Today I am delighted to bring you a guest post from Natalia Forrest of No Beaten Path. Natalia has moved from Australia to the UK and in this post she shares her tips for relocating with children.
Natalia has lead a nomadic lifestyle all her life, and her son is already following in her footsteps. Natalia has lived, worked and parented across a range of countries, and been lucky to speak to a number of other parents who have done the same. She writes a blog, No Beaten Path where she sometimes writes about travel, sometimes about home education, sometimes about whatever takes her fancy – but always with the idea that you don’t have to stick to doing ‘the done thing’, often choosing to travel through life where there is no beaten path. She currently lives in England.
As someone who herself has had 30+ different addresses in 35 years, I have personal experience at what it is like to move from one location to another. This has all been put to good use as a parent, as now my own son has travelled across a continent (three different addresses in Australia), and the world (from Australia to the UK) in under six years. While moving, whether across town or across the world, can seem a daunting prospect if you are not used to it, here are some tips to make the whole experience just a little less scary for families.
Learn the language of the country you are moving to
A lot is made of children’s ability to learn a second language. And it is true, the younger you start, the easier it is to pick up another language. But expecting your child to just ‘automatically’ pick up the local lingo once you move is foolhardy, and frankly a bit cruel. Especially if they are older than five or six. It really depends on the individual child, but social shyness can kick in very early, and if your child already feels awkward because they are ‘new’, putting them in a situation – a new school, a new social group – where they don’t speak the language can just as easily backfire as it can lead to the blossoming of linguistic skills. In short, don’t expect that you can just plonk your child in the midst of a foreign language and they will automatically pick it up and become fluent in a short period of time. I am not advocating you have to be fluent to make things work, but before your move try to learn at least the basics of the language you are going to be grappling with. The older your child, the more difficult it is going to be. This also counts for adults – even when moving to a country where many people speak English (Western and Scandinavian Europe come to mind) it can still be alienating not being able to read things such as bus time-tables and billboards. And while in many countries the people you may have to encounter in emergencies – doctors, pharmacists, nurses – have a good chance of speaking English, it is not always guaranteed. This is even more so once you move in to Asia, Africa and South America. Again, don’t feel intimidated if you are not fluent, but it is always helpful to learn a bit of the local language before moving. At the very least it gives you a starting point to develop your language skills once you are ‘in country’.
Sell your kid on the concept
Before we moved from Australia to the UK, we started to tell our son about the history of the place we were moving to. We told him about the castles – yes, there are real castles where kings and knights lived! – and Roman ruins, and places where Vikings had been. Every child is different, but there is sure to be something in your new home destination that is going to be interesting for your child. Tap in to it.Play to your child’s strengths – if they love animals, research what animals they can expect in your new local area. If they love history, look at what castles, stately homes, battlefields, ruins or significant sites you might get to see. If they are in to dinosaurs, what museums or dig-sites will there be around? Are there new local delicacies, or festivals you can look forward to? Of course, don’t promise what you can’t deliver – if you are moving to Sydney don’t start saying you are going to see Uluru every weekend, or spend every second afternoon swimming on the Great Barrier Reef, or with dolphins. But do embrace what your new home has to offer, and play it up.
One thing I hear and read when it comes to children moving is parents worried about how they will cope when they leave their friends. As someone who moved constantly as a child herself (four primary schools in seven years, and then five highschools in five years as a teenager) let me tell you, for younger children at least, it is not that big a deal. Seriously, it’s not. As long as you can offer a stable home life, leaving behind a ‘best friend, bestest forever’ is not going to damage a ten year old. And I speak not just from my own experience, but as one who lives within a community of military families where people regularly move every few years. In the primary school years at least, your child is not going to be scarred if they leave their best friend behind. If they are really close, modern technology means Skype, email and other means will keep them close. Call me a cynic, but my bet is after six months, in most cases contact will fade. Teenagers can be a bit different – it is a difficult time of life no matter what is going on, and moving from an established peer group to a new situation can be hard. But think of it this way – you can view it as depriving your child of their freiends, or you can view it as giving them new possibilities. And if you are in doubt, think of how many of your friends from highschool are still important to you now. Savage, but true (I will admit that my brother is still living with his highschool sweetheart, who is also the mother of his three children and has supported him through thick and thin, but they are an exception as far as I can see! And before he met her at the second highschool he attended, so if he had never moved as a teenager they never would have met …) Family, such as grandparents and cousins, can be harder. In our case, we were in a situation where even when we lived in Australia we never lived close to our extended family, so moving overseas didn’t mean our son was spending that much less time with family. That’s not to say that we didnt’ have many (non-family) friends exclaim ‘but won’t you/he miss his grandparents?’or something similar. This may seem blunt, but I will put it out there – children still survive even when they are not in constant contact with grandparents/cousins/aunts/uncles. Really, they do. And in this day and age of Skype, email and other forms of communication (if you are old fashioned like us, you might even resort to hand-written letters!) you might find yourself talking to Grandma as often as you would when you lived minutes, rather than days, away.
Don’t be afraid to rely on ex-pat communities …
While they might get a bad name at times, meeting up with your fellow nationals in foreign climes can be good for you, and your kids. Not only will you meet people who have been there, done that, and have the short-cuts to prove it, but you will get the chance to talk to people who understand what you are going through. And if you are in a non-English language speaking country, it can be a Godsend. Trust me. These are people that could help you negotiate your way through school/driving licence/housing paperwork. Or at the very least point you in the direction of where to buy a decent pair of children’s shoes. Or the alcholic beverage that will get you through the process of buying said shoes. (I kid, I kid! Maybe …)
…but don’t rely on them exclusively.
Whether you are moving to a new country due to choice, or circumstance, always try to embrace your new surrounds. Trust me when I say it will make things so much easier, and happier, for you and your children. While an ex-pat community can be supportive, happy and one of the best times of your life, try to make the most of your situation. Dont’ be afraid to move beyond the confines of your compound/neighbourhood/situation, and seek the realities of your new ‘home’.
It might not always be pretty, but it is almost always guaranteed to be a learning experience for your children, and probably you. Make the most of it. Moving countries is an amazing experience, whether you do it once in your lives or constantly. Embrace the experience, and remember how lucky you are!