When you say ‘diplomatic’ or ‘expat’ life, you automatically think about a life on the move from country to country, a life when, every couple of years, you put your whole life in boxes and leave everything but your family behind, to start fresh and go into the unknown. It sounds idyllic to some, maybe scary and complicated to many. But trust me, it gets even more complicated once you have kids…
And it is not just extra baggage, voluminous toys, school books or countless gadgets… and all who went through it know for sure what I am talking about…
As I am the wife of a career diplomat, I was expecting a life of travelling from the very beginning. We moved for the first time when I had a toddler in one hand and another baby not even born yet (I was 7 months pregnant), so you could say I started ‘big’ from the very beginning… Look for a proper kindergarten, look for pediatrician, look for fun activities to do every weekend… But the most intriguing part was when I realized I was raising bilingual kids (oh well, in fact they spoke three languages from the very beginning). So you can imagine the chaos of the first few years, all the languages (Romanian, German and English) mixed together in a way that it took us sometimes minutes to realize what exactly our own children were trying to tell us. I remember the people from the kindergarten told us from the very beginning not to worry… language fluency will come a bit later maybe, but our patience was certainly rewarded, as they became native speakers of basically three languages and were able to switch between them almost unconsciously, the minute someone spoke to them in a different one. The human mind never stops to amaze me!
As diplomatic or expat kids, of course, speaking as many languages as possible is an advantage and it makes the adaptation period shorter when moving to another destination. English is certainly a ‘MUST’. But the fact that they picked up German from the very beginning, a language which is quite difficult to learn properly later in life, is a great thing. I never spoke any German before we moved for the first time, to Vienna but I was quickly persuaded to learn it, once I realized my children were in fact chatting to each other in a different language than my mother tongue (Romanian).
And even more, imagine a room full of toddlers that come to you asking for something, looking at you with their big, innocent eyes… and talking in a language you just can’t understand… and toddlers are not very famous for their patience, you know?…not funny at all… So I started to pick up at least basics, at the beginning. Of course, nowadays, more than 10 years later, I am fluent in German… But I still get sometimes that look from my children, when we are together and I ‘venture’ to speak German in front of their friends, probably making inherent mistakes and having a strong foreign accent that they totally lack.
I read somewhere lately that speaking in different languages changes your tone and attitude… that is certainly interesting… and I confess I saw it in my kids, too… different accents, different tone in their voicefor each of the languages they already master.
For a child raised in such an environment, the future offers countless possibilities, immersion in different cultures is easier for sure and in a globalized world, linked by technology, where distances seem to fade, adapting and feeling ‘local’ wherever you go, can be nothing but a great ‘plus’.
So, my advice to all Expat magazine’s reader would be: although difficult, this kind of life is surely worth it! Raising children in an expat style, offering them the chance to get in contact with different languages and cultures, will widen their horizon and will set them on a path to become great world citizens of tomorrow.