Our God’s tapestry
Journal entry by Loretta Beyer — Jan. 30, 2021
Being raised as a third-culture kid had both its advantages and disadvantages.
The education system was totally different, for one thing. We wore uniforms K-12, stood up when a teacher entered the classroom. I attended an all-girls, all-white high school. We never had seventh or eighth grade at all, but, rather, after sixth grade — which we called standard six — we took an entrance exam into high school that placed us either in A-stream to graduate in four years, or B-stream, which took five years, or C-stream, which included all remedial classes.
During the first two years of high school, I took nine academic subjects, and then was allowed to drop two (physics and chemistry). I chose French and Latin as my foreign languages, because I didn’t think I would ever use Afrikaans in America.
At the end of high school, we wrote O levels, full final comprehensive exams over those seven academic subjects. The exams came from London, were administered over a period of two weeks, and were sent back to London for grading. What we received for each exam was our grade for the whole of high school! We never had any graduation ceremony, and certainly not open houses for that, either.
I did one more year at my high school called M-levels, similar to first year of college. Those, along with my credits from having taken the final music theory and piano grade eight exams through the conservatory there, is what enabled me to enter college here as a sophomore.
The British academic standards were much higher than here, in my opinion.
In American schools, everyone begins with 100% and works your way down. Over there, you begin with nothing and have to essay your way in and out of life, with 70% being considered excellent.
We had mandatory sports twice a week after school and our choices included tennis, swimming, field hockey, cricket, rugby, or track. We always biked to school, since there was no busing. School was held from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. because of the hot weather, and we always had an abundance of homework
Of course, we never celebrated any American holidays — no Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Fourth of July. I remember the first time I was asked to send cards for Krystal’s Valentine party in kindergarten. I sent the biggest, most beautiful card I could find with her, not realizing I was supposed to send a little one for each child.
Eating utensils were used in a totally different fashion. We would turn our fork upside-down, stab a piece of meat, and then proceed to stack the potatoes and veggies on top of that.
Many words are spelled differently. There, I had to write my letters straight up and down, but, in the States, I was taught to slant them forward. I like to attribute my illegible handwriting to those differences. Naturally, I chose the one vocation where I had to write everything in my student’s notebooks by hand. Someone told me that illegible handwriting is a sign of genius — I’ll take that.
Our money was totally unique, also, initially using pounds, shillings, pence, ha-penny and a farthing (quarter of a penny), with which I could purchase a licorice whip from our school tuck (snack) shop. In music, we used the terms breve, semi-breve, crochet, quaver, and semi-quaver, rather than whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes.
We also had some unique pets growing up. We’d keep silkworms in a shoe box and feed them on mulberry leaves. We’d cut out different cardboard shapes, such as circles, crosses, and hearts, and then, when it was time for them to spin, they would cover those entirely first, and then spin their cocoons.
We also had a pet monkey named Jake. He would climb all over the roof and then drop onto your shoulder as you would walk by. When trying to potty-train him, we would pick him up, swat his butt, and then throw him out the window if he made a mess. Pretty soon, Jake would still make a mess, swat his own backside, and then jump out the window.
I feel so blessed to have had this amazing, multi-cultural childhood. Because of it, I feel God has been able to use me to relate to a much broader swath of society, and they to me.
I’m so grateful He is the master weaver who sees and is perfecting and crafting an exquisite tapestry out of each of our lives, when often all we can see are the knots on the other side.
“We know that all things work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called, according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”
This column is published posthumously with permission from the family. Missionary kid Loretta Beyer grew up in Zimbabwe. After graduating college in the U.S. with a degree in music and psychology, she joined her parents in Alpena, because of terrorist warfare in her African home. Over the last 40 years, she has made Alpena her place of ministry.