My kids are almost 4 and 9 months old. We’ve lived here for almost two years – this means that our oldest remembers very little about the U.S., and our baby has never even been there.
There are definitely plusses and minuses to raising children cross-culturally – the current terminology for children in this lifestyle is “third culture kids” – but overall, I think the benefits outweigh the negatives.
The Benefits of Raising Third-Culture Kids
1. An expanded awareness of the world. This depends on how long we live overseas, of course, but I love that my kids are exposed to all different nationalities and cultures. I love that their view of the world will be so much smaller – and bigger – than mine as a kid. When I was growing up, my world was pretty much how far I could ride my bike through the neighborhood. My 4-year-old has been to seven countries – so far. What a difference already.
2. Early bilingualism. Everyone has heard how much easier it is to learn a second language when you’re young. I can attest from first-hand witness that this is true. My daughter doesn’t know as much of the language as me yet, but she will. In the meantime, her accent is already flawless. And she’s not even trying. Studies have also shown that this increases brain stimulation in other areas as well.
3. A more creative education. There are a myriad of educational options, of course, and Americans are blessed to have a government that allows a lot of freedom in educational choices (at least compared to some countries). But I love that our children’s perspective of geography, world history, and literature will be so much broader at an earlier age than mine ever was.
Photo by woodley wonderworks
4. Increased self-confidence. This isn’t always the case, but if the setting is right and the parents are proactive in nurturing their children, third-culture kids have a strong self-esteem. They know first-hand about navigating airports, passport control, different laws of different countries, a variety of cultural settings, and the taste of different foods. They also understand what it’s like to be different than the majority – so if the positives of being true to themselves are nurtured, they’ll have a confidence that many adults still don’t yet have.
5. Increased adaptability. I’m curious how my daughter will handle the fast-paced American culture. So far, she’s light years more patient than her parents when it comes to waiting on public transportation and living in an event-oriented culture (as opposed to a time-oriented one). I’ve heard that this will transfer over into other areas of life – in college, for instance, or perhaps in dealing with people different than themselves in the workplace. Our kids will much more easily go with the flow when it comes to ambiguity, long lines, and red tape.
These are just a few of the benefits. If you’re interested in learning more about this kind of life, I highly recommend the excellent book Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.
Even if your family has no plans to live cross-culturally, chances are, your children will have friends hailing from other cultures. As the world grows smaller and smaller, it’s important to understand the challenges – and benefits – of living among those who have different customs and languages.
I know some of you live cross-culturally. What’s it like for your kids? What are the benefits? How about the challenges? Even if you don’t live cross-culturally, I’ll bet your kids have some experience interacting with other cultures.