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Homeschooling in a Foreign Land

  • Effie Damianidou Hill Author
  • 2013 7 Jun
Homeschooling in a Foreign Land

We all know that home educating our precious children comes with certain responsibilities: choosing the right curriculum, running the household, teaching, character training, and so on. It’s all part of the package when we respond to this calling. Now, add to all these the unique venture of homeschooling in a foreign country. An entire new set of challenges gets added into the mix. That is the situation in which I found myself a few years ago. My foreign country just happened to be the United States!

I laugh when I think back to my first interaction with a homeschool mom. I was a foreign student still in graduate school when we met. She proudly showed me her attic, which she had turned into a schoolroom. I wondered why someone would have such a room in their house. I assumed it was where the children did their homework; the concept of homeschooling was entirely alien to me.

Fast-forward several years—one marriage to an American, and three children. I had now been living in the U.S. for a total of seventeen years and had heard several accounts from friends about how God had led them to home-educate. This aspect of American culture (like root beer and peanut butter) no longer seemed quite as foreign to me. Although I had developed respect for the decision to teach at home, my husband and I opted for private Christian school. My hesitations, I’m sure, reflected many of the same hesitations others have: Can I do it? Can I stay sane while doing it? What about socialization? Actually, what about my socialization?

I had an additional qualm that spurred some earnest soul and Bible searching: I (unlike all the other homeschoolers I had met) am not American. Could I bring myself to teach these children to spell colour without a u? Horror of horrors! What would my own high school English teachers think?

My husband had encouraged me to home-educate, but he had met with a lot of resistance (from me). I had to figure out if homeschooling was another American Thanksgiving! I loved turkey and stuffing, but I still did not like pumpkin pie.

I decided to go to the Bible and see what it had to say. I saw Deuteronomy 6:6–9 in a new light: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (NIV). How do parents truly obey this command when they are handing their child over to, basically, a stranger for most of the day?

This Scripture was a call to all parents, regardless of culture, and I had a unique opportunity to live out this Scripture. Homeschooling is illegal in my home country of Cyprus. I finally realized the privilege I was being offered and responded with a “yes” to the Lord.

Several other Scriptures also spoke to my heart, verses that transcended culture and addressed child rearing, regardless of geographic boundaries. Proverbs 22:15 states that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (NKJV). So how does one justify placing a bunch of young fools together for most of the day during their formative years, especially in view of 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Bad company corrupts good character” (NIV). We had seen for ourselves the effect of a couple of years of mass schooling, albeit at a private Christian school, on our oldest son.

Still, there were hurdles to overcome. In God’s time, as I would come across a piece of the homeschooling puzzle that did not seem right, He would replace it with one that would fit perfectly. The question of heritage was one such piece. I would of course teach my children their American heritage as well. I loved many things about the U.S. and had an appreciation for its rich history, but there were certain things I simply could not relate to. For example, many American homeschoolers I met spoke at length about their Christian roots and tied it in to their homeschooling journey. What was my heritage? Legend has it that about a mile from the place where I was born, the Apostle Paul received a beating for preaching the Gospel. Hardly something to be proud of, I reasoned. So since I did not have that same rich Christian heritage, how did it all fit together?

It occurred to me that if Paul had indeed received a beating from my countrymen a long time ago, and if great hostility toward Evangelical Christianity is still there, that reality could serve as a good teaching tool for the children. I used it as an opportunity to point out to them how blessed we are to live in a country where we worship freely and do not fear beatings.

On the other hand, in New Testament times not all my countrymen were hostile to the Gospel. What about Barnabas? He was a God-fearing man (Acts 4: 35–37). How could we emulate his faith? He was not a Founding Father of the United States, but he was known for being an encourager—he demonstrated Godly character, which transcends time and countries. How could our family encourage others, as Barnabas did

This personal lesson in “Heritage Studies” emphasized to me that the Lord will reveal what it is that He wants us to glean from our unique backgrounds. God has a plan for all people groups, cultures, and nations, and that plan can be celebrated and lessons can be drawn from it and shared. Once again, I realized that home education is not an American tradition—the United States was merely spearheading obedience to this Biblical mandate. What a privilege, in this country, to have the marvelous opportunity to take this path of life—American-born or not!

Survival Tools of a Foreign Homeschool Mom

1. Faith

Trust and be alert when the Lord speaks to you and your children. Just before officially beginning schooling at home, the Lord spoke this following Scripture to me from Psalm 92:12–15: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him” (NIV). I sensed that the Lord was saying that as the children were planted in the good soil of the home, they would flourish like palm trees. We decided to study palm trees.

2. Humour (or Humor)

There are many instances when a good sense of humor will overcome an obstacle. For instance, I was under the impression that I had lost most of my non-American accent—that is, until we did...spelling. Sometimes, one of the children would get a word wrong due to my pronunciation. I’m a little wiser now. I no longer use a curriculum where there are pre-tests. Better that the child sees the word first!

3. Be Willing to Learn With Your Kids

Some universal subjects, such as math, are often taught differently in other countries. I swallowed my angst and relearned the American way of adding fractions. No harm done, as long as the child can successfully do what is required in the end. In some cases it worked to our advantage, as I knew about a shortcut that was not in the American book.

Some subjects are not universal. I made this discovery quickly! Consider, for example, American history. We bought some books and checked some out from the library, and we had a special time just reading (and learning together) about how this country had been founded. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how rich and interesting it all was.

Then there was phonics. Although I had learned English at a young age, the phonics method had not been included in my education. I had visions of my older two children, who had been taught to read at the Christian school, of being Nobel Prize winners in Literature while the third child sat by, forlorn, because “he was homeschooled from the beginning and his mother never managed to teach him to read.”

I’ve traveled the world, I have a master’s degree in French literature, I’ve studied six languages (and am fluent in four), but...kindergarten phonics still left me weak in the knees. What on earth is the difference between a short and long vowel, I pondered?

I meticulously poured over the A Beka phonics teacher’s manual. It was easier than I thought it would be, but one thing caught me by surprise: how deeply, deeply satisfying it was to teach my child to read. My youngest son read his first sentence to me!

With phonics under my belt, I tackled teaching my son about money. I wondered why a nickel was actually worth less than a dime although a nickel was bigger in size. Thankfully, our first-grader did not question the logic of this discrepancy. Then there were all the Presidents on the money! I didn’t know who they were! Again, the teacher’s manual came to the rescue.

4. Embrace Your Own Culture

Having one or both parents from another culture can really add to the children’s homeschooling experience. There is great value in being exposed to the cultures of other countries. I reminded the children of places we had traveled and tied it in with their schooling. When we studied the ancient world, for example, I showed them the pictures of times when they had played among ancient Greek ruins, trying to guess what all of it was.

I also taught them some deeper spiritual truths. No matter where they live or where they were born (two here, one overseas) we have this in common: we are all descendants of Adam in need of redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Finally, having come to the States in my twenties I could not base my decision to homeschool on how bad or good American public schools were. I had received a stellar public school education overseas. At my school, we began every day with a hymn, prayer, and reading from God’s Word. But it really comes down to a Biblical mandate—the issue is not really about how “good” or “bad” public schooling is as much as it is about this question: “Is it really the government’s (any government’s) job to educate my child?”

5. Focus on What Matters

I firmly believe that homeschooling is a means to fulfill the message proclaimed in Malachi 4:6“He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (NIV). Above all, what I realized is that whether, as a foreigner, I was tackling the non-metric system, the faces of Presidents on bills and coins, the twentieth irregular phonics rule, or the perfect curriculum for did not really matter. Whether I picked the perfect curriculum for spelling (and in this country, there are almost as many choices for this as there are choices for cereal!) it did not matter. The very process of teaching my children myself, and the bonding of the hearts that takes place, is what matters. Why? So that we are all closer as a family? Well, that is a nice benefit. But more than that, homeschooling keeps the soil of our precious children’s hearts more tender and ready to receive the seeds of the Gospel and of God’s Word that we impart to them. May God give all of us grace to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21, ESV).

Effie Hill has lived in the United States for twenty years and cherishes the privilege of homeschooling her three children. She has lived in three other countries but knows that heaven is her true home. She is the author of School to Home: Transitioning to Home Education (Encouragement for the Christian Parent). Contact her at

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: June 7, 2013