Top tips for emigrating with children

Transitioning from one job to another, especially if they are on two different geographical meridians, is exciting. New perspectives, new possibilities and new enticing challenges in our own eyes make everything look perfect. But, no matter how we picture and project our expectations, transitions in action are tough. And it’s not only about packing, shipping and millions of emails that need to be written before the go, it’s about the unknown. In expat reality, changing countries for a job is not a professional avant-garde but a necessity; a particle coded into our professional DNA. As adults we (should) know what we are getting ourselves into. But do we? I know I didn’t. Not quite. Years back, before taking my first job in China, no matter how many blogs and opinions I had read all I knew was that I wanted to go. New adventure, new experience. That’s all. Yes, there were frustrations, disappointments and certainly lots of entirely new experiences. Alas, no matter how much I knew about culture shock in theory, including the secret knowledge of coping strategies, I’ve been through all its stages. But, with all that, I always knew I had a simple choice: stay or go back. The choice that many of my students have never been granted.

Someone once told me that I should not worry about new kids in my EAL class because they will quickly adapt and forget the change. “Really? Did that work for you?” was all I wanted to say. There is no such thing as seamless, emotionless transition. It always involves stress, anxiety, resistance and, in one way or another, a broken heart. Our children are not excluded from any of those, and the sooner we acknowledge that children experience transitions no different than we adults do, the sooner we can actually help them. How? Let’s see…

The process needs to begin at home. Teachers can and do help, but it isn’t them who is being transferred, it’s you—the parent. Therefore, grab the bull by its horns and talk to your children about the upcoming change. The sooner, the better. Last minute “surprises” may not be a good idea. Why? Well, would you like to find out about your job transfer two days before the actual move? Children need time just as we do. They need to get used to the idea.

Hence, help them learn about your new job and responsibilities. Try to be honest, but supportive. Answer all, not only the chosen questions. Kids want and need to know about the change. Help your children learn about the new country, city, house. Try to find something that your children will become interested in and might want to explore during the first days of your move. Pyramids, museum, lake… anything might be a great distraction. Contact your child’s new school and teachers and ask for a student buddy, so that your child can get in touch with and already start making new friends.

Commit to Communicate

Communicate: ask how new friendships are going, ask about the teacher. Let your child know that you care and are there, no matter how busy you might be with your professional transition. Make time and allow your child to say goodbye to those who are important to him or her. It can be a simple goodbye card, a picture, a video, a song, a farewell class party. Anything what your child chooses and feels comfortable doing. Exchanging emails and phone numbers might be a good bridge between the old and the new world. A positive “goodbye”, apology or thank you to those who deserve it gives strong foundations to a good beginning. Think forward, but ensure a proper closure.

Enroll your family for language lessons, should the country you are going to operate in a different than your lingua. Taking language lessons way before the move will pay off sooner than you think. And you will save yourself and your children a lot of unnecessary stress.

What is a good child’s age to start talking about transition? I dare say, any age. Of course, you know your children best. Your newborn might not be much interested in your new job assignment, but a three-year-old might actually ask questions you would not expect to hear. The point is: keep your children in the loop.

It certainly might feel overwhelming and at times too much to handle; new job, new responsibilities, new house or having to find one, new culture, language, visa, permits… it’s a lot! If at any point, dear parent, you will feel like you need help do not be afraid to ask for it. Talk to your expat friends, collaborate with your children’s teachers, who I am sure will do anything to help you and your children begin a new, exciting adventure. Transitions are challenging, but can certainly be prepared for. Buckle up and enjoy your new adventure!

BIODorota Koziel is an English as an Additional Language teacher with a B.A (Hons) Teaching English as a Foreign Language and an M.A School Counseling and Education at the International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP).