OK, so lets say that you and your wife moved abroad to a different country due to a work assignment. You have 2 kids and of course they moved with you.
So, you and your wife and expats, no question.
What about your kids?
Are children expats too?
Well, I do believe that children, if they live abroad with their parents, should be considered expats. There has been a bit of a question in my mind, though, whether children who are moved abroad at a very young age are truly expats or not. I mean, if the child is moved away from the culture of his birthplace at a very young age and into a different culture, as he grows older does he even remember where he came from? However, I have learned from personal experience about this.
My personal experience
I was born in the United States and spent most of my childhood there. I did have a two year period when our family lived in South Africa when my father was reassigned there for his work. I was 5 to 7 years old at that time and attended a little more than a year of schooling in South Africa. In my late 20’s I married my wife, Feyma. Feyma is from the Philippines. We met through a mutual friend, and I ended up flying over to the Philippines to meet her, and we were married. I was 28 at the time. Feyma came to live in the United States. After a period of 10 years, we decided to move to the Philippines and start a new life there.
At the time we moved to the Philippines, we had 3 kids, all boys. Our oldest was 8 years old when we left the United States. The second child was 3 years old, and the youngest, Jared, was just one month old when we left the United States! I always wondered how Jared would grow up, in terms of his cultural identity. Because he left the USA at the age of only 1 month old, how would he identify himself as he matured? American? Filipino? Both?
As Jared grew older, he is 14 now, it became clear to me that he was as much of an American in his thoughts and actions as any of my kids were. In fact, I would say that he (and my other kids) were, and are, as much American as I am. I found this interesting. But, how? Why? How could they be growing up in the Philippines, with virtually no contact with the United States, except for talking on the phone with my relatives in the States, grow up in a very American way? How could they be so typical of any other American children? In our 14+ years in the Philippines, we have never gone back to the USA even for a visit.
As I thought about this and considered it more, I came to a conclusion. Jared, and my other kids grew up having many American cultural traits because they grew up in a very American household. Their father is American, and of course they pick up many of their mannerisms and habits from their parents. Even though my wife is Filipino and grew up in the Philippines, her 10 years of life in the United States made her who she is today. Sometimes I tease that she is more American than I am! And, it is pretty much a fact. So, in our household our kids grew up with 2 American parents, along with others in our household who are Filipino (including my wife to some extent).
Advantages for Expat Children
I feel pretty strongly that there are a lot of advantages for children who grow up in an expat lifestyle. They are more well rounded than their cousins back home, no matter where home is. Why? Well, they have more exposure to many different things in life than their cousins who are isolated in a single place for their entire childhood.
I feel that one area where Expat Children will have a huge advantage over those who have grown up in a single country will be in business. I am including the job market. Why would it be an advantage. Well, as I pointed out previously, they are more well rounded individuals. Also, as American businesses become more global and trade with businesses in other countries, there is a large demand for people who understand the cultures on each end of the business deal. This could include things like understand the language on each end, but also just understand how people act, ways that are culturally acceptable to talk with or negotiate with people on each end of the deal, etc. Especially due to the fact that we live in Asia, I feel this will be a huge advantage for my children, since many of the businesses in the world are looking to Asia now for product manufacturing and acquisition. Also, because so many jobs are moving to Asia, this means that in the future Asia will become a large consumer of products and services offered abroad. This puts my children in a perfect situation to be valuable players in the business deals that transpire between USA and the Philippines.
It is widely claimed that children pick up on new languages easily and quickly. My experience would tend to confirm this. When we moved to the Philippines our kids were speaking the local language in our area, to some extend, within a month. By the time we were here for 6 months the kids were more or less fluent. Today, with our boys ranging in age from 22 down to 14 years old, their language of preference is the language that is spoken in our part of the Philippines. They do speak English very well too, but if they can choose, they will speak Bisaya most of the time.
One thing that my wife and I have noticed, though, is that the boys shift from language to language with ease. It is almost effortless and comes very naturally to them. If they are in the presence of a foreigner (non-Filipino) they will automatically address those people in English, but if a Filipino is there as well, they will turn and address the Filipino in either Tagalog or Bisaya (Tagalog is one of the National Languages of the Philippines, and Bisaya is the language that is most widely spoken in our area). It can be amazing to watch and see just how naturally this comes to our boys, and we believe it is due to having grown up in a household where they are using each language on a daily basis.
By the way, while my wife is Filipino, she almost always addresses our kids in English, and she became very comfortable in using English while living in the States. Additionally, some years back I studied and became fluent in Bisaya, so we are really a multi-lingual household.
Another area that I believe is a true indicator of which culture a child embraces is the food that he chooses to eat. When growing up in a multi-cultural household, if a child chooses to eat one culture’s food over the other, that is a fairly clear indication to me of how he identifies which is his culture. In our case, our boys are different:
- Chris, our oldest child, prefers to eat Filipino food, but still eats some American dishes as well.
- Aaron, our middle child, prefers to eat American foods, but will eat some Filipino foods.
- Jared, our youngest, probably eats both Filipino and American fairly equally, although it may be skewed slightly toward Filipino cuisine.
One interesting thing about Aaron, which I believe points out a strong twinge of being from two different cultures, is demonstrated by the fact that he really enjoys eating a baked potato, but putting rice in it and mixing them together! Talk about a combination of something that is truly very American (and other western cultures) and something that is truly very Filipino (and other Asian cultures). I have never seen that before Aaron started doing it!
Kids are Expats!
So, based on our personal experience with our children, I would say quite certainly that kids are truly expats too. Even those who are moved away from the culture of their birth, due to the fact that they experience the culture of their birth at home, they are surrounded by the culture of their current life anytime they are out in public.
So, yes, my conclusion is that kids truly are expats in their own right. What do you think?
Let’s see what others have to say. Leave a comment below and share your opinion or experience.