I originally wrote this article in 2016, it is still very relevant today. I hope that you'll enjoy reading my thoughts on raising Global Citizens.
I’m fortunate enough to be living in a very Dutch area of The Hague, which at the same time, has a large and diverse expat contingency.
Even though I speak Dutch, I can understand how Dutch would be a difficult language to learn. More so when you’re an adult. I meet people who have lived in The Netherlands for a while who don’t use Dutch at all. Why? because the Dutch, in general, are great at languages. Especially English and they always want to be able to speak English with you. So you kind of get discouraged at learning Dutch as an adult, because everyone speaks English here anyway!
Enter The Children
Walking down the street where our local butcher, baker, flower shop, cheese monger and supermarket are located, I’m surrounded by, not only the sound of Dutch people talking, but a plethora of languages from across the globe. (Yes! The Netherlands has a large and thriving choice of independent shops and boutiques, which is heaven if you’re overwhelmed by all of the high street chains).
The thing I observe the most is families, mostly mothers shopping with their children once school is out. What is so endearing is that a lot of the time I notice mums listening to their children, who are translating the Dutch on the food packages, or what someone is saying in Dutch, into their own language. I love the fact that there are these little human beings walking around like sponges, soaking up everything they see, learn and hear.
It is so great to see children able and confident enough to help their parents decipher what is on the front of a milk carton, or order what their parents need at the butcher. In Dutch. In what could be their second, or possibly even third language, and they’re not even ten yet!
I’ve witnessed kids of different nationalities playing football outside on the street. They may all have a different native language, but somehow they manage to understand each other, with bits of Dutch thrown in for good measure.
When I was growing up in Abu Dhabi, amongst our local Emirati neighbours, there were families from Denmark, USA, UK and Egypt. A Brazilian family lived ‘round the corner too. All of us kids played outside after school, on our bikes, or setting up a shop outside our houses. I also remember tasting weird and wonderful food for the first time from different countries, and hearing all sorts of languages to boot. Thanks to the internet, I am still in contact with some of them today.
Being an expat kid is a wonderful lesson of learning how to live, understand and get on with each other, even though we may come from different countries, backgrounds, religion or race.
I know of a couple of families living here whose children go to the British or American schools. Through getting to the know the other kids in their neighbourhood and integrating within the larger Dutch community, their children were fluent in Dutch in no time!
Being An Expat Parent
So you see, when you’re embarking on a new phase in your life as an expat, and you worry about moving your family half way ‘round the world, you may have some bumps and lows along the way. But the kids will be great at integrating. Which in turn, will allow you to settle into your new host country quicker and let go of that lingering feeling of “will the kids be alright?”.
Children don’t have those inbuilt initial fears of “I’m new, I’m a duck out of water”. They just want to kick a ball about with other kids, or join those kids on the street who are drawing on the pavement with their rainbow hues of coloured chalk.
Encourage your children to meet and integrate with others when you move to a new host country. It will do wonders for their self-esteem and it will help them settle into their new homes faster. I’m not saying that every child will take to their new life immediately, but be patient and help them as much as you can. Don’t hold them back because of your fears of becoming an expat, because you’re homesick, worried about your new job, or when you’re going to see your own family again.
You will be able to meet other people and families through your children, outside of your work environment, which will allow you to build up a social life. Who knows, you may even find some life-long friends in the process!
The experiences your children will be having whilst being an expat can broaden their horizons and teach them that not everything is the same the world over. Although one would hope that manners, courtesy and respect will be the same no matter which country you live in.