Thursday, 18 April 2013

Sharing Our Roots - an interview with Britt Breu

In the third post of this series American expat Britt Breu shares her views on passing on her birth country culture with her children. Britt currently lives in South Africa with her German born husband and her two children who in turn were born in England and Germany.

Photo Credit: Stephen J. Sullivan
Both of Britt's children have dual nationality (American and German) and it was a decision that the couple took to open up the world to their children.

"Initially it was important to me that both have the choice of where to later study and live. Now, I believe it will enable them to. move more freely about the globe," says Britt.

Britt not only believes that her children should know about the countries she and their father were born in, but also any country they call home along the way even if it is temporarily. Britt explains why,

"I believe it is important for my kids to know about where they were born, where they currently live and the counties of which they are citizens. All of these things influence who they are and are a part of their heritage in my eyes, even if we are or were only guests. It will allow them to be more flexible and allow for greater tolerance of others later down the road."

Like Charlie and Vinita, Britt uses media extensively to share American culture with her children. She reads American books to them and plays children's music from the States with them. She also makes sure to talk about topical events with them. She explains further,

"I talk about American current events that a three year old can relate to and understand - not how the Democrats took the Senate but weather phenomena like Sandy,  and about seasons (since we are now in another hemisphere) and American holidays. I will definitely talk about politics and history when both are a bit older, as well as show them my absentee ballots when voting".

Family back in America and Germany also play an important role in sharing the culture of those countries with Britt's children. Through Skype the children hear about every day life in the USA and Germany. In fact, Britt states that she relies heavily on technology to share information with her children about the countries they have a link to.

"For us, YouTube, resources online and Skype are essential parenting tools. I don't think I could do it otherwise."

However, local groups and resources also prove to be a valuable in keeping German culture at the heart of their family,

"I enrolled my daughter in a German language nursery school and have taken both my kids to German mum and baby groups."

Traditions and holidays are also marked to help share important cultural origins. Britt tells,

 "I incorporate what I understand to be our national traditions with those of my husband's alongside those of our host country's - things like roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving. Last year I watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the computer with my daughter since that was something we always looked forward to as kids. That is when we knew Christmas was coming."

Like the other parents interviewed for this series, Britt agrees there is little that can beat regular trips back to a country to immerse your children in the culture of a land. Britt however also notes that it is essential in her eyes for the family to get involved with the culture and citizens of the country they are living in.

Photo credit: Leigh-Anne Auerswald

But it is not always easy. The challenges of keeping the American and German cultures alive whilst living in South Arica certainly keeps Britt on her toes.

"I face three major challenges bringing up my kids here in South Africa:

  1. Lack of family close by. I think every expat mum can relate here. 
  2. Trying to encourage the use of the German language and promote German culture while trying to reinforce Americanisms is hard when another form of your mother tongue is spoken all around you and your kids start becoming and speaking more like your guest countrymen than you. 
  3. The safety issue. Everywhere else we have lived, we have been able to live so carelessly and not be conscious of our safety at all times. It has been especially daunting at the beginning of our stay here."

Bringing up bilingual children is an issue that many expats face and Britt is no exception but it is not a challenge she shies away from.

Britt says, "now that we are here in RSA and were in Manchester 3 years ago, raising the kids to speak English has been easy.  When we lived in Germany, I  spoke English to the kids and showed them American TV shows for kids. Eva spoke better English than German whilst we were living in the UK and then the other way round when we left Germany for Cape Town. Now I have to encourage German through TV, online media, books and the pre-primary. I am doing this because I believe bilingualism or multilingualism, or better yet, multiculturalism is the best gift you can give your children."

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