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Rewards outweigh challenges in raising kids abroad

June 23, 2011

Your son is 13 years old and on his third passport. His first and second passports are tattered and filled with stamps from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. His new set of papers looks set to go the same way. He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, but has visited there only during holidays every other year.

Hasani Pettiford

Hasani Pettiford

His birthday parties are like the League of Nations, with friends representing a cross-section of nationalities that span the world. As a parent, you watch in amazement as he moves among three languages while collecting his gifts. Reflecting on his colorful and culturally rich experiences, you realize that living abroad with your family has been one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.

But how do expat kids maintain consistency in an inconsistent world?

Whether these children come from a military, missionary or business family background, they have willingly accepted a truth many struggle to realize: One of the greatest consistencies of life is change. But one thing we know about change is that it comes with both rewarding and challenging experiences.

On a positive note, most expat kids are incredibly well adjusted and have an expanded awareness of the world. They are able to integrate with people of other backgrounds as a result of immersion in a bilingual culture and educational system. Expat kids are known for developing stronger personality traits that prepare them for success in the world. They also gain a greater appreciation for family as you embrace broader horizons together as one unit.

However, while living overseas is a priceless experience, there are obvious challenges that cannot be ignored. Helping children engage in an adopted society while maintaining their own personal and cultural identities can be difficult. The common feeling of being different, sometimes even isolated, wherever they go, whether home or abroad, is challenging as well.

Cultural norms and family traditions often fade into a sea of oblivion as kids adjust to a new way of living. Younger expat kids have been known to lose their native tongues as they adopt new language patterns and styles of communicating. These are just a few of the many challenges that come with transitioning from one nation to another.

This is exactly where we as parents play a role in helping our children embrace all that their new life has to offer. We need to place a special emphasis on developing new relationships while nurturing existing ones at home, exploring local customs while reinforcing our own cultural norms, and helping foster our children’s uniqueness and self-expression. By embracing this holistic approach, living overseas can be a blast.

So, parents, there is nothing to fear and much to look forward to. One of the best gifts you could ever give your child is the priceless experience of living abroad. It is an investment that can reap unlimited dividends for years to come.

Hasani Pettiford is an award-winning author, media personality and speaker who has addressed more than 1,000 audiences throughout the U.S., Latin America and Africa. His organization, Touch & Agree Family Network, offers coaching, seminars and educational materials to enhance relationships.

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