By SUSANNAH L. GRIFFEE
A New York Times reporter moved his children from Brooklyn, New York, to Moscow, Russia, and enrolled them in a local school, where all classes were taught in Russian. The three children had no prior knowledge of the Russian language and struggled to learn, but eventually spent five years at the school. How would you react to moving to a foreign country and attending classes taught in a different language? Would you want to try living abroad?
In the article “My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling,”
Clifford J. Levy describes the experiences of his three American children as they first struggled, and then began to excel, in a local Russian school, New Humanitarian:
In those first months, our kids found themselves bewildered and isolated. Danya was a typical oldest child, a coper who rarely lost control. At night, though, she had insomnia. In class, she braced herself for that moment when she was asked for homework. She sometimes did not know whether it had been assigned. During Russian grammar, the words on the blackboard looked like hieroglyphics. She tried to soothe herself by repeating a mantra: “It’s O.K. to feel like an idiot. This is going to take time.” But she felt betrayed. We had assured her that children grasp language effortlessly, and there she was, the dumb foreigner.
Somehow, as the second year was melting into the third and fourth, life at New Humanitarian became normal. Danya was going to the coffee shop with her friends Masha and Dasha. Arden was excelling at Russian grammar, perhaps because she learned the rules from scratch, unlike native speakers. Both girls were at the top of the academic rankings. Emmett, still too young to be rated, was also thriving.
When I dropped them off in the morning, I was amazed as they bantered with other children. They no longer translated from English to Russian in their heads — the right words tumbled out. On the streets of Moscow, they were mistaken for natives.
Students: Tell us how you would feel if you had to attend a local school in a foreign country. How would you adapt? What would be the benefits and drawbacks? Do you think the reporter made the right decision to send his children to a local school, instead of an English-speaking international school? What cultural adjustments do you think you might have to make? If you’ve already had such an experience, what was it like?
Susannah L. Griffee is a New York Times intern and a student at New York University.
Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not”.Emerson
Have you ever considered moving abroad? Perhaps it has never crossed your mind but it may also be a dream that you have. As someone that has moved countries on several occasions (I’m from The Netherlands and have lived in England, South Africa, Italy, Japan, Australia, China and now live in Singapore) I know how wonderful it can be to experience different cultures and lifestyles. But moving abroad definitely has its challenges as well. Let’s have a look at all the pros and cons of moving abroad.
Moving abroad is very exciting
Especially when your life has become monotonous, nothing beats leaving everything behind and moving away. It’s great to discover a new world, sometimes completely different from your own and to discover other ways of doing things.
You meet lots of new people and make new friends.
You often meet people from different cultures and from all walks of life.
You travel to many fabulous places
Every new country offers new travel opportunities and it’s a chance to see the world!
A great opportunity to change your job or learn something new
If you move abroad and need to look for a new job then this may be a good time to try something new. Certainly if you are a spouse traveling with your partner then this could be a great opportunity to study again or finally focus on those goals that you always wanted to achieve but never had time for. I took the chance to start up my own business and finally created this site, which is now my full-time thriving business. It’s ideal since it’s totally web-based and I can take it with me, no matter where my travels take me!
Your children will be exposed to different cultures and they will accept that we are all different but yet the same
If you travel abroad with children then chances are that they will attend international schools. This can be a very enriching experience for them as classes usually have children from all over the world. This will give them a much better understanding of other cultures and will make them a world-citizen from the get-go.
You become a world citizen
You tend to get more open minded and realise that there is not just one way of doing things. You realise that we live in a global world and it just makes more sense to work together, as in the end, we all have the same needs and wants. The world is your oyster!
Ok so we have seen some great advantages of moving abroad but what is the downside?
Moving abroad can be very unsettling
Many things will be very different from your home country and you have to learn how things get done in your new country. Buying simple things can be a real challenge and finding new friends may be difficult. No matter how experienced you are moving countries you will always experience some kind of ‘culture shock’. It takes time to get used to your new place and the more you have done it before the easier it will be to adjust in another new country. However, if you are able to go with the flow and accept that normal things will take a lot longer you will start to feel settled again after a while.
You will be away from friends and family
Although it is easier today to keep in contact with friends and family it can still be hard to be so far away from them. Even when you visit them at home they often can’t relate to your life and part of your connection may be lost. Make sure that you keep in regular contact with your friends and use skype to keep up-to-date on even the little day-to-day things. And of course encourage them to visit!
It can put a lot of pressure on your relationship
As moving to a new culture can be very unsettling as described above, it can sometimes cause friction in a relationship. Certainly when one of you is busy with their new job and the other is home alone with no support network. It’s important to realise this and make very clear commitments to one another. Discuss all the possible consquences before you go and make some clear agreements on how to support eachother. Many things will change when you move abroad and it is better to discuss possible scenarios of any issues that you can foresee before you make the decision to move abroad.
You and your children may lose their sense of ‘home’
If living abroad has been a success and you are now away for quite a while from your home country you lose your sense of home. If you go back on holiday to your home country you may find that you no longer understand it all and sometimes you may not want to go back. This issue can also be very difficult for children who have no sense of belonging any more. We all identify with where we come from and that is harder to do when you have moved around and lived in several places.
This list is not extensive as there are plenty more pros and cons but this will give you an idea. In the end you will need to make up your mind if the positives outweigh the negatives. For myself it has been a rewarding experience and I can definitely recommend it.
I will write again on this topic to explore the long-term effects of children that grew up abroad in a different culture to their own. They are sometimes referred to as third culture kids.
Third Culture kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. van Reken
Raising global nomads, by Robin Pascoe
Culture shock a parent’s guide by Robin Pascoe
Meanwhile let me know your thoughts or experiences. You may also want to add to this list.