful we took our time working through them day by day together.
On top of life skills, I was teaching COVID safety as we went: Not to open doors with hands when possible, washing hands whenever possible and always before eating, etc. He would be managing it all on his own this year. He registered himself for an Amazon Student account and we ordered something to a nearby drop box. He picked it up on his own. In the grocery stores, we scouted out his favorite allergy-friendly options and noted which places have higher/lower prices. A few times I would challenge him to find three sources of broccoli (his favorite veg) and compare prices: frozen v. fresh v. steam bags. We blocked up the ice cream aisle reading ingredients and ranking which brands were better for his allergies. The one practice we didn’t fit in was a solo trip to the barber, though I did talk him through what is expected (a tip at the end) and we located a good one within walking distance.
There were two other things we did, which prepared him more on an emotional level. First, we booked an afternoon having lunch with the MK Care Coordinator of our organization. This man has kids like James on his heart, and got to debrief him about his life overseas and transition to the US, which opens the door for future connections there. Second, we participated in a campus ministry camp (all virtual this year), which placed James in an online small group of other Christian incoming freshman in his department (math/science). These were the first students he met, and his small group has gathered already a couple times at a park in these first 2 weeks. They text each other often, and it made James feel a bit of connection before beginning all virtual classes on a campus of 70,000 students.
We moved him in on a Tuesday morning and spent most of the day unpacking and settling his room. We planned to stock his fridge and go out to lunch Wednesday before I left town (and flew out Friday). Having a plan is important!! We found the outlets in the dorm were all far from his desk, so in the evening I ordered a curbside pickup of cords at Lowe’s. I checked out of our AirBnB. He texted me his food wishlist and it was easy for me to find because we had toured every store in the area. We went out to lunch and got to debrief his first 24 hours of dorm life. I told him I would not park and come in, but just drop him and go. We planned out when to call and check-in. And that was it! I drove away. I didn’t want to. I had to. I did pause to bawl a moment in a parking spot. I am human. The waves have been coming for a year, and will continue another year I’m sure. It wasn’t easy, but all the planning and preparations gave me a lot of peace of mind that we were ready for whatever this first year on the other side of the world may hold!
Looking back over all the years of James’ childhood, it is obvious without a doubt that God has plans for him. It was not easy to do it solo, but better than not doing it at all. I felt the prayers for God’s Peace and Strength with me every hour. It is painful to leave the country and not take your kid with you, but I have no doubt God will continue to be faithful to James. And the Family Weekends and Holiday Breaks we will miss this year we can all surrender to Jesus. He is worthy. How to leave your kid on the other side of the world? It can only be done in obedience and worship! I also recommend having people pray! This song came on the radio on multiple stations in multiple towns across Texas as I drove away from my son: You Get the Glory.