Helping children to adjust on International Assignment
It is a well-known fact in the global mobility world that the majority of international assignments that fail are due to family issues. This can include your spouse and/or children who are unhappy or struggling to settle into the new country with all the cultural differences and language barriers. Not to mention missing close friends and extended family back at home. There is lots of information available on-line to help trailing spouses, but what about the children?
Include family in your decisions
When offered an exciting international assignment, research has shown that by involving the whole family in the decision-making process you will give the move a greater chance of success. The longer the children have to get used to the idea of a move overseas, the better. Younger children generally adapt to the idea of a move overseas more easily than older children who are already building their own social circles. Teenagers can really struggle as they are more independent and often have very solidly established friendships and school routines.
The vast majority of corporate companies offer pre-assignment trips for their employees and many also include their spouse, but unfortunately, only around 25% include the employees’ children on these trips. However, once the family has decided to accept the international assignment, there are lots of things you can do to help your children prepare and be involved in the new adventure plans! Talk to them about where you are going to live, show them online photos of the new location and its attractions and activities for kids. Talk to them about the different cultures in the new location, make it an exciting adventure. Let them pack their own belongings and choose what they would like to take with them.
Talk the talk
Moving presents a good opportunity to encourage children to learn a new language. Younger children tend to have the ability to pick up new languages FAST! It’s a good idea to teach them the odd word and phrase as soon as possible, maybe whilst you are all sitting down for dinner. A language tutor could also be employed pre and post-move and may give the family the opportunity to learn together. There are also lots of on-line language training courses available which appeal to children via the use of quizzes and games, as well as extracurricular classes outside school.
Choosing the right school
It’s quite challenging to find a suitable school for your child/children as different countries operate different curricula. There are specialist expat schooling advisory companies which your employer may employ on your behalf or you could employ their services directly. These specialists will assess your child’s current level of education and future aspirations and will research and report on schooling options and costings of education in the assignment location. Expat families will often favour an international school over local education establishments as the curriculum may be a better fit and the multi-cultural environment will allow opportunities to meet other expat kids.
Upon arrival in your new country help children to settle by letting them create their own space by choosing the decoration for their new bedroom and unpacking their own belongings. Help children to become orientated in their new surroundings by providing tours of the local area, helping them to become familiar with their new neighbourhood and child-friendly amenities like local parks, libraries and the location of their new school. Sign children up to clubs for their favourite activities and hobbies, this will help them to make new friends with both local children and other expat families.
Keeping in touch
It is really important for children to be able to keep in contact with friends and family back home. Luckily these days it is much easier with video chat technology such as Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp. Setting a weekly day and time to catch up with family and friends back in your home country will ensure that everyone has an opportunity to stay in touch regularly. Understanding that family and friends back home will not just disappear is often an essential part of comforting a child through the moving process when relocating overseas.
Time overseas as part of an expat family can be a very enriching experience for a child. Not only do they get to undertake a whole new family adventure abroad, but they will also often have opportunities to learn new languages and about cultures which ultimately will open their eyes to the wonders of the world. Many expat parents consider the relocation process and living overseas as the ultimate positive education for their children.
A first-hand account
Bilingual Professional and Category Manager at Savers, Jessica Hankins, told Alchemy about her first-hand experience of growing up in an expat household 'I was one of those fortunate expat kids and it was the most invaluable experience... The stellar educational opportunity that your children can receive by attending an international school - is a door-opening, horizon-expanding, priceless gift you can give them!'
Written by Laura Cardy - Senior Recruitment Consultant - Relocation & Mobility Services at Alchemy Recruitment Ltd.