My 11-year-old, Jack had quite a day last week. He decided he would go on an “adventure bike ride” around our neighborhood. When he returned, his eyes were alight with excitement and he had quite a tale to tell. You see, we live on a very large compound which includes villas, a hotel, conference buildings, a large lake, and walking trails. Jack’s adventure led him to the conference buildings where he found a conference was taking place. To summarize his epic journey, he basically walked into the conference, was given a backpack, a book, some mints, and a lanyard, then sat for a while enjoying a cup of tea before being chauffeured back home in a Rolls Royce golf cart. We have since discussed the need to be careful when out exploring and the fact that it is not really appropriate to crash conventions, but to be perfectly honest, I am pretty impressed by this kid’s sense of adventure and bravery.
Adventuring aside, this led me to think about how far my kids have come in the 2 1/2 years we have lived abroad. My mom always used to say that she believes everyone should live abroad for at least one year and you know, I now completely agree. I’m sure me agreeing with my mom is music to her ears. 😉 But really, I have seen so much growth in my children while living overseas that I can’t help but agree.
If you are considering a move abroad, but are worried about how it will affect your children, don’t. They will be just fine and will most likely surprise you with their ability to adjust to their new lives.I know making a huge move abroad is terrifying especially when kids are involved. How will they adjust? Will they make friends? Will they adapt? Trust me, I had all these questions and more racing through my mind when we found out we were moving to Shanghai. Read my inaugural blog post to see just how worried I was here. But you know what? My kids have done great. They continue to impress me with their adaptability. Sure, the first 6 months were rough. They missed home. They missed our house and their friends. But gradually their attitude began to change. And it changed so much that they now say they prefer living overseas to living back home, despite the fact that they still reeeeaaaally miss Buffalo Wild Wings! Of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say living abroad is one of the best things that could have happened to my two boys.
One more thing I have to mention is that we left two grown children back home in The States. This has been the most difficult part of living overseas but you know what? Although living far away has been difficult, it has also been pretty great. I am more intentional about talking to my daughter once a week. When we lived back home, weeks would go by before we would have a phone conversation. We have gone on some pretty epic trips with our grown children. They have come to visit and we have all experienced parts of the world we would have never seen otherwise. And these trips were so special because we didn’t have to share them with anyone or anything else. No in-laws, no work, no obligations. Just us together. As they get older, opportunities like that become incredibly rare. Another plus, with the invention of social media, FaceTime, texting, etc., it is so easy to keep in touch and stay up to date with everything going on on a daily basis. So, has been being away from our older two been tough? Honestly, yes. But the rewards have been really incredible and the good has outweighed the bad in so many ways.
Ok, onto the real reason for this post. You want to know why the heck you should uproot your kids and move them halfway around the world, right? Well wait no longer, here we go:
1. Confidence Builder
Before we moved to China, Jack was scared of everything. So scared in fact, that he refused to be in a room by himself until the age of 9. It was pretty rough. By living overseas, he has blossomed into an independent and adventurous young man. He would have never even considered an “adventure bike ride” when we were back home. Heck, he wouldn’t even leave the driveway unless one of us was with him. Living here, he orders his own food at restaurants, asks for the bill, and even goes to buy a slushy all on his own. Kids have to have confidence when living abroad. There are so many new things they will experience and do that gaining confidence kind of just happens. As a mom, it makes me so happy to see my boys confidence and belief in their abilities skyrocket since we have been here.
Ok moms, I know this is a terrifying word for some of you. I mean, deep down inside we all want our children to need us forever, right? However, our responsibility as parents is to raise responsible, independent adults. And let’s be honest, even if our kids have gained the ability to tie their own shoes, or drive their own car, they are always going to need us. Yes, even when they are 24 with a family of their own, they will still need us (right, Autumn?) 🙂 So I rejoice in the fact that at 15, Elijah has been able to perform in two choir concerts, both of which he had to leave the country, get through customs, find his gate, board, and transfer planes, and stay in a hotel with minimal supervision. This is amazing! I’ll be totally honest though. I went too just because I am still his mom, and I worry. However, I didn’t get involved, stayed in my own room, and let him figure it all out himself. In fact, I really only ever saw him during the choir performance. That makes me very proud of the both of us! I suppose I am still making baby steps in giving him his independence-haha! But think about it, if we were back home, the farthest he would need to go for a choir concert might be the next state and here he is going to another country! Talk about independence.
3. New Places, New Adventures
Because we are living overseas, we have had the opportunity to travel a lot more than we ever did before. Believe it or not, before we moved to China not one of us even owned a passport! My kids have seen places they could have never imagined outside of a movie. Sunrise at Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia, Cruising through Halong Bay in Vietnam, Riding elephants in Thailand, Snorkeling in the Gili Islands, hiking The Great Wall of China. I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point. My kids (all of them) have stamps in their passports of not only incredible places they have seen but of memories made that they will carry with them forever.
4. Cultural Appreciation
Who knew that babies walk around China in split bottom pants to help with toilet training, or that some people in Cambodia live on floating villages? Before we moved overseas, our understanding of different cultures was so limited. It’s hard to truly grasp the differences unless you have been to a country and experienced it firsthand. Living in a foreign country has taught my children to be more tolerant of people who do things differently than us. This is a huge understanding for them to acquire when they are young. It has not only made them more tolerant, but also more adaptable.
5. Schools and Friends
My boys have the privilege of going to a fantastic international private school here in Shanghai. I understand that all expats will not have the opportunity to send their kids to a private school when living abroad and we are blessed to have the ability to do so. International schools typically offer a top-notch education. They open doors for their students that would not be opened at home. Elijah and Jack have collectively been on 5 school trips either out of town or out of the country, all for 3-7 days. Elijah has met new friends around the world through traveling for school choir performances. Also, friendships made in school are formed quickly. There is an understanding of quick acceptance in an ex-pat school. Kids know that friends will most likely not stay past a couple of years so bonds are formed quickly. These kids do a lot together. They go to school, hang out, and travel together. In addition, they have a common bond in knowing the challenges that can arise from living abroad and their friendships become deep as a result.
Perhaps one of the things I am the most grateful for in our journey living abroad is the fact that the two boys we have here have become closer. Before we moved, Elijah and Jack tolerated the fact that they were brothers but that’s about as far as their relationship went. They each had their own interests, and friends and very rarely hung out together. Moving abroad has taught them that no matter where we are or what we do, they always have each other. This has created a bond that I know they never would have formed living at home. Sure, they still have their own friends and interests, but now they talk to each other more. They play video games together. They have even decided to share a room although each one has their own. I love watching their brotherhood blossom into friendship.
As you can see, I am so thankful we decided to move overseas. It was honestly the best thing to happen to our kids. Their world has become so much bigger. They have seen and done things they never would have back home, and they have formed a deep bond that I pray will hold them together forever. Is moving abroad tough? Yes, it is. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and if your kids are like mine, it is the best thing you could ever do for them.