Moving your family, whether it is across the country or just across town, is a complicated process. Factor in moving into a whole new culture and you have a recipe for stress! The good news is that for most families, the overseas experience brings many more advantages than disadvantages and exposes you and yours to different ways of looking at the world and its offerings. We become more flexible, more resilient and less judgmental. Preparation, attitude and a sense of adventure go a long way towards keeping our level of stress at a manageable and expected level. childrenTogether-Small

There is no doubt that living overseas brings families, and especially children, a unique set of opportunities ? opportunities for growth, broadening their horizons on so many different levels, meeting and learning about lots of new and different peoples, cultures and regions of the world. Overseas living presents an opportunity for developing new ideas and interest and most importantly, in my humble opinion, it helps them begin to learn to think outside of the box ? the box being themselves!

Robin Pascoe, author of several books on global transitions and how they affect families, marriages and especially children paints an optimistic picture of what globally mobile children have the propensity to grow into. In her latest publication, "Raising Global Nomads", Expatriate Press Limited, 2006, she draws out the following six character traits that generally profile our "global nomads", a term synonymous with TCK:

  • Alert, intelligent and geographically aware
  • Mature, sensitive and skilled at listening
  • Likely to exhibit tolerance and cross-cultural understanding
  • Flexible and open to change
  • High achieving
  • Drawn to careers associated with service to the community or the world

Results of work done by the Global Nomads organization goes even further to suggest that adults who grew up with at least some overseas experience tended to have the following characteristics:

  • Understanding of and comfort with difference
  • Comfort in communicating with adults
  • Careers in international relations and service
  • Being a bystander (refers to the positive way in which they can take stock of a situation and act appropriately)
  • Sense of own history and politics from others' view
  • Language ability
  • Cross-cultural comfort

Parental attitude goes a long way towards paving the road towards a successful relocation with children. An overseas move brings with it an abundance of unknowns. Obviously, the better you have prepared yourself and your family, the fewer unkowns you will end up "reacting" to. The overseas experience is definitely one to be approached with a spirit of adventure. Preparation helps families to be "proactive" rather than "reactive" when coming up against these roadblocks, therefore making the adventure a little less uncomfortable and whole lot more fun.

Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers are without a doubt the most portable of the ages and basically feel safe and secure as long as they: (1) are where their parents or primary caregivers are and (2) where their toys are! Young children are a great social tool that comes in handy when entering a new community. Playgroups can be found virtually anywhere, hence bringing instant commonalities and easy friendships.

School-age Children

Relocating the school-age child brings a few more challenges to the move. Whereas the needs of infants and toddlers revolve mainly round the primary caregiver, older children have ever expanding social needs. Their focus moves from the parents and siblings to the community friends, school, sports teams and interest groups. If a child, or anyone for that matter, feels like s/he is in control of a situation, s/he will feel less stressed. This is why it is so important to not only include your child in the decision whether or not to make the move, but also to include him/her in the moving process.

Teenagers

This is a particularly tough age group to move because their identity formation is still very active and is strongly tied in with their peers. Uprooting them from their identity base and at just the time they are striving towards independence is very tough ? on everyone! Outward anger and acting out are understandable reflexes. Including adolescents in the discussions concerning the move can go a long way in defusing some of the feelings s/he may have about leaving, particularly if there is no real choice in having to relocate. Family discussions which allow and even encourage teenagers to ventilate their fears about leaving their friends and having to move to a new school and make new friends may help in alleviating their anxiety about the situation. Acknowledging these fears and emotions and giving them room to talk about it can help the teenager feel less helpless and better understood. Try to include them, if at all possible in the look-see trip to the new country of assignment and allow them to be part of the process in choosing the new home, neighborhood and school. This is a great time to begin to introduce them to people they will meet again, hopefully including some prospective classmates. Again, if this is not feasible, bring along a video or other camera and take lots of photos.

Keep in mind that adolescence is the prime time for children to seek out independence from their parents. At this age they begin to experiment with their wings, distance themselves from parental control and spend more time with friends, but an international move forces them back into the family sphere partly because they need the support of the family and partly because they have no other choice. This is a recipe for conflict and confusion. Be patient and persevering and look for ways to introduce your teenager to new peers, find ways to pursue their favorite hobbies and sports and perhaps even find some new ones.

As mentioned before, the best time to make the move is at the beginning of the school year when groups are just forming. It has been my personal experience that international schools as compared to local schools in the United States tend to be very welcoming to newcomers. The student population tends to be transitory. As friends come and go, students are eager to build their social circles to reduce the risk of being totally alone should one's best friends relocate yet another time.

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