03 April 2013

Reflecting On An Expat Upbringing


Due to an overwhelming response on my post 'Where Are You From?',
I decided to write a follow-up from a different angle


Handmade by Jane Foster


Wondering how my children may reflect upon living abroad,
I posed questions to four American expat moms who lived in foreign countries
when they were younger

Here's a quick introduction to these 4 lovely ladies
who took the time to answer my questions (thank you!):

Between the ages of 4 to 18, Miss C grew up in four European countries
Now a busy mom of 4, she is fluent in French, and her husband is German
They live in England

Meet Miss S who lived in Brazil for four years when she was little
and moved to Japan during her teenage years
She has two kiddos and a South African husband
With US/UK dual citizenship, Miss 'S' has lived in England for 8 years

Miss G spent one year living in Oxford, England as a teenager
She, her husband, and 2 children recently moved from Ethiopia to India

Miss L spent two of her teenage years in Costa Rica
Now a mom of 3 children, she lives in England

Here's a few of my 'wonders', and their responses:

While you lived abroad as a child, what did you think of the experience at the time?

Miss C: Once in an international school system, you get used to kids coming and going. Therefore, our moving every few years was the norm as everyone else was doing it too. However, that doesn't mean I didn't cry my eyes out when we left Switzerland and Belgium, but the adjustment was quick and easy once our new school began. 

Miss S: We were in Brazil when I was 2 - 6 years old, so I didn't know I was an expat. I knew and understood we were different and lived far from family. I remember my mom stocking up on all the things she couldn't get in Brazil. There were no limits on weight and number of suitcases, so we literally traveled with 12 huge suitcases. At the time there weren't many toddlers on planes, so we received lots of attention. Whenever we left for Brazil at the end of the summer, my extended family would cry hysterically as they waved goodbye. From our point of view, we were off for another year of adventure.

When I was 13 years old and living in the US, my parents told my sister and me that we were moving to Tokyo. I cried and tried to convince them to let me stay behind with my best friend. I didn't want to leave my American school or friends. But my sister and I quickly found friends at our new school in Japan. Since all expats have been new at one time, they all know what it's like and were quick to introduce us to other people and give us pointers. We stayed for two years, and boy, did I cry when we had to leave Japan! 


iPhone case by Arete on Etsy


Miss G: I was very excited for the adventure and eager to try something new but living in England for that one year turned out to be a difficult experience for me. The girls in my all-girls school weren't very nice to me for at least half the year. I was one of only two foreigners in my grade, and it wasn't cool to be an outsider. My mom worked very hard to keep me happy, including taking me out of school often and going on little trips with her. 

Miss L:  It was really difficult for me to move to Costa Rica, as I was about to start high school. But it was a great experience, and for the most part, I really enjoyed it. The down side for me was that I attended a very small international school (the only English-speaking one in the area), and there were very few extracurricular activities there. We only had about 30 students per grade. Back in the US, I had been very involved in a variety of sports and choirs, plus a lot of church and social activities, and there wasn't much of that in Costa Rica. There were no sports for girls, and I was in the only choir in the school, which was very mediocre. 

Also, because it was an international school, we were very spread apart, so getting to other friends' houses was challenging. None of us were old enough to have a driver's license, but we did find ways to get around and do things. We had great monthly dances, which were a lot of fun, and I found a phenomenal jazz dance class outside the school where I went 3 days a week, so that improved things a lot.

Now through adult eyes, what do you think about your time abroad when you were a child?

Miss C: I absolutely loved it; it's an experience I wish everyone could have. As a child, one doesn't fully understand the scope of it, but as an adult one realizes how fortunate and lucky one was. Children who have these experiences, especially in high school, create bonds that last a lifetime. I'm very close with my high school friends as we share such a unique experience.

Miss S: I think my experience abroad made me the person I am today. Of course there were days that were challenging, but overall I learned a lot, including to laugh more, to ask for help when lost, and to appreciate people of different cultures. 

However, I quickly lost touch with what was happening back home. I didn't get their jokes as much, I wore different clothes, I didn't know the TV shows, and I picked up mannerisms and inflections that made me seem different to them. Some people incorrectly took it that I was leaving my past behind or acting stuck up.


Vintage art by Cirque De Art


Miss G: It was a great experience for our little family - being abroad pulls a family together and forces you to really lean on each other because you don’t have friends and other family around to go to. It was likely a pretty challenging year for my mom, as one of her four kids (me!) wasn't very happy, and I’m sure it took a lot out of her to work with me. The only real disadvantage I can see is that coming back into my old school was a bit rocky. My US school didn't really know how to judge all the different classes I took in England, and I think I ended up a bit behind in the US system. In the long run, it didn't matter at all.

Miss L: As an adult, I see it as a fantastic experience. I learned to speak Spanish fluently, and it certainly broadened my perspective in major ways. Our church asked my dad to oversee the missionary work for our church in Costa Rica and Panama (he left his career for two years to do it), so we traveled a lot to tiny and remote parts of Costa Rica, Panama, and even Guatemala, and I got to experience life outside the sheltered expat community. I saw poverty and different cultures that I had never experienced in the US, and I also met a lot of great people and families who, in so many ways, were a lot like me. 

How did the experience change you?

Miss C: It made me more versatile, flexible, accepting, and open minded to cultures, religions, and people - not just because of the schools I attended, but also from the travel that went along with living abroad.

Miss S: I don't know if it changed me, it's just me. I just lived my life and happened to be living in a foreign country. My first experience abroad was when I was so little, so it has always been a part of me. 

It is easy for me to talk to people from other countries, as I'm curious about them and what it's like to live in their country. Perhaps my experience made me marry my husband - he's British but born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa. I think we connected because we both lived in other countries as kids. We like to joke that even though we are both white, our kids are 'African American'.


For sale by Evka Photography on Etsy


Miss G: Even though it was a rough year, I learned I could survive. I could handle being the new kid and manage new situations. I liked all the stimulation of being in a place that was new to me and sort of got “the travel bug” from this time abroad. I also learned that there are other ways of doing things and living. The American ways of doing things were just ONE way, not the only way. This excited my imagination. You could say, the experience opened my eyes to the greater world around me.

Miss L:  My school in Costa Rica was extremely rigorous academically, so I received a great education and learned how to be a successful student.  It also helped me feel entirely comfortable in foreign, non-English speaking countries, and it created in me a desire to travel and see more of the world.

Describe what it was like when you 'repatriated' (returned home)

Miss C: I went back to the US for college, which is a new beginning for everyone, so it's hard for me to answer. Any transition period I had had more to do with being at a university than being back in the US. I was excited to live in the US and learn more about the country I was from. To me, the norm had always been to be viewed as a "foreigner", the one speaking English in a non-English speaking country. To be in the US and viewed as a ''native'' was a strange concept to me, and still is. To this day, I absolutely hate the question "where are you from" as I don't have a good, or short, answer. So I tailor my answer depending on who asked the question :-)

Miss S: I was 6 when we moved back to NY from Brazil, and I can recall going to 1st grade and telling people where I moved from. None of the kids knew what Brazil was but then again they probably didn't know New Jersey either. I remember someone asking me if Brazil was a cookie? I have no idea why, but that always stuck with me.  

You quickly learn that while the experience of living abroad is so dear to you, no one else really cares. My mom always tells the story that when we moved back after 4 incredibly exciting years which included amazing trips, her friends only wanted to talk about their new Mr. Coffee machines which were all the rage in 1978!  It was quite a shock and I guess that's what leads to "reverse homesickness". She quickly learned to keep her stories to herself, but we would retell them over and over at family dinners.


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Miss G: I remember feeling a bit disappointed and bored. I felt I had changed in so many ways and really grown, but everything at home seemed exactly the same.

Miss L: It was definitely an adjustment moving back to the US. Part of it was because I went to a different high school than the majority of friends I grew up with in elementary and junior high school, so it was almost like moving to a new place socially. I also had changed and grown in so many ways, but it seemed as if so many of the kids in the US were just the same. That said, I was thrilled to be back in a school where I had so many opportunities outside of academics, and I quickly got involved in a lot of things. I was really glad I had both experiences in high school. 


I find these insights to be incredibly fascinating,
giving a broad spectrum of emotions and perspective

Did they wish an expat life for their families?
What advice do they have for expat parents?

Answers revealed in the next post :)

(an unsponsored post)

Related posts:
Where Are You From?
Raising Second Generation Expats

11 comments:

Anna-Marie Field said...

Hi There, Fascinating!!! Can't wait for your next post!!!
Love
AMarie

Rosemary said...

I found this really interesting to read in particular because two of my grandchildren are at an International School in Norway having attended an International School previously in Paris. They are both very confident young girls speaking French and Norwegian and have a wide worldly view. We wonder where they may be off to this summer?

greenthumb said...

Very interesting post, I really enjoyed reading it.

Vintage Sheet Addict said...

So interesting, personally I think experiencing other cultures broadens your mind, I've travelled lots but never actually lived anywhere else, how exciting things were for them! :) x

Caffy Bundy said...

fascinating!

I'm english, my fiance is dutch... we are currently living in Ireland...

I am pregnant!

I am hoping my child will have an international outlook from the start. I never had such a thing until I met my hubby-to-be

Lots of love

Caffy Bundana
@ http://www.bundana.blogspot.ie

Pom Pom said...

So interesting!
Thanks for sharing their stories!

Jeanie said...

What a fascinating post. I always am intrigued by the stories of those who live outside of their homeland. The expansion of experiences available is amazing. I wish I'd had the opportunity to try it.

Privet and Holly said...

Laura, so, so interesting!
My hubby said there are
possible opportunities
for him in Europe, but I
don't think we'll do that
to William, who starts
high school next year.
I know how hard it is
from my own experience
to move domestically.
If he were younger, that
would be a game changer,
for sure!

Hugs,
xo Suzanne

GardenofDaisies said...

OH wow, this was a very interesting post for me to read. I can relate to everything that these gals have said. I am an American who lived in Canada and Brazil for most of my childhood. Now I'm heading back to read the previous post about "where am I from?".

Down by the sea said...

I spent much of my childhood in Germany and wouldn't have changed it. I does give you a different outlook and understanding of other nationalities and their customs. It gave me the opportunity of visiting many other countries in Europe too. A part of my heart will always remain in the country I view as my second home!
Sarah x

A Cat From London said...

Interesting post about expat lifes. And loved these cat cushions!