Being Welcomed But Not Fitting In

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There’s a social norm that we should be inclusive of others.  But sometimes you don’t fit in everywhere you are welcome.

When my son Sam was three years old, we moved to a small island country in the West Indies to help put God’s story into the language there for the first time . There was a preschool that met behind our house, and we decided to send Sam.

He was our first child and we were anxious to provide him the opportunity that other little three-year-olds had to go to school. We were glad for a chance to show our little village that we wanted to truly be one of them. We joked that besides a few albino people we had seen, our son Sam was the whitest person on the island. Such fair skin at age three, and it sure shone bright white among our dark-skinned friends. He stuck out in the crowd like a precious little sore thumb.

SamSamuel’s first ever day of school. 


The preschool was so kind and welcoming of Sam, and we were thrilled. We went to town to purchase his little necessary uniform and we were all set. He had his first ever day of school on the small island. I stayed there with him for a couple of hours those first days to observe, and I even sort of looked in to “spy” other times because this school was literally in our back yard.

I quickly realized that Sam wasn’t going to learn anything academically. He already knew the things that they were teaching. In his little American world, he’d had access to hundreds of books and multiple literate adults that read to him from birth. He was miles ahead of these kiddos in that respect. But still, this was about socialization and finding ways to fit in to the community, so we pressed on.

Then one day that came to an abrupt halt. While I was observing at the school, I saw for the second time a child being slapped for disobeying. The child wasn’t physically hurt or in danger. This was just the normal way that behavior was addressed in this culture. And suddenly, this was a deal breaker for me.

We knew we would only be living here for a couple of years, and then our family would move back to the US or move off to another culture that we’d need to learn. This wasn’t going to become our permanent culture or way of life, and I didn’t want our son to learn and accept this type of behavior and form of punishment as the norm and then change things up on him. I felt it would be confusing and possibly disturbing to him at his age to have modeled behavior that was very different than what we wanted him to learn. If we were planning for him to grow up there, our decision might have been different. But we made the decision that the negatives of preschool outweighed the positives at that point.

We had to face the reality that even though Sam was welcome, he just wasn’t going to fit in. We didn’t ask the group to change to accommodate him and make him feel more comfortable. We simply made the decision that this wasn’t a group for him. Being included is great, but so is accepting the fact that there are places that are not a fit for you or for your child, and letting that be okay.


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