Raising Children and Teenagers Abroad

June 5, 2024 | Blog, Home & Relocation, Parenting

REC Parenting is a trusted online hub for parents, sharing dependable, science-backed guidance and information on parenting, all in one location.

Earlier this year, MumAbroad hosted a webinar with REC Parenting Founder and CEO Dr Ana Aznar titled Raising Expat Kids – a Privilege or a Challenge? Alongside MumAbroad founder Carrie Frais, it was a frank and open discussion on what expat kids and their parents can expect from the extraordinary experience of living abroad.

Here Ana reflects on raising a family in a cross cultural environment, in a highly mobile world, and the benefits and challenges of living abroad. She shares her advice for parents on negotiating the highs and lows of settling in a new home country as a family.


REC Parenting On Expat Kids – A Privilege or a Challenge?

Living abroad offers a unique mix of experiences and opportunities for families venturing beyond borders. The transformative journey of expat parenthood means nurturing children while navigating the dynamic tapestry of a life abroad.

While the expat lifestyle offers many benefits, such as exposure to diverse cultures and languages, it also presents challenges for both parents and children. To quote Carrie Frais’ recent anthology of short stories, #LivingTheDream: Expat Life Stripped Bare:

Moving abroad can be exciting, stimulating, enthralling and glamorous (the latter less often than you might think). We are sometimes viewed as courageous, uprooting ourselves from the security blanket of having one’s extended family nearby to face new adventures and experiences in far-flung corners of the world.

#Blessed #WishYouWereHere #LivingTheDream. Right? 

Yet, our lives – like anyone else’s – can be emotional, confusing and challenging.”

As Carrie so eloquently puts it, expat life can be exciting yet emotionally complex. The perception of being ‘lucky’ because of our lifestyle can sometimes undermine the very real struggles we face. In the book, nine women share the emotional and practical realities of life away from ‘home’, often laying bare the reality of living far from the support structure of family and the familiarity of their place of birth. 

 

Better family balance overseas?

 

Like many aspects of life abroad, bringing up children and teenagers in a new country comes with a particular set of challenges. As a resource built to support parents through all different stages of parenthood, REC Parenting is a one stop for all things related to raising a family. The combination of tailored resources and one to one support from leading experts helps to take the pressure off parents, who are often bombarded by conflicting information and advice online.

Parents living abroad often ask REC Parenting about the best ways to navigate a life that straddles cultural norms, and the impact of being a “Third Culture Kid”. 

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and what makes them so unique

Third Culture Kids embody a fascinating blend of cultural influences, shaped by their experiences growing up in multiple countries. They often have a sense of belonging to a “third culture” that is a combination of elements from each of their parents’ cultures as well as the culture (sometimes more than one) in which they were raised.

 

Playtime overseas in beautiful weather

 

TCKs tend to develop a high level of adaptability, intercultural competence and open-mindedness; traits that serve them well in an increasingly globalised world. However, they may also face difficulties in establishing a sense of rootedness or a stable cultural identity, as their formative years are spent navigating between different cultural worlds.

What Third Culture Kids have in common with one another

Some of the shared characteristics and values that Third Culture Kids develop include a high level of skill and ease in adjusting to new environments and navigating different cultural contexts. Many Third Culture Kids grow up in multilingual environments or become proficient in multiple languages. Some other common traits include:

A Global Perspective

Third Culture Kids tend to have a broader, more global perspective, having experienced life in different parts of the world. They are typically more culturally aware and sensitive. They may have an intuitive understanding of cultural nuances and an ability to connect with people from diverse backgrounds.

Interpersonal Skills

Third Culture Kids often develop strong interpersonal and communication skills as a result of needing to establish connections quickly in new environments. They may be adept at building relationships across cultural boundaries and languages.

Nomadic Lifestyle

Third Culture Kids may experience a sense of rootlessness due to frequent relocations. This can lead to a comfort with a more nomadic or mobile lifestyle. They also often learn to rely on themselves and develop independence and self-sufficiency.

 

Summer camps abroad

 

TCKs often find a sense of belonging and understanding when interacting with other Third Culture Kids. They may form strong connections with individuals who share similarly international backgrounds.

The benefits of being raised in a cross-cultural environment

Some of the greatest benefits of being a third culture kid include gaining proficiency in new languages and experiencing a completely different way of life. This broader, more global perspective can be a tremendous asset.

Often families in this situation grow closer, and young people develop maturity and perspective. This kind of upbringing fosters flexibility and adaptability, two qualities that are increasingly important for tomorrow’s workforce.

 

Raising babies abroad

 

Some of the greatest challenges of bringing up children and teenagers abroad

A real worry that many parents feel acutely when moving abroad and facing cultural differences is that their children may resent them. The whole family might miss life back “home” and feel caught between two worlds. There can also be the additional challenge of disrupted education, as children adapt to a new system or language, especially if a move happens during the school year.

A common feeling that we see is the feeling of being from anywhere and nowhere simultaneously. Third Culture Kids often struggle with questions of identity. Having multiple cultural influences can lead to a sense of not fully belonging to any one culture, resulting in identity confusion or a search for a sense of belonging.

 

cooler days abroad

 

Saying goodbye to wider and family and cherished friends also poses a challenge, building real emotional resilience in children and young people. Third Culture Kids may experience a series of losses, including leaving friends, schools and familiar environments behind. It is important that children be allowed to grieve this.

In #LivingTheDream, Carrie writes that “Most of us do our best to ‘fit in’, to communicate and present ourselves as effectively as possible in the face of cultural challenges and language barriers. Friendships that take years to cement are lost as people come, and then go. The concept of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ is a constant conversation.” 

Helping children cope with the emotional challenges of goodbyes and fostering a sense of belonging are crucial aspects of expat parenting. 

How to Support Children and Teenagers’ When Living Abroad

Emotional support is essential for children and young people during the adjustment period following an international move. Open communication, a supportive family environment, involvement in decision-making, and maintaining cultural connections are vital for fostering resilience and a sense of identity. Recognising and validating children’s feelings, especially during times of transition, is crucial for their emotional well-being.

 

Raising Children overseas

 

For young children aged 1 to 7 years, routine and stability are key. Whilst for older children and adolescents, friends become more important and parents should try to be there for them and engage meaningfully and positively.

Remember that teenagers are not expecting you to solve their problems, but simply listen to their experiences and validate their emotions. Empowering children to participate in family decisions, such as choosing a school or neighbourhood, gives them a greater sense of control and agency. 

International schools can play a significant role in shaping children’s identities and fostering cross-cultural understanding. While they offer exposure to diverse perspectives, it’s essential for families to maintain cultural traditions and connections at home. 

 

Family mealtimes abroad

 

Positive social interactions also contribute to a sense of belonging. Encourage children and adolescents to join clubs and sports teams to help ease educational and social transitions. 

How parents can speed up settling into a new country themselves

I am often asked for advice from parents on how they can settle into their new home as quickly as possible. The most impactful thing anyone can do is build a solid support network.

 

Raising Teenagers Abroad

 

1. Learn the language and do plenty of research

Investing time in learning the language is the best way to start to feel more settled. Doing research and becoming more familiar with the local culture, customs and social norms will help to navigate daily interactions more smoothly.

2. Utilise expat communities

Many countries have organised expatriate communities offering support, advice and social connections. Joining expat groups can provide a sense of camaraderie and a network of people who also understand the challenges of adjusting to a new culture.

3. Connect with local people

Build relationships with local residents by attending community events, joining clubs or groups, and participating in activities that interest you. This will help you make friends and feel more connected.

The most important thing is to approach the experience with an open mind. Embrace the differences and be willing to adapt. Keep in mind that cultural adjustments take time, and flexibility is key. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times, and it’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself and be patient as you adjust to your new environment.

Raising children abroad is a journey filled with both challenging times and tremendous rewards. By embracing the unique experiences and opportunities that expat life offers, families can foster resilience, adaptability, and a global mindset in their children. As we navigate the complexities of expat parenting, let’s remember to celebrate the richness of cultural diversity and the strength and joy that comes from embracing life’s adventures, wherever they may lead us.

 

Expat families on the coast

 

Paraphrasing the words of Carrie Frais, “Living The Dream” isn’t just about the glamorous moments; it’s about facing the emotional ups and downs with courage and resilience. As expat parents, we have the privilege of shaping our children’s global perspective while nurturing their sense of identity and belonging in a world without borders.


Find out how REC Parenting can support you on your parenting journey. Read more about Dr Ana Aznar in a recent interview with MumAbroad about her experiences as a parent abroad and the inspiration behind REC Parenting.

You can order a copy of #LivingTheDream: Expat Life Stripped Bare here, offering a fascinating insight into some of the most common misconceptions about living abroad. 

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