On Being the Foreign Parent at School

Being a teacher, I remember seeing the foreign parents coming in for registration and school events. I remember thinking that, as challenging as it is to send your child to school, it must be even more so when they’re going to a school speaking a language you don’t understand. It must be really difficult to be in the minority. I was never surprised when those parents didn’t come to as many school events as the English speaking ones, because I thought that it must be exhausting.

I never really imagined that I would be in their place. Sure, Brandon and I had been talking about coming to Japan for years, but I never made that connection. Then, shortly after we moved here, we learned that Lisanna could attend Japanese preschool from three years old. This meant that, less than a year after arriving in Japan, we could enroll her in school.

My mother heart was so conflicted. To think of sending my small child to school 25 hours a week in a completely new environment with completely new people was overwhelming enough…. But the fact that it would also be in a language she couldn’t understand made it that much scarier.

We prayed and prayed, and we had translation support from the mission that sent us here. I talked to as many parents of foreign kids growing up in Japan as I could, and we made the decision to put her in Japanese preschool. We wanted her to learn the language of the country she was growing up in and to make friends with Japanese children. The first few weeks were heart-wrenching and each day my stomach was bound up in knots for my little girl.

But then… slowly and surely she started to make friends. She started to learn the language. We started to improve in Japanese and get to know her teachers. And, most importantly of all, she started to fit in and have fun. Now she’s almost halfway through her second year and loves going to school. Her little brother goes now, too, and he is also adjusting well. 

I don’t think I really ever understood what the immigrant parents were going through back in Kansas. I felt sorry for them, but I didn’t understand the depth of their struggle. I didn’t understand how scary it is as a mother and how humbling it is as an adult to put your child into a situation that you can’t understand… To need help from translators and people who understand the culture and to constantly look up in the dictionary the words you need to explain an absence or an illness.

So here’s to you – the parent who is courageously sending their child off to an unknown world, knowing that it’s what their child needs. Keep praying and trusting, because it will get better.


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