Looking at family life in the ‘expat bubble’ from the outside is a little akin to looking at someone who travels a lot for work. It looks amazing, glamorous, exciting … but as with everything else there are challenges to go along with the benefits.
Since leaving the UK (where we had definitely settled in and passed that invisible, psychological marker from ‘expat’ to ‘immigrant’), and now 2+ years into our life in Hong Kong, we have found ourselves well and truly in the Expat Bubble. I think that this is definitely exacerbated by both our location (HK being such an important global transit hub) and our children going to an international school.
So what do I mean by the ‘Expat Bubble’?
We are in a fortunate position to have a good standard of living, and to be able to afford in-home help. Due to our location we have a very outdoors-focussed lifestyle, so our social media and chat updates always seem to include pictures of sunshine. We try to make the most of our situation by seeing a variety of locations for trips and holidays. And the school trips (once the kids are old enough) are mildly jealousy inducing. School camp in Thailand? A biology field trip to Bali? Rugby tour to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore? Yes please!
The class WhatsApp groups reinforce this for me – it’s as if we are all in a pressurised container and as soon as the holidays start, all the families explode out of the party popper – off to various corners of the world, trailing photos and well-wishes as streamers. Then we are gathered back in, to return to home-for-now in time for the next term to start.
It sounds amazing, and it is.
We are in a position to gift to our children a spectacular childhood of experiences. What possibly could be the downsides?
From a parenting perspective, we are in somewhat uncharted territory. Neither I, nor my husband grew up as Third Culture Kids (TCKs). My childhood was so stable that my parents still lived in the family home (that they bought before I was born) until I was in my early 40s. In contrast, my 9 year old has already lived in 6 different homes and 2 different countries. My first international travel experience was a hugely exciting 10 week long trip when I was 11. By the age of 6, my son has just had a long weekend in Singapore for his first international rugby tour.
Needless to say, our children’s frame of reference is already somewhat different to ours!
Associated with all this travel is our remoteness from family. All our children’s cousins are in Australia, and all their mutual memories have to be made in short, intense bursts once a year. Thank goodness for modern networking – maintaining connections is so much easier with cost effective (or nil-cost) online video & voice calls.
There is also, as ever, the remoteness from friendship networks. Or perhaps it is more that friendship networks are finely spun and stretched over great distances and many time zones. As expats, we tend to be drawn to each other – united in our shared experiences. With each new move, there are more people to be added into the network, until you can honestly say that not only is it a socially acceptable time for a G&T somewhere in the world, but that you know someone in that timezone to call & share it with!
And with each move (either your own, or a friend’s) there are emotions, logistics and the complexities of everyday mundanity to contend with. Logistics and the legal aspects of relocations are (in the end) the easier elements to manage. The emotions and the challenges of rolling up everyday life where you are, only to re-establish everything from scratch somewhere new are real. If only it were as simple as rolling & unrolling a beautiful, ever more detailed carpet.
How to manage it all?
This is where the relocation and orientation assistance services that Parental Choice offer are so invaluable. All our consultants are themselves either expats, or they have repatriated following one (or many) international postings.