From a father and educator’s perspective, Leonard Stanley is here to give you some advice – whether it’s questions about school, your teenager, family life, expat life or if you just need a dad’s point of view. In Advice from Dad, he answers your tough questions and gets a parent’s perspective.
This past holiday season, during our annual alumni basketball game at Western International School Shanghai (WISS), I reconnected with a few of my former students who were back in town visiting family. I look forward to this game every year, as it's my chance to see if I've still 'got it' by testing my slowly deteriorating basketball skills against the youngsters. It's getting more difficult by the year, in case you were wondering. But, I've still got it, even if I have less of whatever 'it' is!
Anyway, as we engaged in our usual conversations about university life, living on your own in a new environment and everything else that gets thrown around at these games, one conversation in particular stood out. A student who repatriated explained how difficult it was for him to move 'home.' Naturally, I assumed he was referring to his social adjustment, as the schools, and teachers especially, had prepared him academically. He was having trouble 'fitting in' and wanted to know what to do when it feels like you are a foreigner in your own country.
Overall, this situation is not at all unusual; students complain about the trials and tribulations of transitioning all the time. They describe it like going home to a place you have never lived, where you are expected to know more about the culture and way of life than you do.
However, as I probed a bit deeper, I found his challenges were a little different. For him, it was mainly about how little his secluded social group knew of the world and how their limited perspective informed a worldview that was frustrating. He encountered bias and prejudice unlike what he had experienced in China, and struggled to understand how people could harbor certain views about places they had never seen and people they'd never met. He was disappointed, and wondered what he could do to enlighten his provincial peers on how the world actually is.
Image via Pexels
I explained that transitions are seldom flawless and while he usually prides himself on being culturally savvy, feeling like an outsider when you return home is not unusual. Reverse culture shock is common, and there are ways to combat it. I recommended that when people were less patient and tolerant of others' differences, he could act as a global ambassador. He has an opportunity to share the world he has experienced with people who have not yet had the privilege, and that is an opportunity he should embrace. I reminded him about the importance of patience and how one of the most detrimental things he could do was adopt a condescending attitude. Arrogance, even just perceived, is the most alienating of traits. I pointed to the fact that that he has spent the formative years of his life living an international lifestyle, around other expats, and it's a mistake to assume that everyone functions the way he does.
We discussed that the challenge of connecting with his domestic peers could be due to their lack of common or shared experiences. Communicating about his lifestyle abroad sometimes made him feel like he was viewed as arrogant or privileged when he was simply trying to connect. This wasn't anyone's fault. His new friend group could potentially struggle to understand his experiences, and they may appear inept, immature or insulting when they are merely searching for an appropriate response to his amazing adventures. It has the potential to be an uncomfortable situation for both sides.
As we concluded our conversation, I advised him to view his home country the same way he would a foreign one. I have no doubt that living in Shanghai is a unique experience for all of us. I routinely boast about how special it is, and how the kids here have the power to change the world. However, they must realize that they are a minority, and be prepared to deal with the rest of the world who most often will not think like them. Once we recognize how that discrepancy influences our interactions, many of our frustrations with the transition will lessen.
[Cover image via Pexels]
Leonard Stanley was born and raised in Washington D.C., and has lived in Shanghai since 2009 with his wife and two young children Kyle (12) and Christopher (8). Leonard teaches Theory of Knowledge as well as Language & Literature at the Western International School of Shanghai.
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