What does living abroad mean for the family? Leaving loved one's behind in the previous home country and raising the own children in a foreign country, on a different continent, poses a multitude of challenges for the immediate family as well as for friends and family back home. We live as an expat family far away from our parents, siblings, extended families as well as many of our 'old' friends, for more than two decades and we realise that we have changed. Or is it not us but them? Well, besides experiencing an ever changing environment, we now have a completely different lifestyle to that of our family and friends back at 'home'. We do call other places 'home' than our family and friends and often react differently to what they understand as 'normal'. We worry about different things - often enough - and enjoy other treats, our worlds often seem not to be the same anymore.
No wonder really, as we encounter different challenges than they deal with, have a different daily routine and enjoy and dislike different things than they do back there - we certainly did not change intentionally, never mind knowingly, but purely because we had to adjust to our new surroundings to progress, to adapt and to fit in - without losing our own identities that were imprinted by new experiences.
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Often we are asked what expat families should know before they leave the safe haven 'back home' or how they can prepare for their new life. Let us show you what future expat should know about living abroad and raising children in a foreign land.
5 Great reasons that show that travels and living abroad is good for you!
Living abroad makes smarter. Travelling let's you meet new people, experience new customs and new value systems. Thus travellers need to reflect on the value system they have been brought up in as well as reflect on the new cultural system, to be able to adjust and experience positive results from living abroad. Experiencing life in a new country is intellectually stimulating and helps your horizon to grow.
Living in a foreign country makes you more compassionate. As mentioned experiencing other cultures helps you reflect on your own upbringing and being uprooted and helpless at first when encountering new customs and not knowing how to react in certain circumstances, shows you that all people need help when settling in a new place. You can relate to experiences other foreigners and migrants make and will become more welcoming and open when meeting new people and new circumstances.
Travel makes you more flexible. Being confronted with a change in routine, you often will have to improvise. New routes need to be explored, different school times need to be considered, new support systems need to be initiated. Rigid schedules often do not work when settling abroad and your flexibility will be tested. Quick changes of plans need to be accounted for and solutions will need to be found for a multitude of events at the beginning of any new posting abroad.
Living abroad make you more language savy. Experiencing other cultures often involves being confronted with and learning other languages than your mother tongue. Encountering a foreign language immersion-style when being confronted with the new language day and night, helps improving your language skills. Listening to radio programmes and watching local TV shows is an easy way to learn a new language and better still, help you to get the local slang and up-to-date conversational idioms. Communicating with new friends and living the language every day, is much more effective than attending language classes.
You become stronger as a family. Living abroad means not having support networks and you have to rely a lot more on your partner and also need to make your children your allies. Especially in the beginning, peer pressure and peer support are still minimal, as families usually explore the new surroundings together and share their experiences. Often the member of your immediate family are also the only speakers of your home language and the family bands thus get much stronger when you communicate more.
Regina Gräff is the founder and editor of ExpatCapeTown.com and co-author of the 'Living in South Africa' handbook. Born and raised in Germany, she has a degree (MA phil) in languages and intercultural communication. Regina is a serial expat and has worked as a teacher and educational consultant in various countries including the USA, Australia, Singapore, the UK. Since 2005, she lives with her family in Cape Town/South Africa.