Shirani Alfreds is an expat mother of two living in Shanghai. She will be writing about her experiences in a regular "Dragon Mama" blog for Urban Family.
“Mum I miss New Zealand, I wish we were living here” my 7-year-old daughter said while we were visiting my in-laws for Christmas.
My husband is a 'Kiwi,' born and bred in New Zealand, but my daughter has lived in four different countries and I had no idea she had a preference for one. Sure, her statement was probably influenced by the fact that all she did this holiday was play on beaches, take boat and tractor rides, climb trees and make daisy chains –good old fashioned Kiwi fun in fresh air and sunshine, most of it barefoot, to her delight. But really? She preferred that to iPads, movies and going to indoor playgrounds on high pollution days in Shanghai??
I say this tongue-in-cheek of course, but I am still intrigued as to whether it was the novelty of a good summer’s fun (with great weather), or if being half-Kiwi and having lived there for just over half her life, she had somehow connected and identified with it as ‘home’.
I say this because I don’t particularly regard anywhere as ‘home’. My passport says I’m Singaporean, but I grew up an ‘expat brat’, moving countries every 2-3 years.
I’ve spent more than half my life out of Singapore. My family live there and of course there is a certain familiarity and pleasure I experience from being there, but ‘home’ for me, is where my immediate family and stuff is, which is currently Shanghai. While I’m adaptable and easily move as a result of this history, I also have a twinge of jealousy when people talk about going ‘home’ and indulging in things they miss.
I don't have this attachment to any country, so when my husband joyfully elucidated that he was excited to ‘go home’ when we were landing in New Zealand, I have to be honest and say I was a tad hurt that he didn’t regard Shanghai home the way I did. We managed to avoid marriage counselling to sort it out however, agreeing it was the difference between having roots like he did and being a seeming gypsy like I was.
What we have yet to sort out though, is what we want for our kids - an international lifestyle or calling somewhere ‘national’ home someday? Where would this even be given we are from different countries?
We’ve had this discussion with friends, family and other expats and of course there are varying views. This trip, we spent time with old friends in New Zealand who were ‘done’ with living overseas and had headed back to start their family, believing a wholesome Kiwi lifestyle was what kids needed. Two other couples moved back for their eldest to start high school as they wanted stability for their kids and to form solid friendships in teen years. Yet another couple returned for the start of primary school so their child would know her Kiwi identity having spent her whole life in Asia.
Friends who are still expats expound the virtues of remaining in an international lifestyle to cultivate ‘global citizens’ broadminded and respectful of all cultures with varied experiences. We can see the benefits of all these choices, but I suppose are somewhat lucky that our kids are relatively young so we have the luxury of time to decide what our decision will be.
I asked our 7-year-old how she felt about being back in Shanghai. She gave me the thumbs up “Happy Mum! All my stuff is here and you let me watch TV when the air is bad!” Hm..perhaps we overthink at times because for now at least, this child seems happy to be 'internationally national,' wherever she is.
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