The joys of being an expat child

I realize that my last couple of posts may have been
a bit “dark” with respect to the impact of international moves on children –
both when I refer to my own concerns related to our upcoming move and to the scientific
literature available. This is by no means the whole story. Although the
experience of moving between countries and cultures is challenging and
demanding, particularly for children, it also can be positively life-changing and
incredibly rewarding.  This “other” side of
moving also deserves proper attention.

Interestingly, a large part of the literature focuses
a) on the different ways children suffer from international moves; b) on early
warning signs for parents; and c) on strategies that parents can use to help
their children cope with the practical and emotional challenges linked to moving.
There is, however, significant research on the positive side of moving and a
lot of it resonates with my experience and with the stories others have shared
with me. Below are some key benefits of being a “global nomad.”

First, moving around helps children develop “cross-cultural skills,” which include:

Ø  Adaptability and flexibility.
Children develop a high capacity to adapt to new situations and environments,
values, attitudes, behaviors. They become increasingly resilient over time, as
they master transition and change.

Ø  Strong observation skills.
In order to survive in new environments, they often need to observe carefully
and try to understand the reasons behind behavior and the unwritten cultural
and social rules.

Ø  Cultural awareness and international
. These come from learning that people view life
from different philosophical, cultural, political etc. perspectives, as well as
from experiencing that multidimensional
life first-hand. Children learn to understand and appreciate multiple cultures
and behaviors instead of becoming frustrated with the differences.

Ø  Tolerance.
This comes as a result of cultural awareness and the ability to get to know
people from diverse backgrounds – as friends, not just as acquaintances.

Other potential benefits of international moves

Ø  Maturity
– Studies show that children who move around a lot tend to be more mature compared
to their peers. Being successful in making new friends, adjusting to a new
school, finding their way around the public transport system gives them a
certain degree of confidence and self-reliance. They know that, given enough
time, they will manage in a new situation, as they have in the past.

Ø  Linguistic proficiency
– The ability to think and express oneself in multiple languages not only makes
life and communication easier, but it also sharpens thinking and academic skills
in general. Not to mention the obvious career advantages in a global professional

Ø  Strong social skills
– These are a necessity for survival. Moving around, they must learn to forge
relationships with all kinds of people – fast.

Ø  An international community of
– They learn to move among different worlds,
cultures, and interact comfortably with people of all ages and cultures.

Ø  Professional strengths,
which derive from some of these skills, for example:

–        Problem-solving skills, resourcefulness,
even in unstructured environments, and an ability to “think outside the box” – because
they’ve had to do it so often.

–        Cross-cultural skills, such as the ability
to detect complexity and subtle differences and to build bridges between
different groups of people, which are valuable in today’s international work

So there you go; enough arguments to sedate the moving parent’s guilt!

Looking forward to your comments.

I recommend the following books if you want to read more on all that:The classic Third
Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds
by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van
Reken (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2009); and

Linda Brimm’s, Global
Cosmopolitans: The Creative Edge of Difference
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), which
provides an interesting perspective on how “global cosmopolitans” – as the
author calls them – possess unique strengths in today’s globalized business environment.

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