When I moved overseas 4.5 years ago, I didn’t have any plans of starting a family abroad. I was a single lady, stepping out into the world with a goal of becoming a full-time traveler. That plan didn’t happen.
Instead, I became an expat mom of two and here I am raising children in a different culture. My children are third culture kids by default. They were born in Korea and have never lived in their country of citizenship. They don’t know the native culture of me and their father’s who is Nigerian.
Recently, my husband came home with a Captain America action figure, better known as a doll to my oldest daughter. She loves this doll and even takes it along with her, when we go out and sometimes to bed.
After telling her the name of the doll, I used the opportunity to explain to her that she is American and how we live in Korea as foreigners. I don’t know if she fully grasped it. But eventually, she will be able to say, “My name’s Amira. I’m three years old and I’m American.”
My Children Will Never Be Korean
In a previous post, How Will My Third Culture Kids Identify Themselves, I talked about how third culture kids have to create an identity for themselves. And their nationality is just that — their country of citizenship.
Let’s use my host country as an example.
My children were born in Korea. However, they are not Korean citizens. Foreigners born here are identified by their parents’ passports. So in Korea, my children are Americans. If we continued to live here through their formative years, would they feel American?
Not really because they would have been socialized in Korean society. So then, will they feel like they belong in Korean society?
Although they could eventually naturalize, they would always be referred to as foreigners. They can love Korean culture, become fluent in the language, and legitimate their customs, values and norms. But, they will never be Korean.
When it comes to developing their sense of identity, third culture kids get to be creative. More often than not, they feel like they don’t belong to a specific culture. So what they will do is integrate elements from each culture into a third culture.
Expat Parents Should Keep their Culture Alive While Living Abroad
As expat parents and the carriers of our children’s birth culture, we have to be intentional in establishing their roots. So it is important to keep cultural traditions alive while living abroad long term. This can be a challenge if your traditions revolve around major holidays that aren’t celebrated in your host country.
For example, I never realized how much the American holiday season meant to me until I moved abroad. In Korea, I discovered that Christmas is just a “public” holiday. I liken it to Valentine’s Day. With every love motel or themed pension, nearly booked to capacity. Otherwise, it is business as usual except banks, schools, and government offices are closed.
In America, Thanksgiving and Christmas are part of an entire holiday season that starts in November and lasts until the New Year. It is a very special time for American families, filled with a variety of family traditions. I want my children to enjoy and know about some of them. In addition, there are many festive holidays and seasons in my husband’s culture.
A dilemma I have raising children in a different culture
My children don’t get to see their grandmother and our extended families who are also carriers of culture. I grew up knowing and playing with my cousins. Sometimes, I feel my children are missing out on this experience.
There are times when I feel sad that my children don’t know their grandmother outside of video calls. But I remind myself that I didn’t set out with a plan to start a family abroad. This is just the turn that my life took and where God wanted us to be. We won’t live in Korea forever, but I am grateful for what living abroad has afforded me and my family.
What are some benefits of raising children in a different culture?
The rewards of raising children in different cultures are plenteous.
When raising children in a different culture, they learn cultural competence. Third culture kids develop both an understanding and sensitivity to different cultures. In addition, they learn how to appreciate the differences between people in the global community.
They have opportunities to grow up bilingual or multilingual. With each language they speak, it opens their minds up to a different perspective. And of course, it eradicates language barriers with societal members.
There are endless learning opportunities for children living abroad. Kids raised abroad are always learning, exploring different cultures, and interacting with diverse groups of people.
They are ambassadors of the cultures they carry, bridge builders, and active members in the global community. They will be excellent leaders for our future.
Are you raising children abroad? I would love to hear from you. Please comment and let me know your thoughts on raising children in a different culture.