Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Different Expats, Different Challenges

It's school holidays here in the Netherlands and we've just got back from visiting friends in Prague. My friends are also Brits but are abroad for a work assignment for a couple of years. It was a stark reminder of how expat life is a varied thing indeed. Some become expats for the adventure, for some it's a move to be with a partner and for others it's for work.

Keeping children in touch with
their grandparents needs to
be worked at if you live abroad
Photo credit: Gokhan Okur
The different reasons for being an expat throws up different challenges for our children. My children are not actually expats themselves but I am. That means there are cultural and language issues to deal with. There are issues keeping in touch with grandparents and aunts and uncles that live overseas. The issues are more mine trying to understand a school system I did not go through, understanding a culture that is not mine. However, whilst they stand out sometimes, most aspects of life for my children are stable and consistent and not effected by my expat status.

For my friends in the Czech Republic almost every aspect of their lives is effected by their expat status. Their challenges are more related to providing their children with some kind of stability in another country, knowing that their stay there will come to an end. Their challenges include making a temporary dwelling that is not theirs a real home for the children. Expat life means the friendships their children make are temporary, and indeed the friendships they themselves make mean learning to say goodbye after a year or two. It's not an easy cycle to go through.

A temporary stay abroad also means a change of schools for the children and provides another challenge once the expat assignment ends, because it calls for the children to slot back in to the British state system. After being in small classes with a varied curriculum and an abundance of teachers how do you help children to adapt to classes of 30 plus and overstretched resources? The flip side of course is the gift of excellent education for at least two years in an environment the children are thriving in! And what an opportunity for children to go to school with such a mix of nationalities alongside them, in a cultural richness you won't find in national schooling. We arrived in Prague two days after the new Dutch king came to the throne. Thanks to the Dutch influence in her class, my friend's daughter knew all about Willem Alexander and Maxima, made crowns to mark the occasion and she proudly told us,

"The new Dutch queen is much better, because she's much prettier than the old one."

I'm pretty sure she would have known very little about this Dutch event had she still been in a British primary school.

Old Town Square, Prague
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
And on top of that what a rich culture Prague has to offer. A bustling city full of history and beauty. A surprise around every corner you turn in it's Old Town. What an amazing place for children (and their parents) to soak up and store in the memory bank. An expat life that surely enriches their children, but that inevitably comes with challenges. There are pros and cons to every decision we make. Different expats, different challenges.

Yes, expat life is a varied thing indeed but there is one common factor - we're raising the global citizens of the future!

What do you think? How does the reason for your expat status effect your children? Is it better for children to have the expat experiences and deal with the challenges as they arise or play it safe and avoid the big changes?


  1. Love this post because you are so right - our status as expats does not automatically extend to our children. I just moved from the NL to the UK and someone asked me where my kid's accent came from. That little question prompted a much longer answer than they probably wanted as I explained that their accent was American (like mine) although they have lived their entire lives in Europe and outside of a passport, have no American identity. The kids are still quite small so we haven't had any expat-related challenges just yet. But the next move....whenever it happens I am sure it will be a whole new ballgame.

    1. I'm still getting over my children speaking English with a Dutch accent... how the hell did that happen? They are certainly more Dutch than British but I am working on it :-)
      I really am starting to realise that my expat status influences my children less and less as they get older and start in the school system. Me being British is almost a sideline really....