Growing up Overseas

by Marion Knell
Posted on 1st April 2006

Taking your family overseas provides many benefits, and presents many challenges. The key to maximising the positives and anticipating problems lies in AWARENESS, which comes through good preparation before ever leaving your home country.

"The key to maximising the positives and anticipating problems lies in AWARENESS"

So how can you and your family foster awareness?

At the heart is good communication with your children. If you have older children, it is important to involve them in decision making. Adolescents in particular should have short-term exposure overseas before committing to a long-term project. They need to be aware of what lies ahead - the good, and the difficult and dangerous. The internet has made it much easier to investigate a new destination, along with books and videos.

Children should be allowed to explore and express how they feel about the move. Exploring their identity and being given the opportunity to articulate their responses in creative ways, gives children confidence in change and a sense of their importance in the process.

Parents should know the normal stages of development for children. Stress is an inevitable part of life. Families living overseas need to detect which of their stresses are due to the current situation and which are a normal, healthy part of life - most children go through the terrible twos and adolescence!

Of course, making a cultural transition is stressful in itself, and you need to be aware of what is involved. This includes:
? issues surrounding making appropriate farewells
? dealing with loss,
? taking 'sacred objects' with them,
? learning the norms of the new culture,
? deciding how closely you want to identify with that culture.

The final point in this list, deciding how closely you want to identify with the local culture, will depend on where you decide your priorities lie and the particular issues facing you in your family situation. This will be influenced by the degree to which you want your children to have roots in your 'home' culture. Bear in mind however, that for young children "home" will not be the passport country but will be the one in which they grow up. Maintaining good links with the home culture needs effort.

Children growing up overseas, termed 'Third Culture Kids' (TCKs), face the challenge of rootlessness. Their roots lie in relationships rather than geographical locations. This means that your first priority as husbands and wives is to nourish your own relationship, which provides those roots and a healthy family platform on which your children can depend when all else is in flux.

TCKs have extraordinary flexibility and global understanding. They have great cross-cultural skills, language skills, and maturity. At the same time they may struggle with rootlessness and the pain of frequent partings. We need to be aware of the potential problems whilst affirming the positive aspects. In other words, it's OK to be a TCK!

Marion Knell is author of the book 'Families on the Move' and advises on many issues relating to families and cross-cultural living.