We just returned from spending the ‘Golden Week’ national holiday in India, and what an incredible place it is. We went because (selfishly), I wanted to give a big tick off my bucket list (the Taj Mahal), and the weather was ideal (not too hot). Also, I was very excited to experience one of the most ancient and vibrant cultures in the world with my family. Like China, India is a country of great variety. One unfortunate aspect of this variety is the income gap. I found it humbling and a cause for reflection to witness the different socio-economic backgrounds presented to us. We were also there over the Mahatma Gandhi holiday, where his contributions to the country and philosophies were forefront. This reminded me that in the midst of our privilege of travel, we not only had an opportunity for appreciation, but a responsibility to be mindful of our place in the world and what we can contribute.
You may ask, “Why does this matter?” Well, the thing is, as expats, life in the ‘bubble’ where you live can give you a distorted view of reality, especially if you are there for a while. We are fortunate in many ways, and so are our kids. I’m not talking about the financial aspect, which can be a misconception about expat life. I refer to culture and exposure. In addition to living in a different country and immersing ourselves in the lifestyle, the opportunities for travel, whether it’s ‘just’ to Qibao Old Town or back home, can be more than what people around the world generally experience. Also, as a group of people who choose to live in a country other than their own, we hope this exposure makes our children more openminded and globalized for the future.
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The question becomes, "How do you create globalized kids without them becoming ‘exbrats’ (expat brats)?" After we returned from the holiday, I overheard my daughter and her friends talking about their “next holiday over Christmas.”’ Most of them spoke about how they were going to their home country. “And what about Chinese New Year?” the little voice of a friend asked. I quickly stumbled into the room on the pretext of asking if they wanted a snack because I didn’t want my daughter to assume we were going anywhere. “You’re staying in your room!” I wanted to bark. But, but I realized if she did ask, it was only our doing. Our passion for travel, adventure and experiencing different cultures with our kids could create a kind of entitlement that wasn’t realistic, especially living in ‘the bubble.’ Things are further complicated because my husband and I come from different countries, so even if we are ‘home’ in one country, one of us is always an ‘expat.’ We are fortunate that (currently) we can travel ‘home’ to two countries to see grandparents or family, but how do we prevent the kids from feeling ‘entitled’ to this?
A survey conducted on Honeykids Asia (www.honeykidsasia.com, a resource based in Singapore for expats in Asia) on how to prevent raising ‘Exbrats’ had parents advising that doing chores at home despite having domestic help (as a lot of people do in Asia or the Middle East) was one way of keeping things grounded. Other parents admitted to hauling their kids ‘back home’ after being expats for too long, as they noticed how entitled their children (and they) were becoming. Striking the right balance between kids who don’t bat an eyelid at different religions, beliefs, food or skin color while remaining humble can be remarkably tough. Heck, even as an adult we can easily take things like travel or cultural exposure for granted.
In searching for answers on how to maintain openminded, globalized kids without the brat factor, I stumbled on a blog by expat mom, Lucille, called Expitterpattica (www.expitterpattica.com). Amidst advice that made me laugh on how travel and exposure can also make you a ‘plonker’ if you don’t have the right takeaways from the experience, she says, “The key to being a Globie (what she calls being globalized) is humility. Being humble enough to know that you are one person in 7 billion and that while you are unique, you are not superior. Being a global citizen means watching the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, and knowing it’s the same sun that rises over the Great Wall, Angkor Wat, Hagia Sophia, the Statue of Liberty, the Andes, the Ganges, the Amazon, the Thames, and feeling the connection between it all. Being a global citizen means feeling small in your grandeur, insignificant in your magnificence, grateful for your lot, being humble in your pride, and knowing that the world does not exist for you, but that you exist to make the world a better place. It’s my job to ensure that they grow up to be creatures of substance, global citizens. It’s my job to help them to grow up global…without the baggage.”
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I think she hit the nail on the head. I too am grateful for the opportunities we have to expose ourselves and our children to different ways of life, but with this comes responsibility. To that end, I find bearing in mind a few of Gandhi’s philosophies help to keep my kids grounded while they live their wonderful and adventurous lives.
My favorites are “Live as though if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever,” balanced with “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
May he rest in peace.
[Title image via Pexels]
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