Expat life: Making it work for your kids

10 June 2015

When parents take that job abroad, challenges arise for their kids. (Credit: Alamy)

When parents take that job abroad, challenges arise for their kids. (Credit: Alamy)

When Kelly Jackson-Nash moved to Singapore from Melbourne, Australia, for her husband’s work, she anticipated a few challenges. Culture shock, maybe. Perhaps some lonely days. She did not foresee the biting.

Disturbed by the huge change and mourning her former life, Jackson-Nash’s four-year-old started throwing tantrums and even biting. Her eight-year-old daughter was still coming home in tears more than two months after the relocation.

Jackson-Nash, too, found it difficult to adjust leaving her family and friends behind during that first year. The toughest obstacle was “supporting my kids emotions when I was feeling exactly the same way,” the 42-year-old said.

Four years later, Jackson-Nash and her family are still finding their way in their new home. Singapore has a large expatriate community, but many families stay for only two or three years. Though “my girls have had to become quite skilled at continually making new friends,” they have found the constant goodbyes difficult, Jackson-Nash said.

Relocating for a job isn’t easy, but bringing children along can pose extra challenges. Despite those difficulties, more workers are consideringopportunities abroad and many are arriving with an entire family in tow. Getting used to new routines takes longer for parents who have to prepare kids — as well as themselves — for the move. They also have to help children settle in to their studies at school, experts say. “No matter where you come from, you have to find the new norm for the entire family,” said Karen McCann, author of Dancing In the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, based in Seville, Spain.

Square one

Relocation can take at least six months to plan but embracing the move before you depart can help you settle in more quickly, said McCann. Prior to making the move, she suggests visiting potential schools and connecting with other expat parents by phone or email. When choosing schools, consider your length of stay and the age of your children.

When selecting a school, it’s important to know whether your kids will benefit from international schools that teach in their home language, or whether they will adapt easily to local schools that hold classes in a foreign language. If you’ll be staying less than five years, and have older children, going to an accredited international school can ease the transition to another secondary school or university back home.

One of the first mistakes parents make is not letting their children — especially those older than nine — mourn the loss of their old life, said Ruth Van Reken co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. “You have to think about how you’re going to say goodbye” as a family, she said. Van Reken suggests collecting keepsakes to bring to the new place, connecting with friends via social media and organising goodbye parties to celebrate the turning point.

The challenges of going abroad for work are multiplied for children. (Credit: Alamy)

The challenges of going abroad for work are multiplied for children. (Credit: Alamy)

Experts recommend expats begin language courses at least six months before arriving to the new country through programmes such as Berlitz, Inlingua and Rosetta Stone. Once there, it’s doubly important to continue language courses, since children often end up learning the new language in school and their knowledge can develop into a source of conflict with parents who never took the time to learn. “When the children really master the other language, they started looking down a little bit on the parents,” McCann said.

Adjusting to education abroad

Kids up to seven-years-old often find it easier to form new friendships and have the ability to learn a new language faster than older children, said Kate Berger, a psychologist in Amsterdam who specialises in expat children. Those between the ages of seven to 9 can feel isolated because they are “grieving their old culture” including friends, family and the language left behind, she said. Kids from nine to 12 can better succeed in a school that’s at least partially taught in their home language and will benefit from feeling like they are part of an expat community with people who’ve experienced a similar move, she said. For children older than 13, an international transition may require additional counselling to help integrate them into the local community.

Christopher Bryan Jones, founder of Tokyo-based expat magazine Metropolis, says even helping his children with their homework offered some surprising challenges. “I didn’t think about how language and culture would play into my ability to be involved in their schooling,” he said.

Subjects, including science and Japanese history, can be especially difficult said Jones who relocated from Alabama in the US more than 18 years ago. These days, top international schools are often taught using the International Baccalaureate system, an exam-based style of teaching that may be more rigorous than some national education systems.

Understanding how holidays are celebrated, whether the school offers a like-minded community of expats and the role of parents in the education process can also help children adjust. “School isn’t just curriculum,” said Van Reken, who grew up in Nigeria and educated her children abroad. “Some kids are taught a different value system at school than they are taught at night.”

Making it work

As kids adjust to the new culture, it’s up to parents to understand how to keep part of their previous culture alive in new ways, says Jones, who relocated right before his two children, now 15 and 10, were born. At home, Jones encourages eating mac ‘n’ cheese, watching classic American movies and speaks to his children in English. He also uses Amazon Japan to get English-language books. Still, children end up having a different view of home than their parents. “They’ll essentially be natives of two cultures,” he said.

Location-specific expat groups on Facebook can be a resource for local childcare options, housekeepers or kid-friendly activities around town. Often, the community of like-minded parents — even ones available over social media — can make the transition easier, Jackson-Nash says.

When others ask Jackson-Nash for advice, she says getting past the first-year mark of moving abroad is a time to celebrate. At that point, settling in is no longer an issue, and the family has already developed routines for anything from grocery shopping to school and weekend activities. The first year, “can be simultaneously wonderful and extraordinarily difficult,” she said.


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Which Causes More Academic Loss, Snow Days or Individual Absences?

In this article in Education Next, Joshua Goodman (Harvard Kennedy School) reports on his study of the impact of Massachusetts no-school days on student achievement. Using data on school closings and standardized test scores, Goodman concludes that individual student absences “sharply reduce student achievement, particularly in math, but school closings appear to have little impact.” He continues: “These findings should not be taken to mean that instructional time does not matter for student learning; the bulk of the evidence suggest it does. A more likely explanation is that schools and teachers are well prepared to deal with the coordinated disruptions caused by snow days – much more so than they are to handle the less-dramatic but more frequent disruptions caused by poor student attendance.”

When just a few students in a class have been absent, teachers have to choose between spending time helping returning absentees catch up, which takes time away from the rest of the class, or letting returning students fend for themselves, which negatively affects their progress. Either way, the class’s achievement takes a hit. A snow day, on the other hand, can be handled by postponing, compressing, or eliminating non-tested material, which is why these lost school days have so little impact on test scores.

“The negative achievement impacts associated with student absences imply that schools and teachers are not well prepared to deal with the more-frequent disruptions caused by poor student attendance,” concludes Goodman. “Schools and teachers may benefit from investing in strategies to compensate for these disruptions, including the use of self-paced learning technologies that shift the classroom model to one in which all students need not learn the same lesson at the same time.”

“In Defense of Snow Days” by Joshua Goodman in Education Next, Summer 2015 (Vol. 15, #3, p. 64-69), http://educationnext.org/defense-snow-days/

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An inspiring post


I am always on the hunt for more lunch ideas. I hope you are inspired to be creative after the refreshing summer holidays!

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Our next Parent’s workshop

Please see below our presentation topic for Tuesday, May 19th.

The Five Love Languages of Children: Children need to feel loved to best succeed. But if you and your children speak different love languages, your display of love might get lost in translation–affecting your child’s attitude, behavior, and development. This session will provide you with practical suggestions for understanding how your child gives, receives, and interprets love.”

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Homesick when you are already home?

(Taken from the bbc:http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20150430-expat-shock-coming-home)

Peanut butter, marmite, fish and chips, tea-bags, broerwurst… these are just some of of the many tiny things that homesick expats yearn for after they’re posted overseas.

This nostalgia is to be expected when people move abroad. Much less expected, however, is the shock many expats  experience when they return home and realising it isn’t as they remembered it. Surprisingly, many find themselves struggling to fit in and make sense of surroundings that have changed since they went away.

So how do they adjust? We went to question-and-answer site Quora for some practical suggestions for long term expats moving back to their home country.

Gwen Sawchuk recommended buying a place back home while you’re still living abroad and going there for vacations and holiday periods. “This way, you develop your relationships within the community,” she wrote. “And when you go there to live permanently, it will feel more like home, where you belong.”

Sawchuk also suggested integrating by signing up for courses or “get a part- time job, volunteer — do what it takes to meet as many people as possible.”

“Don’t immediately talk about all the places you’ve been, what you’ve done, etc. It overwhelms people… This will alienate people,” she wrote. “Keep it low-key, make it like dating, dole out information very, very slowly.”

She warned expats may find it difficult to fit back in at the beginning. “It will be up to you to do the work of adapting,” Sawchuk wrote. Instead of going back to your hometown, it may be wise to consider living somewhere that has a much more transient population, “where people are more accustomed to newbies,” she suggested.

Laura Hale, who has lived in five different countries, offered this simple advice for those who are repatriating. “Have the same mind-set as if you were moving to a different country, and plan accordingly,” Hale wrote. Expats should expect culture shock, short periods of feeling isolated and difficulty understanding how the system works, she wrote.

Don’t come back with any expectations that your home will be as you left it, warned engineer, Don Merritt. “Things have changed, friends have moved on — your move back could be as difficult as your move abroad,” he wrote. “This is amplified by the notion that you will likely have that things will be the same.”

For those returning to the West from China the transition can be particularly tough.

Elliott Chen wrote that, for him, returning to the US was a very difficult adjustment. “When I was living in China, if I encountered an uncomfortable or irritating situation, I could at least frame it to myself as a cultural oddity, and find it interesting and quaint,” he wrote. “Back in America, I don’t have that illusion anymore.” He lists hand-sanitiser, conversations about new workout fads, fantasy sports, Super Bowls and real estate investing among his top conversational bug bears. These days Chen finds his home country stifling and overregulated — “where the heck can a person smoke a cigarette?!”

Sometimes basic communication can be a struggle, as Matt Schiavenzafound. “A lot of common slang-words and phrases that entered the lexicon while I was gone — sailed straight over my head,” he wrote. “I didn’t know that you had to pay cash when buying things on Craigslist. I reacted with childlike amazement at common appliances like convection ovens and clothes dryers.”

During his first year home in New York, Schiavenza began to miss China badly. “I sought out Chinese friends and participated in Chinese activities at Columbia (University) and even had a Chinese girlfriend. I grumbled at how expensive things were in New York and how it was difficult and time-consuming to eat healthy meals,” he wrote.

In the end what “broke the spell”, was going back to Beijing for a summer. “A lot of what I had found charming about China seemed to disappear,” he wrote. “And I discovered I was frustrated with things — slow internet, dodgy taxi drivers, food poisoning — that used to roll off my back.”

Jim Broiles who works in the tech industry, returned to California after just four months in China. At first he loved seeing the blue sky and driving in the orderly traffic. “Yet, it was like living in a ghost town. We felt isolated and bored. The food was boring. The shopping was boring. There were no people. No faces to examine and no humanity to experience in every square inch of living space,” he wrote.

Broiles said at work, the pace of progress felt like people were moving through “a pool of molasses”. He felt like he was coasting, “but relatively speaking I was extremely productive and had one of my best years. This is in a Silicon Valley tech company, so not exactly known for being slow-paced. Perhaps that can give you a perspective on the difference relative to China.”

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A Grade 5’s plea for parents to spend more time with their children

Smart Devices


Do you want your child to feel sad and lonely,and feel that you love your smart devices more than them?


Did you know that 80 percent of children feel lonely because their parents are on their smartphones and other devices.Also that makes the child sad because his/her parents don’t look after them or don’t pay attention to their children.Also if your child watches you  always on that devices they will ask you to buy one for them, and I don’t think that parents want their children becoming robots like them.Parents try to have a balanced time between your smart devices, and children should try to speak to themselves.


I suggest for parents to have a balanced time between your family and your smart device.Also make a chart designed for your smart device and family time. Or if you’re very addicted to your device try to not use it in front of your children.


Enjoy time with your kids because they will not stay kids for ever.


By Sama Hammad

(editing support from Mr. Hoffman)

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Be a good sportsman

Grade 3’s Unit of Inquiry is looking at adaptations, and from that I wanted to look at how to promote healthy competition so that within our school the children do not believe the fittest, strongest , smartest will survive, but rather they aim to work together as a team so that everyone can cross the finish line. Granted in life whether in sport, auditions, applying for jobs, even taking exams, people with loose, as we can not all win all the time.  The things is we all want to win! So how do we teach our children how to be a good sport, take the wins and the loses as they come, celebrating the taking part?

“The important thing is what you do next. Do you storm over to the other team’s dugout and accuse them of cheating? No! The best thing to do is to try to collect yourself and get in line with your teammates so you can congratulate the other team. Maybe you’ve seen Little League players do this. Each team lines up and they walk along sort of high-fiving the other team’s players and saying “good game.”  http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/emotion/good_sport.html#

Children who are sore loses end up not being children who others want to play with, the games become too competitive and the stakes to high, so it is easier just not to play with them. So here are some practical ways in which to encourage our children to be good sportsmen / women! (As a keen player of volleyball and football, girls and women are defiantly included).

’10 Ways to Be a Good Sport

Here are some ways that you can show others what good sportsmanship is all about:

  1. Be polite to everyone you’re playing with and against. No trash talk — which means saying mean things while you’re in the middle of a game.
  2. Don’t show off. Just play your best. If you’re good, people will notice.
  3. Tell your opponents “good game!” whether you’ve won or you’ve lost.
  4. Learn the rules of the game. Show up for practices and games on time — even if you’re the star of the team.
  5. Listen to your coaches and follow their directions about playing.
  6. Don’t argue with an official if you don’t agree with his or her call. If you don’t understand a certain call, wait until after the game to ask your coach or the official to explain it to you.
  7. Don’t make up excuses or blame a teammate when you lose. Try to learn from what happened.
  8. Be willing to sit out so other team members can get in the game — even if you think you’re a better player.
  9. Play fair and don’t cheat.
  10. Cheer for your teammates even if the score is 1,000 to 1! You could inspire a big comeback!              http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/emotion/good_sport.html#

So if you have a child in Grade 3 ask them what Ms Becky did in their class next week and I hope they come away with a sense of how powerful working as a team is and inspiring and encouraging others.

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