[An audio version of this article is available on the Pondering Purple podcast, which you can access by clicking HERE. Note that it does not contain the full selection of quotes from TCKs available in this written format.]



This article is not a manifesto on the validity or value of boarding schools.

In my 56 years as a Third Culture Kid, my twenty years teaching TCKs at Black Forest Academy, and my subsequent thirteen years in global TCK advocacy, I’ve known plenty of students who thrived in boarding contexts, their education, inner lives, and relationships enhanced by the experience.

I’ve also known numerous students who turned inward and grew bitter during their time in a residential school, their experiences more damaging than beneficial.

Because of this disparity, questions surrounding boarding schools abound, each query seeking to crack the code that determines who will do well and who will struggle.

There are no easy answers, of course. Each family, each child, each teacher, dorm parent, school policy, and location will factor into an obscure equation whose outcome seems at best unpredictable.

This is why it has taken me so long to write about this topic—and why writing about it will take so many words! By no means do I intend for this two-part series to be a comprehensive treatise that will resolve all the tensions surrounding the boarding school debate, but my hope is that it will begin an informed conversation families will find useful in making crucial decisions regarding their children’s education.

Though this initial article rightfully centers the TCK, the next one will broaden the scope of this conversation, exploring the role of parents in preparing their children for boarding school, navigating the transition, and parenting long-distance.

We’ll hear from parents themselves about what they did well, what they regret, and what advice they’d give to today’s parents of TCKs. That article will be titled “Preparing and Parenting.”

But first, let’s dive in to this introductory topic—the place it all begins:
Making the Decision.

Before I started this project, in order to gain information from those who have “skin in the game,” I ran an informal survey of 120 Third Culture Kids who attended boarding schools at some point in their lives. Quotes from that research are interspersed throughout this article, highlighting opposing viewpoints. They illustrate the vast spectrum of hindsight and opinion available on this topic.



How do the TCKs who took the survey assess their time in boarding school?

    • 10 % of the 120 evaluated their boarding school years as “excellent—I wouldn’t change a thing.”
    • 47.9% found those years to be “extremely positive, but with some challenges.”
    • 28.6% reported the experience of boarding to be “a mixed bag of positives and negatives.”
    • 12.6% found it “mostly difficult, but with some silver linings.”
    • .8% summed up their experience with one word: “terrible.”

Here’s the thing: though the chart’s numbers may seem to generally lean in a positive direction, further questions in the survey proved just how nuanced the topic actually is. Many of the TCKs who called their experience exceptional reported in other responses that they faced significant hardship as well. And some of those who most intensely spoke out against the boarding school option because of how much they suffered also acknowledged the benefits they reaped.

The most commonly stated benefits and challenges of the boarding experience further illustrate how wonderful and how hard it can be—and, as many TCKs reported, how it can simultaneously be both!

With TCKs reporting so many memorable wonderfuls in conjunction with so many maiming woes, the general conclusion they reach as they assess their entire experience seems to depend more on subjective factors like personality and relationships than on practical or measurable factors.

This is why blanket statements or stringent mission policies regarding boarding school are at best misguided and at worst dangerous.

They don’t account for essential individual variables among the TCKs facing the decision about whether to attend or not—like age, agency, rationale for the decision, personality traits, needs, or personal compatibility with living in a boarding community.

And they don’t account for important institutional variables either—like safety, academic pressures, spiritual culture, and disciplinary practices.

Further complicating the assessment process, these variables can change from year to year because of the fluidity of human development (student) and institutional policies and staffing (school).

Based on the nuances at work in this discussion, I must preface this series with three caveats:

Caveat #1 – Even within the same family, the best choice for one child may not be the best choice for another. I’ve seen this over and over. Where one sibling thrived in boarding school, another did not. It is important that a decision about remote education be made on a child-by-child basis, not predicated on how well one sibling did.

Caveat #2 – Even the wisest of decisions may need to be reconsidered. What was best for your TCK in 10th grade may not be right anymore a year later. Decisions like these are too weighty to leave unquestioned as time passes. Regular collective reevaluation, especially if there are signs of unhappiness or distress, is essential.

Caveat #3 – This series is merely a starting point. It’s an introduction to the topic, not a comprehensive analysis of the complexities of the boarding school decision. Please take the time to read the following, but also invest even more time and effort in communicating with each other, trusting your parental instincts, and praying to discern what will best contribute to your child’s flourishing.



With those caveats out of the way, let’s first consider the set of personal variables I mentioned above.

Each one of these is important. Thoughtfully exploring them may help both parents and TCKs to triangulate what their best educational option might be.



This is the only time in this article that I will make a categorical statement based on all I’ve observed in 32 years of TCK ministry. At the risk of offending some of my readers, I want to state without equivocation that sending a child to residential school as an elementary student is simply too big of a risk.

I’d like to suggest that middle school is probably too young as well, with all the changes and developmental milestones that happen during those years. However, under the right circumstances and with enough guardrails and proactive parenting plans in place, you may be able to make a valid case for it!

Elementary school, though…

Yes, you’ll find that some Third Culture Kids sent away in first grade look back on those days in a positive light. And yes, there are eight-year-olds who truly felt loved by their dorm parents during those 2-3 month stretches when they were hundreds of miles from their parents. But those are the exception, and there is no guarantee that your child will be one of those rare exceptions too…

I’ve known too many adult TCKs sent away to boarding school in childhood who suffered long-term debilitating consequences that were directly linked by medical professionals to their childhood boarding school experiences—conditions like abandonment trauma, attachment disorders, chronic depression/anxiety, Dissociative Identity Disorder, PTSD, and others.

Hear me—even if you think your elementary-age TCK is capable of enduring the separation—even if the circumstances at home or in ministry seem to necessitate it—even if you know and trust someone at boarding school who will look out for him/her…the risk is too great.

We have so many educational options today. Online options. Home schooling options. Co-op options. Even returning to your passport country must be viewed as a legitimate option if it prevents you from playing Russian roulette with the potential lifelong damage of sending your six, eight, or eleven-year-old away from your home to study.

TCKs themselves—some of whom actually had good experiences as young children in boarding schools—support this recommendation:

I walked back into my old elementary school with my husband when I was thirty-two and instantly felt the breath knocked from my lungs. I thought I had nothing but pleasant memories from being there ages 7-12, but my whole being instantly remembered the struggle in my body, mind, and spirit of getting through every day without my mom and dad at such a fragile age. –Callie

Really dig deep and ask what your reasons are for having your child at boarding school in their precious formative years, and if they are worth it in the long run. Now that I have children in elementary and middle school, my own answer would always be no. I want to be present to every part of their lives as they grow up. I can’t think of anything more important than that. –Sarah

Recognize that boarding school can be either/both a stabilizing factor and an incredible force of instability in their lives. –AJG



One of the principles I witnessed during my twenty years working at Black Forest Academy is that students who were at BFA because they wanted to be there fared far better than those who felt they had to be here.

When my brother first heard about BFA through the TCK grapevine, he immediately knew this was his “dream school.” He pled with my parents to let him apply and finally started in 10th grade. Though there were obvious adjustments he had to make, he absolutely loved dorm life and all the extra-curricular activities the school provided.

I, on the other hand, didn’t want to go to BFA—but it seemed to my parents to be the next logical step for all kinds of reasons. The thought of leaving my comfort zone, a Bible school community just north of Paris, caused deep anxiety and depression in the months preceding and following my move to Germany.

It is important to note that my parents never knew how strongly I felt. They had presented convincing arguments and, out of a desire to please them and obey them, I had consented to attending Black Forest Academy despite the cold fear that overwhelmed me every time I thought of leaving home.

I’ve often asked unhappy students why they chose boarding school, and their answers have run along similar lines: they didn’t want to hurt their parents’ feelings, they didn’t think they had a right to say no, or they didn’t want to appear too dependent.

None of the students who came against their wishes thrived at BFA, at least not during the first couple years of their experience. And even if things did eventually get better, we need to acknowledge the potential long-term consequences of having suffered for a protracted time at such a pivotal age.

Survey participants also emphasized the importance of personal agency in this decision that will impact every aspect of a TCK’s life.

It’s a decision […] that should be decided with much prayer and leading. Kids should never feel like they have no choice in the matter. If boarding school is not working out, TCKs should never feel that they are failures or burdens. Their wellbeing trumps even staying on the field. –Anne

I refused to fit in at school for my first full year because I was so angry at my parents for just informing me that I was going to boarding school. Once I got over that, I realized how much I loved it…and then I was mad at them for making me so mad that I missed out on that first year of fun. The crazy thing is that I would probably have chosen to go if they’d given me the chance to choose! –Isaac

~ Establishing agency though communication:

It is essential that families considering boarding school develop the kind of communication that allows for honest dialogue and even disagreement. This is not a family dynamic that can just be implemented at the time of necessity—ideally, it needs to be “baked into” family relationships from as early an age as possible, so it is established before huge decisions like these become necessary.

As you discuss boarding school with your children, you may need to repeatedly stress that you want them to be straightforward with you—assuring them that their point of view is essential and valued and that it will be received without judgment. Which brings me to…

~ Establishing agency through freedom to need:

There is some danger in the “God first, others second, me third” mantra so prevalent in Christian circles—too many TCKs feel that considering their own desires and needs is egotistical or selfish. What they want doesn’t matter. The needs of others are far more important than theirs.

Like me, some will let themselves be talked into something they dread—even going away to boarding school—because they fear their hesitation will be seen as self-centered disobedience. Or worse: lack of faith and disloyalty to the ministry.

Make sure your TCKs know it isn’t wrong or sinful for them to state what they do and do not want to do, even if the opposite would make more practical sense. The Bible is full of gentle encouragement from God Himself to verbalize our needs.

Parents sincerely and lovingly asking for their children’s honest feedback about attending boarding school will allow the TCK to feel heard and loved.

Parents sincerely and lovingly giving their children permission to reach a different conclusion than theirs will allow the TCK to feel respected and empowered.

A sense of agency can spell the difference between boarding school students who enter as martyrs and boarding school students who enter as agents of their own choice.



This aspect of the decision-making process is straightforward.

If you’re thinking of sending your kids to boarding school to free up your time for language study, please reconsider.

If you’re thinking of sending your kids to boarding school because having them around impedes your ministry, please reconsider.

If you’re thinking of sending your kids to boarding school because of behavioral or psychological issues that are hard for you to cope with, please reconsider.

If you’re thinking of sending your kids to boarding school because they don’t get along with you or their siblings, please reconsider.

If you’re thinking of sending your kids to boarding school because other parents or your own mission are telling you that you should, please reconsider.

Even with the best rational arguments put forward, TCKs will sense if the decision to send them to boarding school was made for their parents’ or the ministry’s sake, not theirs.

And even if they end up thriving in boarding school, the damage of having been exiled because mom and dad needed them gone will anchor deep.

I continue to meet adult Third Culture Kids of multiple generations who still carry the pain of knowing they were sent away by those most responsible for caring for them because they were “too much”…or because Idolatry of Ministry rendered The Call more important than nurturing and rearing the children entrusted to parents by God.

Yes, boarding school can be the absolute best choice for a TCK! But not if the rationale for choosing it is throwing in the towel or elevating secondary priorities to a primary place.

Never, ever, ever make your child feel like they’re being sent away so that you can concentrate on your ministry. Not even when you think they can’t hear you. –AK

Though [it’s] a wonderful and life-changing opportunity for kids […], I would advise parents to dig deep and be 100% certain there is no other option for their kids. –Michelle

Think long and hard. These are formative years that you’ll never get back. –John

If you think your kids are a distraction from your ministry, you have abandoned the very treasure God gave you as parents. –RMC

Parents who opted out of boarding school for their kids were ostracized by other missionaries. Academics valued, but not developmental issues. Many still carry scars. –John2

Don’t choose work over your kids. Doesn’t matter if you do missions, your family should always come first. –David

I need to add one more thing here, since we’re talking about family dynamics: if your family is struggling—if your relationships are difficult—distance will not fix the problem. It may dissimulate it. It may temporarily de-escalate it. But it won’t fix it. Boarding school is not a remedy for broken relationships.



In an ideal world, a TCK’s personality traits and needs would be so aligned that a decision such as moving away from home for school would appear seamless. In the real world, unfortunately, things are seldom that streamlined. The frequent disparities between personality traits and educational needs add a complicated layer to this decision-making quagmire!

Some TCKs who would greatly benefit from having their educational or social needs met in an international boarding environment might not have the kind of personalities that would thrive there. And some TCKs whose personalities seem custom-made for life in residences and the adventure of independent living might actually learn better through self-guided online education or in smaller tutor-driven environments.

So how do families know what to prioritize?

Take me, for example. My sensitive spirit, extreme shyness, and low self-esteem made me a poor candidate for the boarding experience when I was fourteen. I just wanted to live in my own familiar space, where I felt less exposed and unsure.

But my educational needs were in complete contradiction to what my personality dictated. The importance of switching to a North American school system before college was crucial, as I’d only ever studied in French, and getting away from an abusive school system was critical too at that stage of my life.

After a year in boarding that was both incredibly taxing (living away from home and feeling discarded by my parents) and exhilarating (discovering that there were other people just like me, learning from teachers who supported and encouraged me, participating in extra-curricular activities I’d never have experienced in France), my parents made the tough decision to move their ministry closer to Black Forest Academy so I could continue my education there while living with them.

With my personality and my needs at odds, this was the only way to find some sort of viable compromise.

My brother, on the other hand, wanted to live away from home and had begged our parents to attend BFA. He thrived in the dorm environment, loved his independence, and was devastated when he found out that he’d be moving home (with his annoying little sister) for his senior year of high school. Looking back, I wonder if two different solutions might have been better for that year, given our very different internal and external circumstances.

There is simply no one-size-fits-all answer when weighing individual personality traits and needs as we consider whether boarding school is right for a TCK or not. 

So my encouragement is that you observe your children—from infancy, really! Explore them. Learn them. As much as you can, track the changes in their personalities and needs as they grow and mature. Foster the kind of honest communication that makes self-revelation possible, and don’t hesitate to enlist a trusted-by-your-child third party to be part of the conversation, as TCKs may reveal aspects of themselves to people outside your family that you won’t be privy to.

Not all kids can handle boarding school. Listen to your child. –Erin

You know your child best, and boarding school is not for everyone. Ask questions like: “How does my child deal with stress when I’m not around?” “How does my child comfort themself when they are not home?” “Is my child introverted/extroverted?” “How does my child learn best?” “What outlets (creative or physical) help my child succeed the most?” The answers to these questions may indicate whether or not your child will succeed in a boarding school setting. –Danieke

Be very curious about how the school will enable them to thrive as individuals (not just conform to a system); make space for how hard it might be, even if it’s the right thing to do. —PRM

One way to begin to find clarity as you ponder boarding school might be to formulate a series of questions which take various formats, allowing your TCK to self-assess and you to learn.

A couple notes:

This dialogue needs to center the TCK’s needs and desires, not the demands of the parents’ ministry.

Considering this monumental step together might reveal the emotions associated with it—it is good for you and your children to be able to express them honestly with each other.

Here are some sample questions to jump-start your conversation:

    • What is your gut reaction when you think about going to boarding school or staying home?
    • What do you think would be the best part of boarding school or staying home?
    • What do you think would be the hardest part of boarding school versus staying home?
    • Do you have any fears about boarding school or staying home?
    • Do you think you could self-motivate to study well without us around?
    • What is most important to you… [and then compare a couple things your TCK loves, like “Staying with your soccer team here at home or having TCK friends there at boarding school”]?
    • What would help you make this decision?

I feel like a kid’s personality probably weighs heavily on how they do in boarding school. I think that the adventurous sort who make friends well, love sports, leadership, and participating in team stuff seemed to do well at my school, but there were also quiet ones who preferred music or individual activities, and they also thrived. There were some who just flat out did not, and I don’t think ever would adjust to the school life. It was a traumatic experience for them and being kicked out was just as traumatic. –Julia

Boarding is not for everyone, but I had a great time at boarding school. I was quite independent as a child and thrived in that type of environment, but some kids aren’t made for that. –Laura

If there is no other option for school for your child besides boarding and your child is really not ok with going to boarding school, please weigh this heavily when making your decision to go into missions. —RG



The 120 Third Culture Kids who took the survey outlined several key areas that may be sticking points for teens experiencing boarding school for the first time. These are something to keep in mind as you consider this option as a family. Rather than only focusing on your child’s current ability in these areas, you may also want to ponder whether he/she might eventually be able to develop healthy coping mechanisms and skills once installed in a boarding situation—and what that might take. Some will adapt organically. Others will adapt with a little coaching. And yet others will simply not.

Community life: will your TCK be comfortable living in a residence with potentially dozens of peers, where activity and noise are frequent companions?

Cohabitation: has your TCK shared a bedroom before and will he/she be able both to make the compromises required by sharing a living space and to set the boundaries that are just as necessary?

Organization: can your TCK prioritize life well enough to divide his/her time wisely between social activities, extra-curriculars, rest, school work, hobbies, and communicating with you?

Motivation: is your TCK enough of a self-starter to be able to keep track of assignments, get them done on time, and study sufficiently for tests and exams?

Limitations: will the lack of autonomy (movement outside the dorm, assigned study hours, bed time, having to get permission for a lot of activities) be frustrating?

Rules: will your TCK be able to abide by rules, even those that don’t make sense or are different from what yours might be? How will he/she cope with dress codes, language restrictions, or other behavioral expectations? Most Christian boarding schools adhere to a very conservative reading of biblical values and principles, and this has increasingly become a source of frustration for TCKs whose views are less stringent. (More on this in the next article in the series.)

Faith: if attending a Christian boarding school, will your TCK be comfortable in an environment where faith is woven into every aspect of life, whether it be in the residence, at school, or in extraneous activities? Will he/she be prepared to write papers on spiritual topics and participate in devotions and services?

Communication: will your TCK communicate honestly with you about what’s going on at school and make time for phone calls and texts?

Self-protection: this is so important—if anything concerning happens, like bullying or other forms of abuse, is your TCK strong enough and equipped enough to report it to you and to the responsible parties at school? (There will be much more on this in Part Two of this series.)

One more piece of advice about this initial phase, while you’re still trying to figure out if your TCK is a good fit for boarding school, I’d strongly recommend you find a way to visit in person.

Yes, it’s going to cost something. And yes, it may be a bit stressful.

But if your child can sit in on classes, have a meal in a dorm, and converse with current students before a decision is finalized, the reality of the boarding school option will be easier to envision.

An advanced visit is an effective way of dispelling the mystery and decreasing some of the anxiety often associated with the prospect of leaving home for the first time—and to confirm whether this is or is not a context your child would be comfortable in.

Most schools I know of have programs in place that will streamline a school visit, allowing you to spend time with administrators, educators, residence personnel, and even get some educational testing done, if needed.

Even though it may be frightening for your TCK to enter a residence where he or she knows no one, you might be amazed by what that in-person experience fuels. I’ve seen it happen so often, even among shy teenagers: they see the animation of their peers, they engage over meals, they get introduced to extra-curricular activities, they meet teachers and discover classroom dynamics that may be very different from what they’re used to. They get a feel for what life in that community might be like and start to imagine themselves living, studying, and growing in that context.

Some TCKs will come away from the visit on fire with excitement, wondering if they can enroll next week! And others will conclude they’re just not suited to what they’ve seen—or that they might be interested down the road, but not right now.

Whatever the outcome, the effort and investment of such a visit will most likely result in greater clarity. And you can’t put a price tag on that.

Let’s briefly talk about:



I mentioned earlier that it would be wise to consider some of these alongside the individual variables we’ve just covered as you ponder boarding school for your family. Knowing more about key facets of the schools’ culture may help you to further narrow down your decision—not just about whether your child is the right fit for boarding school, but about whether a particular boarding school is the right fit for your child.

School policies and metrics are a great way to gauge the *intent* of an institution and I recommend researching those, but they’re only as effective as those entrusted with applying them. The administrators, staff, and faculty of boarding schools will be determining factors in how healthy or unhealthy your child’s experience will be. So it will be essential—in writing, over the phone, or during a pre-decision visit—that you have probing conversations with members of all three groups in the hope of better assessing the following variables.



Academic standards can be high in some TCK schools—too high sometimes—particularly for students changing languages or school systems, or for those who have learning challenges.

Make sure you’re not sending your child to an institution that emphasizes exceptional grades to an unhealthy degree. It can become a joy-sucking force, particularly for those who already have a tendency toward fixating on educational achievement OR those for whom struggling academically will negatively impact their self-esteem.

It may also be helpful to find out if the school you’re considering promotes a balance between personal time, social interaction, academic demands, and involvement—for those who wish—in extra-curricular activities.

Even with a school that seeks to establish healthy boundaries, you as a parent may need to be involved in helping your children to figure out what that healthy balance will look like for them, particularly during that first semester or year of adaptation. Which extra-curriculars and how many of them should they participate in each year? How many AP classes can they handle? How much free time do they need to be sure they build into their schedules? And what can/should they do if things begin to feel overwhelming?



External safety:

I’d like to give honorable mention to this priceless quote by a TCK named RMC: “When there’s gunfire or machinegun fire outside the school and all your friends have left the country, LEAVE too!”

 The safety of the geographical location of the school is something worth considering. In areas where armed conflict or unrest are common, you’ll have obvious questions about threat protocols: what are the safety measures in place? How will parents be notified if something happens? How quickly will travel out of the area be arranged, if possible at all? Does the school have lines of contact with national or regional embassies?

But there are more “mundane” security concerns you can address as parents too. Is the campus secured? What are daytime and nighttime safety protocols? What about the dorms—is entering and exiting monitored? What is the local crime rate? How much autonomy do students have to navigate the town/city and what are the parameters for that? What is the school’s relationship with local law enforcement and can it be trusted?

If I’ve learned anything in my life as a Third Culture Kid, it’s that there are no 100% safe places.

Asking questions about policies and facts related to security will not prevent all harmful events from occurring, but it will give you and your TCK a clearer understanding of the school’s preparedness and the location’s risks as you weigh the pros and cons of your decision.


Internal safety:

I wish I could have told adults about the bullying I was experiencing without the fear that telling them would make it worse. –James

As a social worker, I am appalled at how some situations were handled at my boarding school. –Danieke

I wish adults at boarding school would have been more proactive in protecting kids from bullying, physical harm, and mocking (emotional abuse). –Steve

I still have tears when I think of the way my coach and dorm dad flew to my rescue when they found out how one of my classmates was treating me. They’re the reason I can trust men today. –Chloe

I was at a 20-year class reunion last summer, at which a member of the school’s current Advancement team was present. She gave a presentation about what the school is like today, then opened the remaining time for questions. These students who graduated twenty years before were fixated on the measures in place to ensure that today’s teachers and residence personnel were adequately screened to be as safe as possible for today’s students.

I know some of the stories represented in that group and understand their concern. These alumni, as evidenced by the love enveloping their reunion, had an amazing experience at the school they attended, but they also witnessed the kind of shortcomings they still carry like scars some twenty years later.

As much as is possible, vet the schools you’re considering for your children. And begin by asking some hard but important questions.

These are just some you might want to consider—compiled with the help of Dianne Couts, President of MK Safety Net:

    • What kind of screening is in place for the adults who will be in contact with your children prior to their acceptance as staff and faculty?
    • Is that screening professionally done and is it thorough?
    • How and how often does the entire staff (administrators, teachers, support staff) receive training on the school’s abuse prevention policies?
    • Is the school a member of an organization that provides resources and training in child protection policies (such as the Child Safety and Protection Network, Ministry Safe, Plan to Protect, GRACE, ACSI, etc.)?
    • Does that organization have the authority to mandate that a school respond appropriately to an allegation of abuse?
    • Does the school’s child protection policy cover all types of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and spiritual—peer-to-peer and adult-to-student?
    • Is the school’s child protection policy posted on the school’s website and explained to parents and students during enrollment or orientation?
    • Are there clearly communicated standards and reporting structures for students and adults regarding peer and staff behavior?
    • Will the school report abuse to the appropriate sending agency, child protection organization, and legal authority? (The legal aspect can be complicated in international cases and is often overlooked because of that.)
    • What is the school’s definition of bullying?
    • Who is empowered with reporting bullying?
    • What is the process for reporting and disciplining a bully?
    • Who is the point person you can contact as a parent for any questions you might have regarding abuse, including bullying?
    • If the school has a history of dealing with abuse:
      • Where is it documented and how can you access that documentation?
      • What changes, if any, has the school implemented because of those instances?

Keep asking questions until you’re satisfied. If some answers seem too vague or insufficient, ask others who are privy to this information. Contrary to what you might think, abuse in boarding schools is not a thing of the past. The more we know and the more our children know, the more likely we are to identify or prevent a problem before it happens, or to have it dealt with justly when it does.




[The school had] a punitive disciplinary system that made me afraid to ask for help. I would be punished along with the abuser. –James

Some of the rules were heavily shame-based and did not allow for freedom of self or self-expression. This creates a dichotomy of students who are rigid rule followers and shame others for breaking them, as well as students who find it impossible to stay within regimented lines and decide they don’t even want to try. –Danieke

Let’s talk about rules—and how they interact with the spiritual culture of a school. Clearly stated regulations are a good things, of course! Trying to maintain order in an institution inhabited by dozens or hundreds of teenagers is like trying to keep rain from pouring off a roof.

Though the rules are necessary for order and flourishing, what can be problematic is the spirit and manner in which they’re enforced. If shaming students seems in any way built into discipline, if overreaction, fear tactics, or humiliation “in the name of Jesus” are commonplace, this may not be a safe place for your TCKs or for their faith.

As the staff implementing rules and discipline may change every year, of course, assessing this aspect of your child’s school culture will need to be done regularly.



And then there’s the theological element. It will certainly be important to make space for times when your family’s theology and a teacher or staff member’s theology don’t match. The likelihood of finding a school that teaches exactly what you believe about both innocuous or controversial topics is slim!

So be prepared to have clarifying conversations with your kids as they bring some of that information to you, helping them to understand other viewpoints, explaining how you reached yours, and encouraging them to keep seeking answers of their own.



The most important aspect of the spiritual culture of a school, to me, is not its rules or theology—though those are important—it’s the way it weaves faith into a student’s life. The simple question is this:

Is spirituality fostered or enforced?

Put differently: Is learning about Jesus through his Word and through engagement with others a compelling invitation to deepening faith or another mandatory assignment?

And is doubt viewed as just one step on a longer journey or as a spiritual failure that needs to be rectified?

The spiritual culture of a school will be embodied by the administrators, faculty members, residence personnel, and spiritual leaders whose words and example will either reflect or contradict the heart of Christ for His children.

This is another case where speaking to families whose Third Culture Kids are attending or have attended the school is going to be so important. Ask them if they’ve seen the adults in authority at the school showing kindness, grace, and compassion for the questioning and wounded young people they serve. Have they seen them seeking to live out the fruits of the spirit? And is there a significant gap between the spiritual traits and values the school promotes and those displayed in its personnel’s lives and disciplinary actions?

If you sense a spiritual culture that shoehorns teenagers into narrow spiritual boxes made of dogmatic God-views, unreasonable expectations, rigid rules, and shame-based condemnation, you might be right to reconsider choosing this institution for your TCKs’ most formative years.



Whew—that’s a lot! By no means are the categories above a finite list of things to consider when talking as a family about the boarding school option! But perhaps they can provide a framework to begin your conversations about this life-changing choice.

I cannot end without emphasizing the importance of prayer.

God himself will be your greatest source of wisdom in this process. Saturate this decision-making process with prayers for wisdom and guidance. Enlist others to pray with you. Check your “parent instincts” often and sense whether God is speaking to you through those too.

And if you decide that boarding school is the right choice for your TCK’s flourishing, please check back here for the second installment of this series. We’ll hear directly from a number parents who made the same choice, discuss ways you can prepare your child and the whole family for this transition—and explore strategies for maintaining connection and closeness as you parent long-distance.




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