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Living Abroad

There comes a moment when it becomes clear like a lifting of sudden fog that one is parenting in a way foreign to 'everyone else'. There will be a story told by a mother in the parking lot, followed a few days later by another similar anecdote heard on the phone, followed later by another comment by a neighbor - and while one can explain away each individual story as having to do with that family's structure or background, when the stories accumulate it becomes suddenly clear that they are outlining a common practice. This has happened every few months in my parenting life. It always comes as a shock. I always feel slightly foolish, wondering whether I am the oddball and the others have it ‘right'. It is always food for thought for awhile. Sometimes we change things, sometimes we stay the same. Here are some different approaches describing multi-culturalism:


Does our social environment influence who we are?

by Christine Carter

"Our social networks profoundly influence our own happiness! Here's why: Our friends influence what we think of as normal, and that, in turn, influences our habits, feelings, and behavior. That's a major insight of research by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, who wrote the fascinating book "Connected: How your friends' friends' friends affect everything you feel, think, and do." I saw this play out in my own life just the other night, when I went to dinner with a dear friend who battles the bulge. We were at a particularly fabulous restaurant, and he couldn't decide what he wanted. So he ordered two entrees. What if all my friends did that? I'd definitely pack on a few extra pounds. Just in that one dinner with my friend -- even though I wasn't tempted to over-order along with him -- I ate more than I usually would. Imagine if I started seeing his size or his ordering habits as normal." go to greatergood


Inequality in your surrounding society gives clues on happiness

by Jason Marsh

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"If money were the problem, the poorest countries would be the happiest, but they're not. The key, instead, seems to be inequality: The happiest countries are the ones with the most equality, like the nations of Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. These countries also rank among the highest in an index of compassion created by University of Minnesota researcher Ron Anderson.

By contrast, countries with more inequality, like the United States and the United Kingdom, have significantly higher rates of health and social problems: By Wilkinson's analysis, mental illness is three times more common in unequal countries; infant mortality rates are also much higher, and life expectancy is significantly lower. Trust and social cohesion - important factors in happiness - are significantly higher in more equal societies. see Greater Good

connected in cairo

by Mark Allen Peterson

"I was talking to her about my Pokemon chapter, and she warned me "Pokemon is old news in Egypt. The big thing now is Beyblades." ...

She called one of her sons over and spoke to him. Five minutes later my cupped hands were overflowing with decorated plastic tops in different colors. They had a series of "attack" and "defense" rings that could be attached, as well as a metal "weight ring" that gave them some heft. The packaging (which he let me keep) was in French , suggesting that local stores were importing them from there rather than the US (as in the case of Pokemon)." see

Fasten auf Italienisch, or l'Italien

Funny and intelligent comedy of manners about moving between French/Algerian/Italian cultural identities, gently dealing with a serious backdrop.

Even such simple ideas as 'good' do not always translate across cultures. For example, an American writes: "Good children are boys and girls who in the first place have learned to take seriously the very notion, the desirability, of goodness -- a living up to the Golden Rule, a respect for others, a commitment of mind, heart, soul to one's family, neighborhood, nation." [View source]

Coles, Robert, The Moral Intelligence of Children, page 17



The above may be self-evident in the United States, but in Germany, the nuance of raising a child to be committed to one's nation is problematic. Even deeper than that many Germany intellectuals look askance at such an idea of "goodness" as a goal, arguing that being 'good' in the child-like American sense does not permit the development of the full person. Do readers have any stories that illustrate this discussion?


Challenge of raising children abroad

We often read articles in English encouraging parents to adhere strongly to their own beliefs and style of parenting. Things such as this from Time: "Everyone wants to be a good parent, to give their children the best education, the best upbringing and all the support they need to grow and mature into productive and confident adults. That's a lot of pressure for mom and dad, and not all of it comes from within. Who hasn't worried about what the neighbors think of your chaotic attempt to get everyone out the door in the morning with homework and lunch in tow, or how teachers and other parents might judge the brands of clothing or food you buy?" For parents raising children in another culture, this is often emotionally and psychologically challenging. The longer you live in a foreign culture, the more you begin to doubt yourself and your particular way of doing things. Unless you surround yourself with others who share your common values, this can get very lonely. Yet if you surround yourself with others who share your common values, you often live in an expatriate bubble and miss out on learning new points of view.


Third Culture Kids

Children who grow up with three or more cultures, for example, with parents from two different countries and living in a third, face special challenges and develop unique talents. For example,

"Norway became my well-kept secret. I was a fiercely patriotic little girl, and every May 17 I would inst on celebrating Norway's independence day. My American classmates had their Thanksgiving and Halloween parties. I was never invited, except for once, when I left the party in tears because I didn't understand the English in the video they were watching. Little did it help that we had a teacher from Texas who taught us U.S. history that year. When I put Florida on the wrong side of the map she scolded me for it. That memory is still very vivid in my mind. I was forced to hear about the wonders of America, and no one cared to hear about Norway. No one seemed to care that English wasn't my first language, and the school wouldn't give us time to learn Norwegian during school hours - we had to study Norwegian during our vacations. I used to think that was really unfair.' [View source]

pg. 47 Personal correspondence from TCK to David C. Pollock, November 1995. Used by authors of TCK by permission. Endnote 57, in Pollack, David C. and Ruth E. Van Reken.Third Culture Kids Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2001.

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Cultural lenses

Here are ten steps to family happiness published in a mainstream German parenting magazine.

Children need 1. grown-up parents 2. safety 3. rhythm and rituals, duties and responsibilities, 4. a friendly, open house 5. parents who are in love. Children give: 1. energy, love of life, assurance in life's meaning 2. astonishment in the miracle of daily life 3. the discovery of slowness 4. the art of improvising and muddling through 5. humor and patience [View source]

Frenkel, Xenia, "Zehn Schritte zum Familienglueck," Eltern for family, pg. 44-45. "Kinder brauchen: 1. Erwachsene parents 2. Geborgenheit 3. Rhythmus und Rituale, Pflichten und Verantwortung 4. Ein offenes Haus 5. Verliebte Eltern. Kinder schenken: 1. Energie, Lebensfreude, Zuversicht 2. Staunen - ueber das Wunder des Alltaeglichen 3. Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit 4. Die Kunst des improvisierens und Durchwurstelns 5. Humor und Langmut"

Would these 10 steps be the same in Peru, China, Russia, Ghana, Brazil? What would their lists of priorities look like?

And, of course, the big question, and the one that interests social anthropologists, to what extent do such modern German ideals match with life as it is lived every day? How many parents are not actually 'grown-up', and what does 'grown-up' mean - also, in different cultures? (I think it has less to do with age, and more to do with inner responsibility). How many families with two parents working and without in-house help manage to organize days for their children saturated in rhythm and ritual, duties and responsibilities? How many parents manage to maintain time and effort to keep their own love alive when they are stressed by work and money difficulties? Or, indeed, how important is it in different cultures to even be 'in love" to be a good and healthy parent?  How can parents discover slowness when, especially in our worlds' metropolises, parents are just barely managing to juggle work, school, playdates, lessons and doctors' check-ups?

art of Listening art
The Art of Listening

by Henning Mankell

"In Africa listening is a guiding principle. It’s a principle that’s been lost in the constant chatter of the Western world, where no one seems to have the time or even the desire to listen to anyone else. From my own experience, I’ve noticed how much faster I have to answer a question during a TV interview than I did 10, maybe even 5, years ago. It’s as if we have completely lost the ability to listen. We talk and talk, and we end up frightened by silence, the refuge of those who are at a loss for an answer." go to the New York Times - Raising little global citizens.
on being insiders and outsiders

by Diana Abu-Jaber

"My childhood world was loosely divided into Inside (the “Arabs” and friends) and Outside (the “Americans”). But, of course, one could not examine this division too closely or it would start to crumble. For one, my father and his brothers had married Americans. Still, every weekend, we had rambling, daylong parties at home, filled with traditional food and music and roaring conversations, mostly in Arabic, mostly about politics. To a child, the disjuncture between weekends (loud, funny, exciting, scary) and weekdays (calm, efficient, mildly dull) was like an ongoing exercise in culture shock. I learned at my parents’ gatherings that revealing the “truth”—meaning the private truth of one’s desires, fears, and beliefs—was one of the most frightening and risky things anyone could do in this American wilderness." go to InCultureParent

Why must this be?

 "Especially Muslim parents often regard assimilation of their children into German culture as their biggest worry."


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Don't Call me a Terrorist: growing up after 9/11 in LA

"A classmate leaned over and whispered the news: airplanes had hit the Twin Towers. It was my first week at Alhambra High School. I was a freshman with no friends, but I couldn’t imagine anyone would think I had anything in common with terrorists.

I’m not Muslim. My parents emigrated from Lebanon, but were educated in America, worked in America, and raised children in America. I grew up putting my right hand over my heart and pledging allegiance to America. But after the 9/11 attacks, I soon learned that having a Middle Eastern last name and speaking Arabic meant that I was no longer simply an American girl. In many of my fellow Americans’ eyes, I was very Arab." read her essay

6 Things every Globetrotter Parent should know from globetrotter parent

by the Globetrotter Parent

1. Baby care norms differ radically from one continent and even country to the next one. My favourite example: In Canada and the States, the health industry tells us not to share a bed with our infant, because it can lead to smothering, SIDS, baby falling off the bed, etc. Yet, here in Madagascar, most moms sleep with their baby. They don't do cribs here. And I don't ever hear or read about any babies dying of SIDS or getting smothered here. Funny that.

2. Contrary to what many "granola" mamas seems to think, Europeans are not necessarily more into "natural family living" than North Americans. Europe is not a monolith. When you hear granola moms going on about how much more enlightened Europeans are, they're usually talking about Scandinavians.

3. Your child will not become confused or speech-delayed because you speak to him in another language. I've already written about this but let me reiterate: there is no evidence whatsoever that bilingual children have a higher rate of speech/language delay or any other speech or language disorder than monolingual children.

4. Bilingualism is not an automatic fact resulting from a parent who speaks another language. It takes work. ...In fact, your child will need about 24 hours per week of exposure to your language in order to speak it like a native.

5. There are NO required vaccines for international travel

6. A global child starts with the parents who have a global mindset. go to the globetrotter parent


Who is moving abroad

The Guardian UK recently reported "young Europeans are now the ones desperately seeking exit strategies from economies in free fall. Meanwhile, politicians from emerging economies such as Brazil or countries with skills shortages such as Australia are busy publicising the opportunities they offer to old-world escapees. But what is life like for those who take up the opportunities to follow the money and move abroad for work?" read more on emigration at the Guardian online.

Interested in more? Here are other articles:
Third Culture Kids immigrant life
happiness Germany
France expatriate life
Caregivers bonding
Algeria Africa

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