Of the adult MKs I speak with, a majority assert that the hardest transition they’ve had to navigate is the one between high school and college in their passport culture.
They’re right. It can be hard.
But I sometimes wonder if our attempts to prepare MKs for that leap might actually increase some of the angst surrounding it.
Don’t get me wrong—I highly value and promote seminars for MKs who are seniors heading into adult life, and I advocate for the investment of time and finances in transition retreats like those offered by Barnabas, Interaction and Outreach Canada.
But I also realize that in our efforts to equip our MKs for some of the inevitable challenges of entering independent adulthood while navigating cultural change, we may inadvertently be intensifying their anxiety rather than merely addressing it.
For years, we’ve been prefacing our sessions for transitioning MKs with something that sounds an awful lot like:
- This will be the most difficult phase of your life so far.
- You’re going to feel completely inept and misunderstood.
- Making friends is going to be so hard and tedious.
I’ll admit that in my own sessions, I too may have unintentionally sent a purely gloom-and-doom message to teens who look like they’re ready to take on the world, but often harbor hidden fears and insufficiencies.
As a broader community (teachers, parents and mentors of MKs), it’s incumbent on us to equally prepare and empower MKs. To warn them and inspire them. To caution them and excite them.
To equip them for the sticking points they may face in this new phase of life, but also to convince them that by utilizing the strengths and insights they’ve already developed, they will find their way through the initial rough waters to a calmer surface beyond transition pangs.
- Will this transition have tough spots? Yes. Will it be the most difficult phase of your life so far? Maybe. Maybe not. But what you learn in advance about yourself and the culture you’re entering will ease the transition in significant ways.
- There may be some areas in which you initially feel inept and misunderstood, but I assure you that there are many in which you’ll naturally do great. Your MK-ness is not a handicap, it’s an alternative framework with its own perspective and skillset. As a cultural chameleon with proven adaptive skills, you’ll figure out how to bend and learn and live in your new world.
- Making friends may feel hard and tedious at first, but if you enter into relationships the way that other culture does it, applying patience and understanding to the process, the authentic friendships you develop will be entirely worth it.
This is not to say that transitions will automatically go smoothly with proper preparation and appropriate mindsets.
At any age, moving from one world to another will engender its share of challenge and frustration. But these are normal components of any life, and we can apply the same certainties to college transition as we do to all significant changes, whether they be geographical, relational, financial or career-related.
We need to convince the MKs in our care that with education, time, commitment and the support of those who truly know them, they’ll find their footing and begin to thrive again.
So while we’re introducing our MKs to healthy mindsets, transition strategies, relationship models and managing grief (all critical topics!), let’s also be telling them that this Change may not be as horrendous as the worst-case-scenarios they’ve heard.
Because though they’ll be leaving a familiar universe to enter another, they are uniquely equipped to make that transition.
They are MKs.
They’re culturally sensitive
They’re socially intuitive
And if they choose to use the cultural tool kit their life abroad has given them—with awareness and patience and effort and an abiding faith in the God who knows them and will sustain them as they enter the murky water in the space between worlds—this looming transition may well go more smoothly than they ever thought it could.
This is a message that equips and motivates. That instructs and strengthens. That acknowledges challenge and imparts crucial hope.
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