It hit me once again 7 months ago, when I was staring at Emma’s birth certificate and I couldn’t understand a single word on it.
Let me start by saying that I am Spanish and that my second daughter, Emma, was born in Shanghai, China. So, no, I don’t understand my own daughter’s birth certificate. It is written in Chinese characters.
Because of my job, I have lived and worked, and therefore, had permanent addresses in Madrid (Spain), Stockholm (Sweden), Zurich (Switzerland), Miami, FL (USA) and now Shanghai (China). My first daughter, Olivia, was born in Miami in 2008. And my second daughter, Emma, was born in Shanghai in 2010. These 2 little ladies have already been to more places in the World that many of my adult friends. How cool is that?
Apart from the fact that Olivia has dual citizenship (Spanish – American) and that Emma has her birth certificate written in Chinese traditional characters, there are so many great things about raising a kid in such an international environment.
- Although it is a tough thing to do over and over again, moving places and meeting new people makes them more adaptable and flexible. Also more social. Olivia never had a problem making new friends and she is quite open, social and interactive with other kids. I believe this trains a kid to be more resilient.
- They are growing up surrounded by kids from all over the World, which will make them used to interact with other cultures, races and backgrounds from an earlier age. I believe this is critical in fighting against intolerance and racism, which are rooted in ignorance and lack of exposure of individuals to others that are different.
- I have to admit I drool in admiration (and envy) when I listen to Olivia speak Spanish, English and Chinese words and phrases. Some say that multilingual environments slow down a kid’s ability to start talking. While it might be true (not in Olivia’s case though) we all eventually learn to talk, so whether you are fluent and articulate at 2 or at 3 doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you have already programmed in your language skills learning ability the basics for more than one language. We will probably be leaving China before Olivia is fluent (she is not even 3), so she will probably forget all she learns, but if she picks it up again in the future, I believe it will be much easier for her.
- Olivia is developing the ability to make friends that will live around the World, and thus, building an International network of friends around the World. Who knows, one of her childhood friends might become the president of some country. All good contacts to have…
It also comes with great responsibility. When making professional decisions on what assignment to take next, now I have to factor in my family’s well being too. So in addition to evaluating the new job and remuneration package, I now have to consider things like the quality of International schools, language spoken, weather conditions, outdoor activities… Things that didn’t play a big role when I made decisions on where to live next back when I was single but that now are as important, or sometimes even more, than the actual content of the job or the compensation package.
Obviously, there are some drawbacks.
- The distance with the (extended) family. Every kids needs to be spoiled by their grandparents and in a Latin society like mine, staying close to your family is a core component of a child’s development. It is hard for my daughters’ grandparents to only see them once or twice a year. But it is also hard for me and my wife to be missing out on many things back home. Thanks to the Internet and technologies like Whatsapp, Skype and Picasa, we stay in virtual touch. It is fascinating how these things suddenly become a core part of my daughters’ life. At the end it is a trade off. But what in life isn’t?
- Moving from one country to another is a traumatic event. And not only because of all the things you have to sort out, but also because of the friends you leave behind. And for a kid, this can be even more traumatic. Saying good bye to good friends, having to adjust to new schools…
- Kids that are brought up in this ever changing environment are probably more likely to end up having a similar lifestyle, which means that, as my parents and parents in law are suffering from not spending time with their kids and their granddaughters, we will end up living apart from our kids.
Some American friends that might be reading this might think all this sounds familiar. I have learnt to appreciate the Americans in their resilience and their adaptability. They are more used to moving from place to place than the average rest of the World. But this is not that common for Latins and other societies where the extended family is at the very core, and having your family members scattered around the World is a very hard thing to deal with.
All in all, I believe that, as my daughters have given me the best gift a man can receive, I am giving them back the gift of traveling around the World, learning languages, making lots of friends and, ultimately, making them more diverse, open, resilient and, hopefully happy.
I met Jaime at SXSW this year. Although he currently works on the other side of the world, I feel like I’ve gotten to know him through our conversations on Twitter. The man is a world traveler and there is a part of me that is a little envious of all the things he’s been able to experience. Not many people can say they have been in 35 countries through work and vacations! One thing I know for certain is that Jaime is father who is passionate about his kids and I’m so glad he is here to give you his thoughts on raising a family abroad and away from family. You can follow Jaime on Twitter at @jaime_del_valle, check out his blog and connect with him on LinkedIn. Thanks, Jaime!