Growing Up in a Multicultural Environment

World Culture for Kids at Mama Smiles Joyful Parenting

I have written before about my experience growing up in a multicultural environment as a Third Culture Kid(being raised outside my parents’ culture). Today, Tarana Khan (TK) of Sand In My Toes is here to give her own perspective, as a Third Culture Kid who is raising a Third Culture Child of her own! Thank you, TK!

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My childhood was different from most of my peers because I grew up in a foreign country. Sixteen years of my life were spent in a culture and environment very different from our own. Now, more than a decade later, I find myself raising my son away from home. Life has come a full circle! We live in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is where I grew up and fate has brought me back here as a parent. When I see my son growing up, I cannot help thinking back to my own childhood. It was happy one, mind you, but it was also a bit of a shock when we moved back to India. It took a lot of time and adjustment, mentally and socially, to get used to the new environment. Based on my own experiences, I would like to share the ups and downs of raising a child in another country. Of course, this is a subject which cannot be generalized. It really depends on how the standard of living varies from your home country, how many other nationalities stay there and how close or distant the local culture is from your own.

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For one thing, staying in another country presents an endless stream of opportunities for learning about new languages, cultures and social mores. Children grow up playing with friends that speak differently from them. They get a peek into their homes and lifestyles. As a child, I was fascinated by how differently my friends lived. I got to know at least seven or eight cultures and nationalities around the neighbourhood, and I even picked up a few terms from their languages!

Use the experience to teach your children about these different cultures and encourage them to interact with them by joining in their local festivities, for instance.

By bringing them up in another country, children also develop a greater understanding of co-existence and tolerance of anything new. They are more likely to adapt well to life’s changing situations and are more trusting than suspicious of ‘strangers’. They also develop the wonderful ability to see the world as a global village instead of focusing only on what’s around them. There are also many aspects of other social traditions that you can imbibe in your children. It could be a way of greeting elders, or a way of interacting with people on the street. There’s always something to be inspired by from every culture. For instance, we have learned to show respect to Islamic traditions in the UAE, and even though we also follow the same religion, the interpretations can differ widely based on region.

There are downsides to everything, and one of the things I missed most about growing up abroad was interacting with my extended family. I only got to see my grandparents on vacations and I felt like I was missing out on a lot with my cousins. There’s nothing much you can do about that, except use available technology like Skype to your advantage! Make sure your children know your family members well. Older children can keep in touch through emails and social media.

While there’s much to learn from other cultures, a concern for many parents would be keeping in touch with their own heritage. Sometimes, it can be confusing for young children to identify their own background. If this is important to you, maintain an atmosphere at home as close to one that would be in your own country. Use your own language as far as possible and take part in activities involving others from your country. This is especially important if you plan to move back, as it will make the transition a bit easier when children are already familiar with facets of their own culture.

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Tarana Khan (or just TK!) is mom to a toddler. She loves writing and has done her stints as a copywriter, reporter and content editor, before embracing parenthood full time. She blogs at Sand In My Toes, where you can drop by to read more of her parenting and other adventures! You can also catch up with her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

13 thoughts on “Growing Up in a Multicultural Environment”

  1. I think it’s a wonderful experience to live abroad as an expat or just travel abroad or study abroad. What a wonderful and enriching experience your expat childhood was! Your son is lucky to have the same opportunities!

  2. What a lovely post – I really enjoy hearing the insights of parents who were raised as third culture kids as they give me a glimpse of what the ups and downs may be for my own children. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. This is a lovely post, thank you for sharing your experience as a TCK, now ATCK raising your toddler-TCK. You did experience repatriation twice: once back to your passport country and once back to the country you grew up in. I can imagine how difficult that must have been. I never experienced living in my passport country (and probably never will) but I did experience going back to the country I spent my first 18 years. It did not go back to the same place and I think this made a huge difference. The expectations were different. I totally agree with all the suggestions you give to parents raising TCK’s. I do exactly the same with my kids. Thanks a lot for this beautifully written post!

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