Tag: children

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The space between

I have wanted to write this post for a while. A comment on a previous post made me think about how we – foreigners, expats, global nomads – raise our children; the choices we make with respect to their education; our aspirations, explicit and implicit, for their present and future lives. While we each have our own ideas, methods and child-rearing philosophies, there seems to be a common pattern: many of us want to turn our children into expanded versions of our – international – selves.

We go to great lengths to broaden their horizons; to open their minds to different cultures, people and perspectives; to make them multilingual, multidimensional, multicultural, citizens of the world. We speak to them in our mother tongues and teach them about our native cultures. We travel with them; send them to international schools; hire native speakers as caregivers to teach them their languages; sign them up for immersion camps and exchange years abroad. And this does not only happen in bicultural or multicultural families; I know several couples who come from the same culture, speak the same language and decide to raise their children bilingually.
We make all these efforts to equip our children with their world citizen identity, knowing that at the same time, we are pulling them further and further away from any
specific cultural identity. They will learn to embrace our home cultures, but will never be native in any of them, since they will not have lived in them. They will travel and live in many different places and the world will be their oyster but where exactly will be their place in that world? Like us, our children will be neither here nor there. They will inhabit an intermediate space: the transitional, the “almost home,” but not really. They will be foreigners like us, only an enhanced version.
The paradox is that we raise them to be perpetual foreigners even though we struggle with our own foreignness. Why do we set them up for that kind of life? Do we recognise benefits for them that outweigh the challenges and adversity that
they will confront?
Absolutely. We actually want them to have that life – our life. We want them to experience the richness, the stimulation, the
excitement. They may often feel like foreigners, but what they will have seen and learned and experienced will make up for that – in our book. They may feel homeless and rootless sometimes, but only in conventional terms. Essentially, they can always be at home, because their concept of home will become deeper and much more portable. And yes, they will get lonely and miss their friends, who will be spread out all over the world, but their life will be richer because of those friends.
That said, they didn’t choose this life. What if, at some point in the future, they turn around and tell us that they would rather have lived in one place, put down roots in one
community and made lifelong friends? What will we tell them then? Most of us just
keep hoping that moment will never come.

Closing doors

 

When one door closes, another opens…right? I hadn’t known that the famous quote from Alexander Graham Bell goes on to add: “…but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Being able to close some doors and open others, to look ahead and not back should be key skills to have when one leads the nomadic life. Isn’t that a large part of what we do when we move constantly from one place to the next – dismantle our existence and
rebuild it, in a slightly different way, somewhere else; close one door and open another?
Does this mean that all of us who choose the mobile life have what it takes – namely the ability to let go and move on in absolute smoothness? Is there hope for those of us who are not naturals and find it extremely difficult to close doors – despite being excited about the ones that open? Even though we do get better at it with every move, it is always hard. And painful. Sometimes heart-breaking.
It helps not to see it in absolute terms. Yes, we should be getting better at closing doors, but we don’t need to close them all the way. We should be developing our proficiency to
bravely and skilfully move on to a new life, but there are elements of our previous life that have become part of our identity and make us who we are. We don’t close the door to those the same way that we don’t close the door to the people from our various past lives. That makes it easier – at least when you are an adult and can reason that way.
It’s different for kids. They see things in much more absolute terms. They don’t think in terms of the big picture.
When we left Vienna last summer, we were not sure how long we would be away, so we asked the schools to “reserve” spots for our children for
another year, in case we came back. That year has passed and yesterday we had to officially give up those places. As happy as I am with our new life here and all the new doors that it has opened, it still felt strange to close the last “old” door that was still open.
I’m not sure how the children will react when we tell them. They could see this as a sign of stability in their new life; less uncertainty. But it could also be that, in the back of their mind, those reserved spots were a silent promise that they could always go back; a secret outlet for when they were not too happy with their life here. Do we take away that outlet? Or do we wait until the excitement about the new doors becomes more powerful than the regret about the ones that are now closed? Even if, in the grand scheme of things, they are not really closed.

New Kids on the Block

 

When it comes to how children adjust after a major transition (such as a move), school is a major playing field. It is at the centre of their lives, not least because they spend the biggest part of their days there. School also is their main social habitat. It’s where most of their friends come from, at least in the beginning. What happens at school often “spills over” to the rest of their lives. If they feel comfortable and integrated in their new school, that usually helps them do the same in other areas; if they struggle there, it taints their whole experience (not to mention their parents’).
The first day of school for my two older children, or rather their first week, was one of the most stressful times of our move to Switzerland – for me. I was nervous for them. Would they like it? Would the other kids be nice to them? Would they fit in and be accepted? I was most worried about them feeling awkward and lonely.
I still have vivid memories of what going to a new school felt like – from my own moves. Even though I was very young at the time, I distinctly remember the feeling of being the new kid in class, the odd-one-out, all these – thankfully brief – moments in the beginning that I would happily have skipped. I would rather my children did not have to hang out by themselves during break; sit alone at lunch; not have a partner for those first group projects. I would rather they’d skipped those moments, even if they are a necessary part of adjustment; even if they are a rite of passage that will make them stronger and more resilient. Of course, there was absolutely nothing I could have done to spare them that. They had to manage on their own and they did a decent job, as far as I can tell.
But they have changed in the past few months. My older son has become much more independent and responsible, but also more irritable, short-tempered, stressed and, in his own words, lonelier than he was back in Vienna. My daughter, always bubbly and larger than life, has become more subdued. She spends much more time by herself than she used to. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she’s lost her
spunk.
Most of these changes are subtle. Sometimes they are able to express how they feel, sometimes I have to dig deep to get them to formulate what bothers them. I’m sure some of those changes have to do with them growing up, but isn’t it a strange coincidence that they should all happen now? And, more important, are they just transition pains or are they here to stay?
Were you ever the new kid at school? Did you like it or hate it? How did your kids cope with it?