It’s pretty common for expat parents to worry that their decision to live cross-culturally is going to turn their child into some kind of freak. There’s a fear (sometimes faint and sometimes paralyzing) that they’ll miss out on the social experiences during their formative years that make other kids . . . well . . . normal. In China those fears are compounded because Chinese culture can be so vastly different from our own. Will our kids be socially inept, out of touch or relationally challenged? Will they miss out on the things that make the cool kids cool? Will they turn Communist?
Some concerns are more valid than others but if you’re worried at all it’s well worth it to process that out personally or with your spouse (if you have one). It can also be a great characteristic to model for your kids. Generally we make the mistake of thinking we need to hide our fear so we can be strong for our kids. On the contrary, being transparent about what scares you may just free them up to do the same.
But I’m playing the optimist today. Call me Mr. Positive. Seriously. Call me that.
Right now . . . for this stage in our lives . . . I am loving that we live in China and here are five reasons why:
1. We feel safe here.
Sounds weird, I know, but we genuinely worry less about our kids safety in China than we do when we’re at home. China is no perfect safe haven where bad things can’t or don’t happen and it would be horribly naive to think that bad people don’t live here. However (and there are several dynamics to this) there are considerably less random, senseless acts of violence, especially against children. Our kids may be stared at, photographed, picked up, tossed in the air, have their hair ruffled and teased just to get a reaction . . . but the longer we live here the more we realize that the vast, vast majority (albeit unbearably annoying at times) would never think of harming our children.
2. Our kids live diversity instead of just learning about it.
I was 18 years old before I flew on an airplane, 19 before ate my first Chinese food (if you can call it that) and 20 before I ate Mexican food (Taco Bell). I went to school (K-12) with a total of five people who had different skin color than me (only three more than are in my family now). Before I went to college I had three friends whose first language was not English. My daughter will be nine this month and at last count we have friends from 32 countries. More than two thirds of her friends speak multiple languages and we always sing Happy Birthday in English, Chinese and Korean. One of her favorite snacks is seaweed and she has eaten grasshopper, starfish, chicken feet and scorpion. She’s a gross food rock star.
My kids stand out. They’re different. They’re foreigners. They don’t speak fluent Chinese and this is China. They travel . . . A LOT. They don’t know how to answer the question, “where are you from?” They don’t feel rooted. They say, “goodbye” . . . A LOT. They miss their grandparents. They think skype is more normal than a telephone. And here’s the kicker . . . they go to school with 400 other kids who are exactly like them. You’re only weird if you’re different and at their school they’re all in the same boat.
Superbonus – My daughters Kindergarten teacher still takes her out for fun days three years later.
4. Justin Beiber doesn’t live here.
No disrespect. The little guy seems nice enough but I for one am thrilled that the fever hasn’t hit the mainland China expat community. It’s not that kids here don’t like Justin Beiber or Hannah Montana or Spongebob. They do. However, their 3rd grade social status and entire self worth doesn’t at all rely on how devoted they are to Beiber mania. It’s not uncommon here for expat families not to have a television and it wouldn’t even mean imminent social death for a kid to say, “Who’s Justin Beiber?”
sidenote: My apologies for what I’m certain are outdated pop culture references. I’m sure we’ve moved on and there are new sensations sweeping the popular world but that kind of proves my point doesn’t it?. I have no clue who they are . . . and I don’t have to.
5. The “real world” is a WORLD.
For every single bit that our kids are missing growing up where we come from, they are gaining three bits that will equip them for life in their globalized future. They may be missing the grind of an American election year but they’ll be able to name world leaders, identify flags, and capitals and political systems from nations all over the world. They may not know who won the last Superbowl but they will know who won the last World Cup.
The world is getting smaller and the challenges in it are not. It’s very cool to watch our kids learn so much about a world that we didn’t even know existed when we were their age.
Some days the fears get the best of me. Sometimes I don’t even want to be here let alone raise my kids here.
But today — I’m soaking it up.