Are you raising your kids in a country that is different from the one you are from? Thinking of moving to a new country? Envious of blog friends living in different countries? Curious about what this life would be like, but thoroughly content with your own? I was raised in five different countries. This is my take on life as a third culture kid.
Living in foreign countries is an opportunity and privilege.
This is the reaction I get from most people who know about my childhood – and they are absolutely right. The person that I am today would not exist without my father taking a career that moved his family from country to country – and continent to continent. I gained perspective and understanding in a way that would not have been possible had we stayed in the small, farm-oriented community I was born into.
Opportunity comes at a cost.
There are books and movies about kids dying to get out of small town life, but as a globe-trotting child the sameness of that lifestyle was very appealing. It was bittersweet to hear my husband’s kindergarten friend roast him at our wedding reception – no one has ever lived in the same country as me for more than a few years at a time. It’s kind of nice to not have people around reminding me of my more awkward years, but sometimes I wish there were friends who had seen both the bad years and the good. The internet has at least made it possible to stay in touch with a few friends, and since moving to Boston I have actually been able to meet up with friends from high school – pretty amazing, considering I went to high school in Austria.
Life gets confusing.
I still don’t know how to answer the question, “Where are you from?” My passport says American, but there are aspects of American culture that I find confusing – and I know this is true for many third culture kids. In my case, the disconnect with my “home” culture was heightened by the fact that my family never had a television and, where possible, my parents sent us to local schools so that I was literally cut off from American culture for much of my childhood.
Kids adapt, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I am always a little bit frustrated when I hear people talk about how flexible and adaptive children are. Yes, kids adapt, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. If you are taking your child to a foreign country, by all means appreciate their flexibility, but also understand that it may not be as straightforward for them as it appears.
Family is important.
For me, moving around brought me closer to my family. They are the ones who have seen the entire trajectory of my life, and I know they will be there for me – even if sometimes “there” means a Google+ hangout or phone call instead of the in-person presence I would love.
Use storytelling and family traditions to give your child roots.
When you move all the time, or even if you aren’t moving but live outside of your family’s original culture, it’s easy to feel confused about your identity. Family traditions and telling family stories helped me gain a strong sense of self, even when my surroundings were constantly changing.
Moving teaches flexibility and tolerance.
Having to move every few years taught me to focus on things that truly matter, and to make the most of where I am at any given moment. Being exposed to different cultures taught me not to throw out an idea or tradition just because it didn’t make sense to me at first glance. These skills have served me well in adulthood!
The benefits carry through to the next generation.
I feel that my kids have really benefited from my global childhood. The world is starting off as a smaller place for them. I can see this in Mike as well – his dad was raised as a third culture kid, and I think this connection helped Mike and I “click” when we first met.
Did you move around as a kid? Are your kids living in a different country from the one their passport is labeled with? Would you raise your kids in several countries, given the opportunity?