At Aperian Global, we don’t just consult our clients on the challenges that arise in a cross-cultural setting; we are a living embodiment of the intercultural field. From an American-born Chinese mom balancing clashing cultures while raising twins, or a Japanese-American family dividing time between countries, to a German national who grew up in five different countries, many of us have experienced living the expat life with our families.
As a team, we’ve helped nearly 20,000 expat families prepare for the transition of moving overseas through programs like our Thriving in a New Culture, for adults and children. We also understand first hand the unique challenges and great benefits that raising children in multiple cultures presents. One thing is certain for us, and the clients we’ve helped move overseas — as parents, we tend to worry about the adaptation of our children more than ourselves.
The “Third Culture Kid,” or TCK, is defined as a child who grew up or spent a significant part of his or her childhood living abroad. Many TCKs can be characterized as adaptable, great story-tellers, independent, maintaining diverse and deep friendships, sensitive, and empathetic. Each of these traits is gained through multiple transitions and many hellos and goodbyes, all taking place against a multicultural backdrop.
We wanted to provide some reflections and practical advice from a few of our team members across the globe about living in, and moving to, a foreign country with children.
Our Managing Director of Customized Learning Solutions, Simone-Eva Redrupp, is a former TCK having grown up in five countries — Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, and the USA. She has some helpful tips for families moving overseas that she has discovered as a parent.
“I myself moved roughly six times as a kid. I learned a lot, on all levels, from how my mom handled these constant changes. And you know, it’s with hindsight that I realize what a great job my Mom did to help us become “balanced” people. Some lessons that I learned along the way:
– The timing of a move is crucial: Attend a new school a few weeks BEFORE vacation (rather than moving during vacation) so that contacts are made in class and Mom can then follow up to create playdates during otherwise very long and lonely vacation days in a new country.
– If you are changing school systems and your children will be working in a new language, do not let counselors, teachers, etc. convince you to put your children back a year! Kids are incredible and when completely immersed, children can learn a new language in three months. Making them lose a full academic year is therefore not helpful.
– Make friends through school sports! Don’t turn down the volleyball coach because you fear it’ll interfere with your studies; instead, join and discover the new country and team mates. Making new friends will in fact help academic progress.
– Take your pets! Cats, dogs, hamsters, etc. are crucial for stability. Our unattractive and sweet Pepita doggie moved three times and accompanied us children through all our emotional ups and downs in France, Belgium, and Texas. She was the glue that created harmony during stressful family moments.”
Japanese Third-Culture Kids (TCKs) are known as Kikokushijo. Once marginalized, these individuals with a multicultural worldview are now called upon to assist their country of origin as industries grapple with globalization.
Keiko Sakurai, Director of Consulting, Japan, was born in Tokyo, but grew up in Thailand and Germany. She provides valuable insight into her bicultural family, which divides its time between Japan and the United States.
“I have two kids (five years old and two years old). I have been going back and forth between Japan and the US with two kids since they were in my womb. We live in San Francisco, but when I have business trips to Japan, I bring my whole family (two kids and my husband, who takes care of the kids when I am working). This way, I can work in Japan for one month instead of just one week if I were to travel on my own. This is how we manage our work/life balance internationally.
During this one-month stay in Japan, my kids go to the local Japanese daycare/preschool where they play and study with other Japanese kids. They can also spend time with their grandparents. My husband can brush up his Japanese language skills. He is a rather shy US American, so he needs to be in a situation where he is forced to use Japanese. So I kindly throw him into an environment where he needs to survive on his own.
We have been living this way for the last five years, and thanks to this, both my kids are growing up to be bilingual and bicultural, embracing the good qualities of both the US and Japan.
I have to say clearly that it is not easy to travel with small kids and lead a dual life. It is, indeed, very tiring. It is also very expensive, paying for flights and accommodation, and for daycare/schools in both the US and Japan. I think we are spending at least $40,000 extra per year by going to Japan twice a year. However, I see this as an investment, not a cost, for my family: for my kids to grow up bilingually and biculturally, for my husband to develop an understanding of Japan, and for myself to continue my global career involving Japan.”
American-Born Chinese mother of twins, Joyce Lee, GlobeSmart Engagement Manager, deals with the clash of two dynamic cultures in her household.
“As a mother of six-year-old twin girls and a first-generation American Born Chinese (ABC), I am in the middle of two cultures clashing against each other. A lot of the values that I was brought up with are different from values in the West. For example, the emphasis on status in the Chinese family vs. individualism in the American family could create a huge conflict in our American-Chinese family. Parents have the ultimate power in the traditional Chinese family. However, my daughters will question me when I tell them, “You must do it,” due to the fact that they are taught to think as individuals with inquisitive minds at school. It is important to find the right balance to maintain the Chinese value and embrace the American value. For example, I am strict about making sure they respect their grandparents and seniors. On the other hand, I embrace them having an individual mindset to make decisions. Although it can be hard for me to put into perspective sometimes, it is important for my children to get the best out of both worlds.”
The opportunity to expand our children’s borders offers an enriching cross-cultural experience, resulting in an expanded worldview, empathy, adaptability, and in the end, leadership qualities. To many, there is no better gift.
Learn more about Aperian Global’s unique approach to supporting international assignees and their families pre, during and post-international assignment.
 David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds