Friday, November 28, 2008

Expat kids - could we do more?

The other day a group of children came walking down the street with their teacher. They were about 12 years of age or so, and as they passed I couldn't help hearing that the 2 boys at the back of the group were speaking to each other in English.

Nothing unusual in that you may say - they were probably children of expats.

Yes, perhaps, but it started me wondering whether that description was something of a cop-out. Were youngsters like this "children of expats", "young expats" with their own issues or just fully integrated local kids who can speak more than one language?

I was interested and started thinking about what I knew and had seen on various expat web sites etc. I also did a quick and no doubt not very thorough piece of web based research and I was fairly surprised at what I found.

There is a vast amount of information available, and much shared experience, about children's issues for expats. These look very useful and touch on all the expected subjects of education issues, integration and language etc.

The thing is, for the most part these articles and tips understandably major on giving the adult's perspective and even less surprisingly they were targeted at adults. They tend to be of the genre "10 things you need to know about getting your children into a local school".

There is though seemingly very little available from the children's perspective. What does it mean to be uprooted from your friends, wider family, familiar culture and family and be dropped into a foreign school and children's society where you may well not be able to speak a word of the local language? It's probably a safe bet that children and teenagers everywhere have the same sorts of issues associated with growing up, but are these different for expat youngsters?

There's nothing new in this of course. People have moved around the globe for centuries and their children have had to cope. Youngsters are far more flexible in terms of adapting to a new language and culture than their parents probably are.

Even so, a fairly big percentage of the expat community are probably under 18 and not much seems to be happening to provide them with a forum for sharing their experiences, views and tips about growing up in their societies as "a foreign kid".

Now I'm the last to think the web should fill up with web sites dedicated to articles with titles such as 'Acne In Amsterdam', 'Graffiti In Greek', 'Chatting-up in Chattanooga' or 'Terrible Teenage Traumas in Tenerife' but even the fact that those slightly tongue-in-cheek titles occurred to me suggests that like most adults I stereotype kids.

I may be barking up the wrong tree but I think there's need for a channel here. To some extent expats' success in settling down in their new country is affected significantly by the experiences of their families. Miserable children equates to miserable expat families and vice-versa. Isn't it about time we did more to support them?

1 comment:

Yu Yu said...

You should check out -- there's more support now with the emergence of social media than when I was growing up as a TCK. You should also read up on studies, there are certain psychological traits of expat or third culture kids that are common, I didn't know that until recently.