I grew up in International Schools around the world and sat in classes with the children of ambassadors, nephews of dictators, the grandchildren of rebel leaders. From the age of 10, I traveled with my International Teacher parents to locations in the world that most American children couldn’t find on a map. My classmates were the cream of the international crop and I, by association, was given the opportunity to dwell in their gilded world. At the end of the day though, they were rich and spoiled and I was just the kid of the hired help, fine to play with, but not to make life-long connection with.
After years of living the jet-set life and coming home to a house with a housekeeper, driver and gardener, it was a rude awakening for me to return to America after graduation. I had nowhere near the finances to live as I once had and the other students couldn’t relate to my life in any way. I still, to this day, have conversations with new acquaintances where I can watch the person I am speaking to realize that we have no common ground to stand on. Being a third-culture individual can be a lonely life at times, even once you’re back on home turf.
Now, 15 years later, I’m a teacher with kids of my own. My husband, also a teacher, floated the idea recently of trying International Teaching. Our area in the mid-West U.S. is constantly experiencing budget cuts and layoffs and he thinks the move would be good for us economically. I’m concerned that by taking our daughters to an International School, I could be setting them up for the same future solitary lifestyle. The benefits are clear (better pay, better education, travel, exposure to new cultures) but I worry that the lifestyle of an International Educator could have long-lasting negative effects on our children’s lives.
Maybe some ISR readers have direct experience with this and would share their advice with me? Thanks ISR. Keep up the great work!!
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19 thoughts on “Should I Take My Kids Overseas (Like My Parents Did with Me)?”
My two daughters are now grown, but they both spent most of their formative years overseas where I taught for 14 years. When my eldest returned to Canada for university, she sought out other international students at McGill as she felt more at home with them than with the “Canadian” students who had lived their whole lives in one place. It was rough for a year until she found her footing. She’s now doing a Master’s degree in Sweden, and when Canadian friends marveled at her “courage,” she just shrugged and saw it as no big deal. She meets and talks easily with new people, and assures me the decision to raise her in Asia has enriched her in so many ways. She’s bilingual in French and English, but also has some Chinese, Thai and Korean. She knows far more about the world than I did at her age.
My youngest has just started uni after finishing her high school in Canada, and she admits the education she received in China and Korea was far better than her experience in public and charter schools here. We had to return to Canada because of serious health issues she had, but she too reassures me that she is glad she was raised a TCK.
I think, as a single parent, I made the right decision taking my girls abroad. They are become open-minded, socially aware, and flexible adults who feel gratitude for living in a free country while appreciating the diversity of the world.
My advice: find the best school you can, settle down with your kids, come home as often as possible to keep their ties to family and home culture strong, and do what you can to help them see “the earth is one country, and mankind, its citizens.”
Although I agree with a lot that has been said, you are not wrong to worry about the downsides of being a TCK. I grew up in India to parents from Australia and Ireland and I teach now in an IS. I definitely suffered as a child from being moved around too much (try to keep movement to a minimum, especially if you have teenagers).
I was also devastated at 18 years old having to say goodbye to everything and everyone I knew and loved to go to the West for university. I have spent my life searching for the same community, ex-pat feeling I had growing up (hence me being back in an IS) – there is no physical location that TCKs can go to find others like them – you have to search out environments like international schools in order to be with your own kind.
So I am very mindful of the mistakes my parents made, and am seeking to provide most of the incredible pluses to my child and working on reducing the negatives.
It really depends where you go. Not all international schools are filled with the children you described. As for making connections, the internationally schooled children I have met seem to be much better at connecting to people from all walks of life.
I’ve taught in International schools for 20 years, and have encountered a significant number of adult graduates, some of whom are quite clearly unsettled and disconnected. I feel that the better adjusted are the ones whose parents have resisted the temptation to jet off at every holiday, but have deliberately kept their kids grounded in their own country – visits home every summer and winter. Not so glamorous, but a worthwhile compromise. I also feel that if their primary or secondary schooling is in their home country, this enhances strong connections. I am beginning to suspect that the clichéed advantages of being a TCK are a poor consolation prize for consistent displacement. I also feel that we as adults are making informed choices for ourselves, but children’s choices are often their parents’, and not necessarily the ones they would make for themselves if they were better informed.
Take them. Both my sons spent their entire schooling in international schools in Manila, Norway, Turkey and Hong Kong. Both got IB diplomas ( Norway and Hong Kong) and university educations in Australia. Great experience for them.
An interesting post. I’m a third culture kid, born in the UK, adopted along with my sister (different families…), but at a very early age went to Australia, Singapore and then Hong Kong which I still see as my ‘home. My parents lived there for 25 years and I did all my schooling there, then UK for university and work but still went back and fourth four or five times a year. My sister and I were lucky. School was fantastic (Island School) and we travelled the world. Dads job with international government duty, then private work, allowed this.
Fast forward and it’s interesting to see how things are. I loved school and this helped me choose my profession. I did a 4 year B.Ed degree in Design and Technology for secondary education, graduated in 1986, I’ve been in education for 30 years and managed and lead throughout my career. I’ve taught in boarding schools in the UK and 15 years internationally in France and Switzerland. I married a French girl (that I met in the UK) who is also a teacher, our ‘home’ is in southern France although we currently live in Switzerland. I have two lovely daughters – one tri-lingual and one bi-lingual – who travel have grown up with an international mindset. The eldest is at university and wants to go to America or Canda for work, our youngest is enjoying an international school life with us currently.
I have absolutely no regrets with where I have lived, what I have done or who I have grown up with and the friends I have. The vast majority are from my Hong Kong days, many still live there but many also live around the globe. But we are all in touch and catch up when we can. You make your relationships work, irrespective of wealth or colour or creed, and the best legacy I can leave my girls is the international mindedness that they now have. Not tied or committed to one place or country.
The world is genuinely their oyster and even though ‘family’ are in the UK and France at the end of the day, wherever they lay their hats, they will always only be about 24 hours away (Max) from us by plane. International teaching has allowed us as a family to explore, discover and be challenged and my two daughters, wife and I are all the better for it.
i am currently working overseas and have been doing so with my husband and our two young children ever since before they were born. We are also a mixed nationality couple so between us we need to travel for family purposes (our excuse anyway!).
My daughter has just recently returned home to attend boarding school. She has fitted into the system perfectly as there is a range of nationalities/cultures and the years living overseas/travelling have broadened her mind and outlook on life as well as her tolerance and understanding of others and their cultures. It has helped her to interact with others and develop a strong, wide network of friendships.
I think it provides the children with a more open and balanced view of the world and the people within it. I also feel that as the world is becoming smaller and people from different backgrounds interact more frequently with each other it gives them life skills and experiences to deal with the constant changes around them.
I would only say research where you are planning on moving to and the schools you want to work in because there are many out there and as we know not all provide the same level of quality and support that you may wish for!
We have asked our now adult children several times over the years if they would do anything differently about living overseas. They emphatically say NO. Their overseas experience was so instrumental in their development as open minded, tolerant and thoughtful adults. To us there is no question about taking kids overseas unless there are physical or mental problems that require special attention. Few overseas schools are equipped to handle any thing much out of the ordinary. Except for that exception there is not doubt in our minds about taking kids overseas.
I highly recommend you take your kids. Being a third-culture kid myself (grew up as a white person on a Navajo reservation), I completely understand the feeling of “not belonging” and struggling to connect with those without the same experiences and outlooks. The benefits, though, of having a more worldly outlook on life, amazing experiences others will never experience, learning new languages — all those things far outweigh the cons. Go for it!
I don’t know how old you are or what time period you spent abroad, but I can assure you that the world is rapidly changing and a lot of the issues Third Culture Kids faced in the past are quickly becoming obsolete. Take your kids abroad. Give them a global education that they could not possibly attain in the American mid-west, especially if you have girls (in light of recent events). Expose them to a world full of amazing sights, sounds, and people, and watch them blossom and flourish in the future.
We spent 7 years in the Middle East, in 1 location, with two small daughters who spent their elementary school years in an international school there. We returned home for their middle high school and high school years. They both remember their time as expat kids as very happy years. The younger one plans to be an expat as an adult, and the elder is travelling the world for 7 months on her gap year savings before starting university. She has said to me that she will always be grateful that we took her on a 7 year expat adventure, and that she now is very culturally aware, highly tolerant of diversity, has seen many countries, and has friends from around the world. The girls settled back into life back home relatively easily (though do come out with queries like ‘Could we go to Paris for New Year?’ like it’s a serious question lol) . Every experience is different, with difficulties and advantages, but we don’t regret a moment spent in the Middke East.
With yourself and your husband both bring teachers, you will be sought after as a teaching couple, and your children would almost certainly be attending the same school where you teach. Which is quite nice 🙂
Good luck! Go for it!
What you may now find with International schools is that they are mo longer as atractive nor esteemed as yesteryear. Finances dictate and many schools are now taking the cheaper teacher over the experienced teacher, particularly if they have no kids to cater for with child places and flights etc. This means schools arent necessarily putting the best teachers in the classroom. Your children are therefore not guaranteed the best education and your contract may be far from the luxurious one that your parents received. The world, due to technology has unfortunately become a lot smaller and unless you go off the grid your children will encounter the ipad, Minecraft, facebook generation in every creed and colour. Good luck with the choice.
I have often been jealous of my international students: their multi-lingualism, their multi-nationalism, their experiences. Now that I retired, I miss soooo much the tolerant, open-minded, and global atmosphere of the international schools I taught it. Take your kids.
Travelling (and living) for a year in Turkey in the 90’s was a very special experience for us. I have always believed that a goal working in IS schools is not so much about being in a ‘bubble’, but also about breaking down barriers, integrating the latest ‘best practice’ from our culture with the norm of the overseas culture, for sustainable improvement. I would not describe the school in which I worked as particularly good one on many, many fronts, yet the experience was life-changing for us all, and I have never regretted taking time out from my long-term career. Also, I believe showing your growing family how you weather some of the less rosy aspects of your IS school is an important lesson, and not sharing this (as much as is appropriate for the age of the children) with your nearest and dearest is in itself an important part of helping them grow resilience.
Working day to day alongside local national colleagues, and travelling on weekends with our two primary aged girls allowed us to be perceived as ‘a normal family’. We saw Turkey in a way no tourist ever could, and with our car, were able to visit parts of Turkey not open to travellers who are bound by timetables and public transport. Examples of local events in which we participated include remote folk festivals – on the basis of translating a poster we saw in a shop. Everywhere, people opened their doors to us, invited us for drinks, or the girls for games of marbles or chess, simple sharing for just for half an hour. Once or twice we met teachers of local schools (for some reason our IS school had a few breaks at that time which local Turkish schools were not privy to) and our girls were invited to spend a morning at the local school – they had enough Turkish to be able to join in singing folk songs, for example. We kept contact with some of these wonderful, generous people for years afterwards.
On our return to Australia, although they had basically missed 18 months of their local school, they quickly caught up academically. [I did do a reading-recovery course with them at home though, for a hour a day of the summer holidays – although I am not a teacher of languages you will know yourself when it is time to step in and get the kids organised.]
However, the life-changing impact of the experience for them has been their continued interest in the wider world. During their secondary schooling, between them they completed three student exchanges lasting up to a year, and as adults, regularly volunteered time tutoring refugees, and have learned new languages. Now one of them (in her 30’s) is completing an advanced masters course in Germany, and beginning to learn yet another language.
Why bother to have children if you hesitate to share your own passion with them. Everywhere you look, you see dynasties where families excel in music, sports, politics, as just a few examples. Surely, teaching in IS schools is about developing global citizenship, and you should not deny your children the advantage you are able to provide them, as a teacher working in an IS school. No matter what career they eventually chose, your children will be better communicators and more empathetic with their colleagues as result of their experience of being somewhat ‘alien’ in a different country. Go for it!
We just came back to the states from three years in Chile. My son was three when we left the US and it was a great experience for him. His friends were from all over the world and he quickly became fluent in Spanish. The life of a teacher in the US makes it difficult to give our children the opportunity to travel and experiences that we dream of for them. There are also other kids of American teachers so they may be able to find common ground with other third culture kids. Our younger son is disabled and has breathing problems otherwise we would probably still be abroad. As a third culture kid yourself, you may also be able to watch out for and help to avoid he isolation you once felt. Friends who’ve been abroad with kids for a longtime chose to buy a house somewhere else where they go and spend time every summer so although they may be moving about there is one place that is always a home base. Good luck!
I agree with Nadia. Take your children, plan to buy a house to call “home” and watch out for and help your children avoid isolation! Take them. Read up on the school’s you apply to, triple check and make sure you are happy with the reviews etc etc. Also remember, your experiences, good or bad have made you who you are. Be happy, be content and be thankful! Enjoy your next adventure!
My kids grew up overseas and graduated high school overseas. It was a bit difficult for them to return to the US as it had never been their home and they had a bit of time adjusting to American culture. But, once they realized that Americans are complacent and take for granted all the opportunities their country has to offer, they took good advantage of the opportunities and have made real successes of themselves. Taking your kids overseas will allow them to realize lots about themselves and their place in the world. Go, Go, Go!
I am an overseas teacher with 2 kids in tow. I find the lifestyle easier with my kids being at the same school. My husband and I could not manage the school pick up at home. one of us would have to stay at home or we would spend a fortune in child care.
I find my kids quite well adjusted to travelling and making new friends. I think it is a great experience. However we do not live a luxury life. Instead we are quite grounded and take pleasure in small things. Many of my colleagues have gone quite extravagant and don’t save a penny. We manage very well keeping to a budget.
I like the environment for my kids because it gives them an experience to meet so many others from so many countries. There are 68 nationalities in our school! We celebrate many festivals and events.
I do not feel my kids miss out at all. We go back home for holidays. They are in classes of 18 students with teaching assistants. I feel their motivation and progress is more than in the UK. They are with a wide mixture of students from various backgrounds, mostly have professional well educated parents such as myself.
It is also a benefit when in November we can take the kids to the beach!
Take the kids. Americans of all ages need to see the world, and the experiences will be life-altering. Plus their worldly perspective may help them in the college admissions process!