Ever wonder what it would be like to live abroad with your family?
In my last post
I interviewed four American expat moms
who described what it was really like
to live in a foreign country when they were kids
to live in a foreign country when they were kids
Next I posed the question
'Did you want to raise your children abroad?'
Here are their responses
Miss C (Raised in 4 European countries, now in England): Absolutely!! It's a gift that they, once they are adults, will fully appreciate and treasure for the rest of their lives.
Miss S (Brazil as a child, Japan as a teen, now in England): I didn't have a preference per se but my husband and I knew if the opportunity arose, we certainly would consider it. I'm glad my kids live abroad now. It makes them different. They are truly citizens of the world. They have family in Africa and America, and they live in England - but to them that's normal. How crazy is that?!
Miss G (England as teenager, now in India): I absolutely wanted my kids to live abroad, and longer than I got to. I came away from my own experience thinking that living abroad was an essential part of a person’s education in life.
Miss L (Costa Rica as teen, now in England): Both my husband and I were eager to live abroad with our children. Because of my experiences in Costa Rica, I saw the benefits of living abroad, but I also hoped to move where there would be a lot of activities for our children - our current school and England certainly provide that.
What insights or advice would you have for parents new to the expat life?
What words of wisdom would you have for their kids?
Miss C: Don't try to live your "old life" in your new location. Open yourself up to your new culture and embrace it, experience it. Expose your children to as much as you can - make them realize that the world is vast and interesting.
Miss S: Laugh. Things will go wrong. If you're lucky to know the language where you are an expat, there are still nuances, jokes, sayings, signs, measurements, and mannerisms that are different. Ask questions. You're a foreigner and people know it. Usually, people are willing to explain things and if you say something silly or out of place, just blame it on your ignorance because you're new!
When we first moved to Brazil, my mom would go to the supermarket and try to speak Portuguese. She wasn't very good at it, and she only knew whole numbers. When she asked for cheese at the cheese counter, she only knew how to say "1" so she would come home with 1 kilo of cheese. That's 2.2 pounds! I did something similar when I first moved to London and ordered groceries online. I got my gallons and litres mixed up and ended up with about 4 gallons of milk in my first order. That's about 15 litres of milk! Whoops.
For the kids - you're never the 'new kid' for long in an expat community. Once you start feeling like you've got it, look around for someone who isn't quite there yet. They will be eternally grateful just as you would have been if someone helped you in your early days.
Miss G: It’s harder to live abroad than at home, harder and richer. In other words, it takes work, but it’s worth it. As a mom, my primary concern is getting the kids settled, and I think it’s really helpful if one parent can focus on just the kids for the first 6 months of a move. Setting them up to be comfortable and with activities they like and one or two friends before you start your job (if you have one) will make the rest of your stay much more comfortable.
I have tried to be lenient with my kids as moving and being someplace new is stressful for them too - I try to allow them extra treats (an ice cream now and then when you don’t have a friend yet really CAN help!) and lots of listening to them and playing with them. Remembering that they are nervous or homesick or stressed just like you are can help focus your energies on helping them through it. One specific trick that has worked for us: one of my two kids doesn't like change and we have found that keeping his room roughly the same wherever we go makes a huge difference to him. It’s a kind of familiarity that we can provide – when all else is novel.
We also have found that a lot of preparation before you move can really help the kids. I found YouTube videos of the cities we were moving to, to show the kids what it would look like, and we watched together, focusing on things we couldn't wait to see for ourselves or try. We bought coffee table books with big bright pictures of the towns and cities, books of the local folklore and children’s stories also helped engage them. We also had the opportunity to take photos of their new schools (and some of the teachers and kids!) to bring back for the kids to see. Our kids really poured over all this before we moved them and they knew, to some degree, what to expect when we left the airport.
I have found this sort of preparation helps us a lot on our travels as well. Since we've been living abroad (Ethiopia & India), we've taken our kids on vacations to 10 different countries. To engage them before we go, we talk about where we’re going and what we’ll see and do and eat; buy activity and story books when possible (there are great ones for Egypt and China) and make playdoh structures out of the amazing buildings we will visit. After a kid has tried to build the Eiffel Tower out of playdoh, he is even more excited to try to climb to the top when you’re actually there. Putting in the prep time with the kids BEFORE we move or travel has really engaged them and made our travels a lot more fun.
Miss L: Before moving here, we moved quite a bit in the US, and I quickly learned that no matter where you live, there will be things you don't like very much and things that you absolutely love. And that is certainly true to living abroad, only on a bigger scale. But we've always said, "Just focus on the things you love", and that always seems to work. There is definitely an adjustment period to any move. It takes a while to figure out things and to find your niche socially, but it always gets easier and better as time goes on.
I would suggest getting involved as much as possible because you'll enjoy it even more. We absolutely love our school - it keeps us very busy and productive - but some of the things we enjoy most are the local activities (sports, church, our British neighbours). My boys have been really happy here, almost immediately, and I keep telling them, "You've learned that you can be happy anywhere". It's a good skill and a good mindset for them to develop.
Anything else you would like to share?
Miss S: I think if you live abroad it's really important (and a lot easier) if you have a safety net. We always went with a big corporation who looked after us, took care of all the logistics, schools, housing, gave us trips home, etc. Living abroad without that safety net can be very difficult. If anything really bad happened, we knew we had a way "out" and would be taken care of.
Miss G: I have been amazed how clearly my kids mimic my husband’s and my feelings about a move (or a trip). If I am excited and happy about it, then they are too. If I am nervous and homesick and feel out of control, then they will follow suit. Putting your most positive attitude into this adventure will come right back to you. Finally, having the opportunity to live abroad with your kids is a special privilege, and I would encourage anyone interested to embrace the adventure!
Wow! I love all the wonderful insights
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all my questions, girls!
Great tips for vacationing with kids (love the playdoh idea, Miss G!)
and loads of good advice for families moving anywhere, not just abroad
Plus just a lot of sound advice for raising a family
- all photos by me -
- all photos by me -