Recently, I sat with a young friend over tea. She and her husband are moving overseas in a few months with their precious baby girl. As she shared her thoughts, fears and excitement, the memories of our first overseas move with children began to flood back.
I remembered trying to pack clothes for our little girl for the following 4 years; imagining how tall this one-year old would be by the time we returned, and buying every size of sandals she could possibly grow into. Then, as we left France for Africa after two years of language school and, having added a son to our family, figuring out how to get him to swallow the rancid tasting anti-malarial medicine. And my fears of what would happen if he didn’t. I remembered wondering if they would ever adjust to jet lag or each new home we lived in.
My friend is pondering what moving overseas will mean to her children; what they will gain and what they might lose. In those early days, I asked myself the same questions. Now, as my children have grown to be adult TCK (Third Culture Kids) blending aspects of their passport culture and the cultures in which they have lived, I realize that there have been so many things that they have gained and some they have lost in their journey. Here are just a few that come to mind:
- They learned to love to travel and to experience other cultures. They gained a vision for a much bigger world than they would have if we had never left. As adults, each of my children have chosen to study abroad, teach abroad or work abroad. And as parents, they purposely introduce their children to ethnic food and music and teach them the geography and history of the world.
- They learned to love maps and the places and people they represent. With a grin, they say; “I’ve been there” or “do you remember my friend from there?”
- They learned not to fear others who are different than them. As children they had friends from many different countries. And they experienced what it was to “be” the one who was different from the dominate culture.
- They learned to embrace a new language and sympathize with those struggling to learn. When my daughter began first grade in France she spoke no French and on her first day she cried so much that she fell asleep in class. Her distress caused a group of girls to gather around her and become her friends. After that rough start, she became fluent in a much quicker time than we thought possible.
- They learned that they belong to a global tribe of TCKs regardless of where they had lived! When my oldest son came home for Christmas after his first semester of university, he wanted a French flag to hang outside his dorm room. It was the TCK thing to do at his school.
- They learned how hard it is to come “home” to a culture they didn’t understand. Although they spoke English, they didn’t “speak” American culture. Years later, there are still gaps in their experience of popular culture and the blank looks they get on their faces are quite entertaining to their friends and spouses. This gives them an understanding of and compassion of what it means to be an outsider within a culture.
- Like all families, our family’s journey is unique and they learned to embrace our stories and our memories. Even the disasters tell a story of their own. They can’t wait to share their “other” home with those they love. We are planning our first family trip back to France so that they can finally show their spouses and children the places they loved growing up.
- They learned that you can love two places or more at the same time and that no matter where you currently are, you miss the other and that it is completely normal!
As a parent and as someone who lived overseas with my children, I love these things about them and their experience living overseas.
But I’ve also learned not to be offended if my children do not always relate well to their passport culture and can be critical of things I might still hold dear in that culture. They are not parents of TCKs—they are TCKs and their viewpoint is unique and important. Yes, there are losses to moving overseas with your children, but there are also valuable, life-changing things to be gained.
About the Author: Barb is the IDEAS Director of Community Life and raised four children in Cote d' Ivoire, France and the US. All four children are now healthy, thriving adults. For other posts written by Barb, check out : Successful Travel Begins with Your Attitude.