Benefits & Challenges of Raising Children AbroadDavid Bozetarnik
I have two children. I am from the U.S., while their mother is from Sri Lanka. Having parents from two different countries, while growing up in yet another, produces a unique phenomenon called Third Culture Kids (or TCK). Depending on how much the family moves, it can be more than just a third culture. Attending international schools like most expat dependents do, children are immersed in a world where multiple languages and cultures are the daily norm. One lives in a world where race, colour and religion are not even noticed. Each classroom, every school event is a mini United Nations, and children benefit from this exposure. In a time when the world witnesses one international crisis after another, for the dependent expat, it’s like “What’s the problem?” I take it as a given that one is not born to hate; THAT has to be taught. Interacting with others of so many different cultures injects a type of cross-cultural antibody into the child, giving an immunity to that which seems to afflict many others today. It is very hard to hate those who one knows and gets along with. Should my children decide to eventually live in either the U.S. or Sri Lanka, they will be able to share with others the fruits of their multicultural experiences.
One of the downsides to this nomadic lifestyle is that after a lengthy time abroad, returning to one’s roots can present a challenging cross-cultural re-entry. What was once “familiar” now feels foreign. As long as the children have maintained a healthy relationship with their home country, or home countries, the effects will not be as severe or as long lasting, but it will for a time be acute.
However, I feel that the benefits do outweigh the negatives, so long as one has provided their children with strong enough C1 (and C2 in my case) cultural reference points, and a good “compass” by which to steer. Too many of today’s conflicts exist because the different sides can’t, or refuse to, acknowledge the goodness that is in others. Granted, there is good and bad wherever one goes, but those who do not travel or get to know people from other countries and cultures only see the bad. Children who have had the benefit of an international upbringing accept that there is goodness in all as a given, helping to bring “balance to the Force,” as they say in Star Wars. In so doing, perhaps they will not change the world, but at least will help to do so in their own little corner of it.