Moving to a foreign country is a monumental task. It’s a totally different beast from going on vacation or doing volunteer work for a month or two. Throw children into the mix and it goes from a beast to a whole mutant melting pot of beasts fused together by some inhuman force. I’m not saying the following tips will make it all easy, but it will hopefully make is easier.
Check the Travel and Visa Requirements
This is the only tip I am offering that doesn’t directly relate to the feelings of your child. This is for you, the parent, because many of us don’t know this. A lot of airlines and nations have different visa and travel requirements for children than for adults. For example, my children, even though they are U.S. and Panamanian Citizens, are not allowed to leave Panama without both my wife and I present at the border or flight. This is pretty common, but in Panama even if my wife and I are both present we have to have their original birth certificates (no copies) or Panamanian ids to leave the country with them. Make sure you do your research on this!
Don’t Force the Other Culture on Them
I see this a lot from new parents who move from the States or Europe to Panama. They are all excited to move here because it is this great new adventure, and the first thing they try to do is be part of the Latino culture (usually by purposefully arriving half an hour late for everything). All that is fine, the problem comes when they decide to force their children into the excitement they themselves have.
Their kids didn’t really want to move here. Even if they said they did it was only because they didn’t actually understand what that all meant. When they arrive here and realize there are very few kids who understand them when they talk, totally different food, and on top of that their parents have morphed into completely different people, they almost always want to go back home.
Parents make this so much worse by forcing their kids to go to language school right off the bat, or making them dress like the locals. Or because the parents decided they want a simpler life, they take away all of their kid’s electronics and tell them they can’t play on the Xbox anymore.
I’m not saying those are bad things, I’m just saying that by requiring your kids to do that, you usually have the opposite results. The kids are usually angry and bitter about moving, and just want to go home, and it makes life in the house miserable. That said, my advice is this; let them ease into it.
Don’t Cut Off Friendships in Your Homeland
Unless you moved overseas specifically to get away from their friends. There are plenty of people who do so to get their kids out of drugs or gangs or over zealous hockey teams (go Mighty Ducks!). Those are all legit and I fully support cutting off those bad friendships in that situation. But if that isn’t the case, your priority should be to get internet, or find the closest internet cafe, and let your kids have plenty of Skype or FaceTime contact with their friends in those first months. This will let the change be more gradual, they can still have fun with their friends back home, and in the natural course of things they will almost certainly make new friends in your new country and it won’t be so hard on them anymore.
Do Encourage Them to Make New Friends
Last point being made, your kids may be shy and not want to be around the new kids in the area. I’ve seen many kids who simply don’t like the new kids because they speak a different language and don’t understand their culture. They want to talk about Pokemon Go and the new Xbox, while the native kids are obsessed with Messi, Chuck Norris, and MacGyver. This is normal and you shouldn’t get mad at your kids about it. As they adjust to the new culture that will change. Also, in pretty much every country you would want to move to there are ex-pat communities, you can find forums for them all over the internet. And where there are ex-pats there are usually kids. Try to link up with them and bring some familiar culture and language to your kids.
I would warn you to be careful though. Just like you would be careful who your kids are friends with back home, do the same here. There is a tendency to think everyone who speaks English (or your home language) is your friend because they live in the same foreign country as you. It’s weird how that happens. Just remember that there are bad influences overseas like anywhere else. Also, most of America’s Most Wanted people live overseas in hiding and blend right in with the ex-pat communities, so don’t just trust anyone because they act like you.
Don’t Trash Talk Your Homeland
My goodness is this prevalent. Especially in people from the States. I meet people all the time, and I don’t even like to ask why they moved to Panama anymore. They almost never say, “I came down here on vacation, fell in love with the place, and decided to move here.” Nope, it’s almost always, “The U.S. is a poop chute and I wanted out! I hate that place and I’m never going back (except to collect the disability checks the “poop chute” gives me, unlike the vast majority of the world, that let me live overseas without any effort aside from pretending to be sick at my yearly exams).
Not only is this annoying to people who love their country, like myself, but it can have a nasty effect on your kids who don’t know all the bad stuff you do. All they know is they loved their friends and the food, and the movie theaters and Pizza Hut, and for some reason you are badmouthing it. It may seem innocent, but you would be surprised how much kids internalize that stuff, and eventually turn it on you.
5. Do Your Best to Let Them Have Their Own Foods
This can be tough. Sometimes you simply don’t have access to the food your kids love. Most of South America doesn’t have pepperoni or peanut butter. When I lived in Argentina I remember the first time I took my son to get pizza. His favorite is pepperoni. I ordered and got a pizza with sliced hot dogs on it!
Food is a universal comfort, even for kids. If you have to pay a few dollars extra to buy some Rocky Road ice cream rather than a frozen pineapple slushy, do it. If you can’t find Rock Road, and your kids love it, learn to make it and do it with them. You would be surprised and how it can turn your kids around to get their home foods every once and a while.
Plenty of Family Time
If I could only give you one piece of advice, it would be this. When you move overseas, make a serious effort to spend time with your kids. It may sound like a cliché or an obvious suggestion, but the truth is, over and over again parents move to another country and end up all but forgetting their kids because they are having too much time living it up in the cheap new country. Your children need you, and if you want them to have a smooth transition and enjoy living in this new world you have brought them too, do things with them and make it fun. Have two or three game nights a week at first. Read books with them, watch Netflix, cook together, go out to eat together. Do these things and hopefully your relationship with your kids will bloom, and they will love their new home.