The benefits of raising kids cross-culturally

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About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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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.

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Comments

  1. We are an Australian/NZ family and having been living in Germany nearly three years already.

    My children who were two and four when we arrived have slotted very nicely into the German system of kindergarten and school and speak the language. I too, am corrected on my pronunciation by Miss 7 often!

    I don´t know how long we will stay here (its not intended permanently) however the benefits for my children are many and there is only one big downside which is missing out on love from their grandparents on a regular basis. They are well travelled, well adjusted and fluent in three cultures!

    Renia´s last blog post…Seven Dumpsters and a Corpse

  2. We are Indian’s and we lived in US for nearly 3 years with our kids then aged 2 and 5 before rteurning to India. I totally agree with the benefits that you have listed. They have a better awareness of the world and their place in it. My elder son has been with us when we lived in South Africa as well and it’s amazing how fast kids pick up the local languages and customs. He was just 2 years years old then and he picked up Afrikaans so well that he could converse with people pretty well.

    Out here in India too, we face similar situations. At home, we speak Konkani (my mother tounge)though we stay in the Tamilnadu state where the local language is Tamil. So the kids are conversant in Konkani, Tamil, English and our national language – Hindi.

    Prasanth´s last blog post…My Take on the Satyam fiasco

  3. Please read ‘mother tounge” as “mother tongue” – perils of typing too fast i guess!!.

    Prasanth´s last blog post…My Take on the Satyam fiasco

  4. We are currently in the States and are Americans by birth. But, our sights are set on heading overseas in the next few years. So, thanks for this encouragement.

    I lived overseas for a few years after college and found the expat kids there to be so much more mature than their counterparts back here. They were, of course, behind on trends and pop culture, but their social skills and their interests paralleled mine (and I was 23 at the time!).

    Even here in the States, this post reminds me to get out there and befriend families that are of a different background than me…I think we can provide an enriching environment like this for our kids even here. I talked a little about this on a previous post at my blog–called, ‘Thai Food.’ Here’s the link: http://burningbushes.org/?p=59

  5. We are a family of five living in the US, but our family comprises four nationalities: American, British, Indian, and Liberian. This brings a wonderful diversity and flair to our lives, which we love. Our children are so much more aware of the larger world around them than I ever was at their age!

    Jamie

    steadymom´s last blog post…learning: a story box

  6. Well, we’re a US military family, so our international moves have been a bit more sheltered, but we’re on our second overseas tour in eight years of service. Our 5 year old was born in Germany, and now we live in Japan, which means that she’s lived in 3 countries and visited 6 in her very short life. Although she doesn’t remember living there, she loves being able to say that she was born in Germany. And while it took her longer to come around to this move, she told us last week that she never wants to leave Japan.

    We haven’t learned much of the language yet, but I love knowing that my children will have a much broader view of the world, understanding that there are different cultures and lifestyles, and all of which are wonderful in their own ways.

    Heather´s last blog post…Mommy and Daddy

  7. I spent part of my growing up years living overseas (8th – 12th grades) and still feel, these many years later, it was one of – if not *the* – richest experience of my life.

    diannewrites´s last blog post…Think Like a Pig

  8. we live in the states, but i am native to indonesia. when my mom re-married to my dad (who is caucasian-american) i along w/ my sisters became “cross-cultural kids.” though we only lived in 2 different countries total, we did travel to different countries during holidays (living in jakarta it was less expensive to vacation in hong kong or australia as opposed to go back to the states). i have to agree that raising kids cross-culturally is so beneficial if you have that option. there is so much more to see beyond the city/town you live in, and for children to be able to physically experience new sights and cultures is an amazing opportunity.

    fortunately, my side of the family is spread out across the globe and i still have a lot of relatives in indonesia so we have made a trip back “home” already (my husband is american and being in jakarta was an eye-opener for him). if living as overseas is not in God’s plans then i think we will try our hardest to travel overseas as much as we can w/ our children.

    prasti´s last blog post…a bit of time for me…

  9. I lived outside the US from age 7 to 18, in Europe and South and Central America. I agree that it’s a great way to grow up, although I do remember feeling a complete disconnect from my non-third culture peers when we would return to the US – probably exacerbated by the fact that we had no television so I had very little knowledge of US pop culture. My husband and I have since spent three years in the UK. Our first child was born in the UK, and we would love to live overseas again if we can find a way to make it work.

    MaryAnne´s last blog post…Geometric Shapes Truck

  10. well… we’re Canadians living in the US – so while there are some cultural differences i don’t feel like my kid is growing up 3rd culture. he’s lived here since he was 3 months old, he’s more of a Yankee than anything. BUT his school is filled with kids from different cultures, many of whom are learning English for the first time. we can barely pronounce the names of some of his classmates, but he corrects us when we get them wrong! it struck me that he is going to have such great exposure to other cultures, just by attending our neighborhood school. i love that.

    Krista´s last blog post…my daily bread

  11. My husband lived in Bolivia for four years when he was young. Without a doubt, he remembers it as the most life-changing experience he’s ever had . I think giving your kids a truly cross-cultural upbringing is one the best gifts you can give.

    Monica´s last blog post…Frugality is the new black

  12. Like you, I pretty much grew up in the same place and didn’t really go anywhere, and never outside the US. However, my husband and I have friends that are missionaries in the Middle East, and we had the opportunity to visit them a few years ago. It was amazing to see a different culture and how they live the everyday lives.

    It was really a great learning experience, one that I will never forget. I do think that cross-culturally raised children will definitely have a better perspective of the world. When you have never been outside the US, it is really difficult to fathom how other cultures really live, work and play.

    We really take a lot of things for granted here in the US. I learned that just from the short time we spent on our trip.

    Amanda´s last blog post…18 Essentials for Every Child’s Craft Supply Box

  13. Actually, I really wish my children had a wider knowledge of other cultures. I’m Canadian and my husband and sons are Americans. We currently live in the US. Although I’d like to teach my children about their Canadian heritage, Canadians (including myself) seem to suffer from a lack of a sense of true identity. So, I’m not even sure what that would look like exactly!

    Brianna @ Heart(h) Management´s last blog post…The Great Cash Experiment: Is Paying with Cash Really Better?

  14. Oh, how I wish we could give our kids that experience! But although I didn’t grow up overseas, I had the chance to live for 8 months in Germany and I still think it was one of the best experiences of my life. That’s something I’ll definitely encourage my boys to do when they get older. It gives you such a broader view of the world and of people.

    Linn´s last blog post…Snow and Sand.

  15. My son (American) spent 2 years in a German Kindergarten. He spoke like a native by the end of two years, and still retains the ability to understand Deutsch when spoken to. We did not force him to keep it up when he graduated because it then became a “chore”. Even better than the language, I think, was the experience of being a stranger in a strange land. It is something we refer back to when he is sorting through the complexities of childhood friendship, and gives him a seat from which to empathize. He has been to many countries in his first 7 years, including China to bring home our daughter. He definitely has a much broader sense of the world, and what it means to be both human, and American. We are trying to get back overseas but DC has a lockdown on my military husband right now!

    Lee´s last blog post…Getting More From Your Not So Great Camera

  16. What a great post! As a missionary kid, growing up we traveled all over the world – I hope to instill this amazing experience on our children one day.

    Angie @ The Creative Mama´s last blog post…we’re living in a digital world…

  17. Oh thank you for this! I’m a TCK having been raised on an Indian Reservation in northern Ontario. While a teen I spent several weeks in Taiwan, three months in Moscow and then after our first year of marriage my husband and I led a short term missions trip to the Philippines. I so want to pass on my love of cultural differences to my 5 children. My pastor husband and I would love to be in Asia but God hasn’t opened the right doors yet. Maybe someday. . .

    Carol´s last blog post…brought near

  18. avatar
    Stephanie says:

    I just now ordered Third Culture Kids through your link. I’ve been wanting to read it for quite awhile. We’ve been praying and praying, feel led to missions, but aren’t quite sure what’s going on! We’re willing, we’re just waiting. Not a really fun place to be, but necessary I assume. A missionary we talked to said how excited he was for heaven, for all of God’s tongues, tribes, nations to be praising Him together, somehow as one, but so unique. Beautiful. We want to be a part of that now.

  19. What a great post! I didn’t know there was a term like this. I’m learning a lot today lol We’re a military family. I’m from the UK. We’ve lived there then Italy and now in the US. Each time it’s been interesting and challenging. We love maps already as a family so having dinner mats with a world map helps our family. We identify where family live and where we’ve been etc. The distances are little deceiving so the boys always want to pop over to a family member for dinner.lol They see how things don’t have to be just one way and know lots of ways of saying the same thing. We love the travel and showing them pictures. Losing friends is always hard though. There are lots of opportunities for comparison and learning.

    Melitsa´s last blog post…Teaching young children responsibility

  20. So far my almost 3-year-old has only been out of the country for a week–to Germany. He was about 18 months old at the time, so it was not much difference for him I think. We do have a number of friends of different cultures, and we talk about where their homes are when they go visit. He’s also going to a preschool with lots of children whose families are Chinese-speaking (just not on the Chinese immersion days), so he comes home counting to 10 and singing songs in Mandarin. I would love to be able to travel more with him and his sibling-on-the-way, but I have to admit that travel, especially internationally, is not a big part of our budget.

    Gabriel´s last blog post…Song Lyrics

  21. I lived in the same area for 24 years. Then in 2002 my husband and I moved to Australia for 4 years. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. You would think that Australian culture wouldn’t be that different to North American but it is. The people are lovely but it’s just a different way of life! It was a great to experience this and although we have no plans to move out of country with our two sons we will certainly support/encourage them to live abroad when they are older!

    Sherri (Serene Journey)´s last blog post…7 Little Things That Make Me Disproportionately Happy

  22. I’m slightly jealous of those who are able to give their children this type of experience. I certainly didn’t have it growing up, but my husband lived in Bolivia for about a year when he was around age 9. Lately I’ve been wistfully thinking of doing the same thing with our boys. We don’t get as much exposure to other cultures as I would like, although thankfully my in-laws have a young man from Mozambique staying with them for several months and it has been great to see the boys interact with him.

    Loretta´s last blog post…7 Quick Takes Friday

  23. My children have never been out of the continental United States. However, I have lived in Mexico as a child. I find that much of what you say is true. I pray that if y’all ever get back here (I’m not familiar with your circumstances) that your children DO NOT lose their bilingualism. I knew Spanish so well as a 6 yr old that I couldn’t read or write English! Unfortunately, I got it in my cute little head that since I was in the United States, that I should speak only English. Oh to go back in time! (Sometimes some words squeak out, but for the most part, it is gone – gone – gone :( )

    Iva´s last blog post…Grab My Button

  24. We live in Singapore and there are 4 main languages used here – English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. There are also lots of expats from different countries around where we stay so we do get to interact with many different cultures/languages. My kids at present are immerse in English, Mandarin and our dialect – Cantonese.

    Dominique´s last blog post…Friday Smoothies

  25. We’re from India but my children were born and raised here in the U.S.. I have a 12 year old and a 10 year old. They are so immersed in the culture of the U.S. that it’s hard for them to even speak in their native language, which is Tamil. Fortunately we haven’t give up on our cultural activities and other traditions and so they have strong roots in our culture.
    We travel to India for summer vacations and they’ve become familiar with long-haul journeys, stopovers in different cities in Europe, and all the new experiences that comes from living so far away from home.

    Nithya´s last blog post…Could brevity be the soul of blogging?

  26. Wow! Fascinating stories. I had no idea everyone here was so geographically diverse! I’m just an American, living in America. Thanks for sharing your stories though.

    Heather @ alis grave nil´s last blog post…Hank: The Story

  27. I wholeheartedly agree with this! Since we’re pretty fixed where we are & don’t see living anywhere else while the kids are young. We’ve enrolled them in an International Baccalaureate school which teaches from a global perspective. Many of the students are second generation immigrants or expats’ kids. We’ve been able to find a slice of diversity in our homogeneic South Orange county. We also travel as much as we can, throughout the USA, Mexico & Europe (so far). My kids’ tastes are so much broader than their peers and I think they will grow up with a greater understanding of their place in this planet.

  28. I love that there are so many families out there that are doing this. We are American/Australian and although we are currently living in the US, we travel to Australia every year and may head back over to live again in the future. We think it’s extremely important to make sure our kids know their Aussie culture and so we make it a priority to visit every year (it’s what my new blog is about at http://www.flyawayfamily.com). My husband has a huge family so having our kids know them is important to us. Plus, they live right by Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin’s zoo)! How fun is that for two boys!? :)

    Anyway, I applaud you all for for taking the leap and making it work. It’s not always easy but it’s extremely rewarding.
    MB

  29. I lived in one house throughout my whole childhood. But we’re moving our kids all over the place: we’re in Beijing right now, and we’ve also lived all over the former Soviet Union. My kids miss their grandparents and other relatives – as do I. But I feel strongly that we’re giving them quite a gift by showing them that there are other ways to live. And it’s so fun to hear my 2-year-old speak Chinese, or to watch my 9-year-old write it. I’m amazed at their ability to adapt – they’re better at it than I.

  30. Great post and stories! My family of 5 is gearing up for a move to Ukraine next year to teach at an American School in Kiev. It is reassuring to know so many families have found success away from “home.” We are in the early stages of selling everything and anticipation. I hope to be at the point of satisfaction and perspective soon.

  31. I LOVE your blog. This is an excellent article. I am grateful that my African parents had this point of view when we were growing up. They exposed my siblings and I to a whole new world through travel and meeting people from other cultures. Now my toddler gets to live this life. My husband and I are from 2 different continents. My toddler gets to absorb the cultural diversity from his parents and his granparents whom he visits annually.

  32. I LOVE THIS POST! Thank you. We are a missionary family living in West Africa. My sons are 3 and 18 months. Raising them in Africa has totally changed ME. I have friends in America that drill me with questions about shots and diseases and education and safety. I have found that when I decide to stop living in fear and start living the adventure that life can be, I birth in them confidence and love for adventure. TRAVEL WITH YOUR KIDS. It’s such a great investment and will help them so much more than wearing the latest fashions, playing with the newest toys, or riding around in the coolest car. There is no better way for them to learn about who they are and how they fit in this world.
    .-= Hope´s last blog ..medical team update =-.

  33. All of my children were born in the US. My husband and I are from Algeria but we lived in France for a long time. We speak three languages at home and sometimes I wonder if I belong somewhere ;o)
    I agree with you on all the benefits of raising cross cultural children but sometimes it’s a challenge. Right now my youngest (20 months) says just a couple of words. My pediatrician insists that she gets speech therapy and although I tried explaining that she has three languages to process, she doesn’t get it. I had the same issue with my boys, sometimes I wish teachers and doctors could understand the complexity of being a citizen of the world
    .-= Imene´s last blog ..The past weeks =-.

  34. I totally relate to a lot of the travelers in the comments. I myself am South Indian married to a South Indian but our backgrounds are ever so different though we have both been here in the States for sometime now. My husband grew up in Mumbai and its an entirely cosmopolitan city with Indians from all over India and tons of visitors from all over the globe. Its vastness and pace of life, to be able to mingle with the different cultures is a feat in itself.
    As for me I grew up with my sisters in a small country in Africa called Malawi to which I attribute all my early lessons of frugality and tolerance to.(You can find me at desisavingmom.com) It’s also admirable that my parents’ were able to keep us soaked in our South Indian roots through food, respect of elders and our Christian faith.we were also allowed the privilege to study in India and travel everywhere else. it made us tough as women adaptable anywhere.
    I want that for my son though we are now here in the States.To Let him know of the world beyond him with lessons of tolerance, respect and joy of having and doing with less. Things that cannot be taught here in a classroom. Those memories are never forgotten and will always be carried with you wherever you are.

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