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The Cha Family in Japan

The Immigrant Experience…in Japan: Sending Your Child Off to School


birdflyingfromhandA couple of weeks ago, the girls’ youchien (preschool/ kindergarten) had classroom observation day for each class. Parents were invited to watch what the students do during school. I went for two days; one for Aliya’s class and another day for Mikayla’s.

As I arrived with the other parents (mostly moms) shortly after drop off, we went to the main classroom where all the classes play together for the first 15 minutes of school. After a short outdoor exercise time, on the observation day of Aliya’s class, the parents followed Aliya’s class upstairs to their classroom, where they began with a worship time (our girls attend a Christian Japanese youchien). The students sat at their desks in groups of four, while the parents sat around the perimeter of the classroom.

After singing a hymn, each student stood up to say a Bible verse they memorized. As each child stood up to recite a verse, I began to wonder nervously if Aliya knew a Bible verse in Japanese. But then I saw her from the back, and I saw her shoulders noticeably slump and her head bow down in uncertainty when it was her turn. She stood up with hunched shoulders, in silence. I felt like it was minutes but it was only for a few seconds, before the teacher said a verse slowly in Japanese for Aliya to repeat. She sat down, and the next child took his turn. I’m sure no one really thought much of that moment because everyone (teachers, classmates and parents alike) have been very understanding of our being foreigners.

But as I watched my daughter, standing with slouched shoulders, cowering in her awareness of her lack of fluency in Japanese and the insecurity that comes with that awareness, my eyes filled with tears. I just wanted to run to her, hold her in my arms, and carry her home.

At that moment, a memory came to me. While I was born in the States, when I was 2 years old (and my sister, 3), we moved to Korea for 2 years. When we returned, my sister was entering kindergarten, but because we lived in Korea, she was fluent in Korean but couldn’t speak English. We lived in a suburb of Houston at that time when diversity wasn’t common and people’s racial prejudices and ignorance were not concealed by political correctness. I remember that on the first day of school, my mom rode the school bus with my sister to school. I don’t even know how my mom got back home; maybe she walked.

I always just took that memory as a fact, something that my mom did on my sister’s first day of school. But as I sat in Aliya’s classroom, I had a real and tangible understanding of what my mother experienced sending her daughter off to school in a new culture with a new language, in a possibly unfriendly and unkind environment. I saw how my mom, who stood under 5 feet tall, tried her best to protect her daughter, not caring about what others thought of her.

I understood the fears, the anxiety, the tears she must have cried…but I am now finding myself in a similar situation.

Aliya starts Japanese elementary school this April. Just last week, I attended an orientation meeting for parents at the school. My friends who send their children to the same school have told me that many foreigners attend the school. That offers some comfort. God has provided friends to help me to understand the enrollment process and translate documents for me. That offers some comfort. The administration seemed helpful and kind. That offers some comfort.

And yet, my heart is filled with worries and anxiety for my daughter. I don’t want her to be ostracized because she is a foreigner or can’t speak Japanese fluently. I don’t want her to be made fun of or bullied. I don’t want her to feel insecure or inferior. I don’t want her to feel lonely.

But in those moments at night as I lay paralyzed in fear, imagining the worst, I have to remind myself that there is One who loves Aliya more than me; One who is actually in control, while I am not; One who does all things for the good of his children, one of whom is Aliya. I must loosen my white-knuckled grip of control and surrender in faith and trust in God, in whom I can have genuine and complete comfort.

He will provide us the grace to handle whatever situations arise as Aliya enters school. And I hope that God will instill in Aliya greater faith in him to have peace and security beyond the things of this world.

Would you please pray with us for her? Thank you.

(For additional prayer requests, please visit our prayer page.)

6 thoughts on “The Immigrant Experience…in Japan: Sending Your Child Off to School

  1. thanks for sharing, ym. praying for this little soldier.

  2. Thanks for sharing this… I will definitely be praying for her and you all. 🙂

  3. Your comments resonate with anyone who has personally tasted the immigration experience and for every parent who has had to watch their “little baby” experience the challenges of maturing in this world. So emotionally difficult! Remember who our faith is placed in and how everything you face in this life is exactly what the Lord wants for each of you, for His glory and your good! Thank you for living the immigrant life . . . our eternal country awaits!

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