I’ve met people who, on hearing about all the countries my family have lived in, suggest that I should be worried that our children are doomed to an adult life spent in therapy to recover from their peripatetic childhoods. In reality the things my husband and I worry about for our children are no different than they things that most people worry about: Are they happy? Are they doing well in school? Are they spending time with people who influence them positively? and so on. (If you are reading this, you are probably a parent so you know the drill!).
I have no doubt that their experiences are shaping them as individuals who are fundamentally different than they would have been if they were growing up solely in either of their passport countries.Here are some of the traits that they have acquired which I believe will positively influence the way they contribute to the world as adults
1. They are building resilience -they are being supported by family, friends, and their school environments in learning to use their internal emotional resources to navigate the trials of moving, making new friends and adapting to new schools. They have learned ways of accommodating change, disruption and adversity that they can apply throughout their lives in a world that is constantly changing.
2. They are adaptable – our children have travelled all over the world. They are comfortable in a wide variety of situations; they make new friends easily and pick up with old friends in minutes (even when they haven’t seen each other in years). They quickly become comfortable in new surroundings and work out solutions when they are not sure how to deal with new challenges.
3. They have a broad worldview – having lived in several countries, they understand that different cultures view life from different perspectives. Their understanding of issues such as poverty in the developing world is less abstract because they have seen it first hand. They have a more expansive interest in world events than their peers who have never moved, though sometimes that comes at the expense of knowing about their passport countries. My 9 year old could speak with some authority on the geopolitics of the Ivory Coast (after and Integrated Learning Theme on Chocolate at school) but could not tell you who was Prime Minister in either of his passport countries at the time.
4. They are confident – they are used to new situations so they are confident in dealing with new circumstances. Although I’ve never let them try it, I’m sure they could confidently find their way around public transportation in a new city and they will go to sports classes where they might not even speak the language of instruction and will not be perturbed by it. Like many expat kids, they’ve spent a lot of time with adults, they are when conversing with adults or expressing their opinions to adults.
5. They don’t see differences – our children go to a school whose student body comprises anywhere from 60 to 70 nationalities in a given year. Everyone is different, so no one is different. The children who have led more internationally mobile lives tend to look for the things that give them common bonds and they ignore differences.
Lest I sound smug I want to be clear that it’s not all roses in the garden. There are some significant challenges that are part and parcel of an internationally mobile childhood and those will be the subject of my next column.
If you are thinking about relocating with children or if you simply want to learn more about children in expat life, there are several excellent books that will help you.
“Third Culture Kids; The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds” David C. Pollock and Ruth E. van Reken
“Raising Global Nomads; Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World” Robin Pascoe
“Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child; practical storytelling techniques that will “strengthen the global family” Julia Simens
Unrooted Childhoods; Memoirs of Growing Up Global” Faith Eidsel and Nina Sichel
Evelyn Simpson is a personal development coach who works with the accompanying partners of expats helping them to transition to expat life and to find happiness and fulfilment in their lives overseas. Evelyn has spent almost all of her adult life living as an expat on 3 continents and in 5 countries. She’s been a working expat, an accompanying partner and has founded her own portable business, The Smart Expat, while overseas. Evelyn and her Australian husband have two children who have yet to live in either of their passport countries.
You can learn more about Evelyn and her work at www.thesmartexpat.com where she blogs regularly about expat life.