The world is beautiful
Not simply moving but going abroad: For so-called Third Culture Kids, it is not easy to say goodbye to what feels like home. However, there is so much to be gained for these children. We asked two young women to look back on their childhood and share their experiences. We also asked an expert how parents can keep an eye on the wellbeing of their children when they grow up between worlds.
“I got to know another world”
I was ten years old when we moved to Changchun in China – a small town by Chinese standards with almost eight million inhabitants.
Before moving, I was afraid, but the anticipation and desire for a new adventure ultimately diminished my initial fears. At first, I was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar culture and because I was a small, cute, blonde girl, people at every corner wanted to take pictures of me. During my time in Changchun, I attended a fairly small German school and had only three classmates. Whilst this seemed odd to me at first, I came to appreciate the value of ‘tutor-style’ teaching and felt supported in my small environment. Two years later, at the age of 15, I moved to a ‘megacity’: Shanghai. This metropolis, with its immense skyscrapers and international population provided endless opportunities for spontaneous adventures. I particularly enjoyed spending time at the local parks, where I would watch the Chinese do their traditional, early-morning Tai Chi. However, the simple opportunity of riding your bicycle into town or taking a walk in the forest as we did in Wolfsburg was near to impossible in Shanghai, which was mostly accessible by car.
When you live abroad, you will lean to be open-minded to different people and cultures and shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions even if there is a language barrier – it is much easier than you think. You should also take advantage of the proximity of beautiful cities and countries. During my time abroad in China, I visited Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Mongolia, getting to know an entirely different world only a short plane ride away.
What resonated most with me from my time abroad in China? Overall, my experience is positive but what I learned most of all is how to be brave. I have become adaptable to change and now take difficult situations into my own hands. I cannot help but think that in Germany, I would have grown to become a fairly different person. By the way: Chinese food is superior to German food! It always impresses me how Chinese cooks can make something magical out of just a few simple ingredients. I still cook a lot of Chinese food today.
Hannah Gustke is 19 years old, has lived in China for eight years and is now studying philosophy and economics in Göttingen.
“I view myself as a global citizen”
To pack my bags every two or three years and move to a new and unfamiliar place has always been normal to me. Even when I was a little girl, this seemingly ‘drastic change’ was never something I considered as particularly hard. At the age of four, my family and I packed our bags and moved to London. After a mere year or so, we moved back to Germany for four years and then packed our bags again to move to Prague. This was followed by a move into the sun, Barcelona. Therefore, although my passport indicates that I am German, I view myself as a global citizen.
The connecting factor between all of these diverse cities, cultures and people was the international school system that I entered to at the age of four. Due to the fact that I had to adapt so rapidly to new customs and cultures, I developed an affinity for learning and speaking foreign languages. My ability to assimilate and appreciate the cultural diversity afforded by these cities has allowed me to become an extremely patient as well as diligent person. This diligence has translated well into my academic journey and nowadays, I profit from my language proficiencies in my law and politics degree.
Do I want to settle down in Germany someday? This is a question I ask myself on a weekly basis. I do plan on moving around several times before I ‘settle down’ anywhere in particular, be it Germany or not. To borrow a term from my German dictionary, I continue to feel a certain ‘fernweh’ for the unknown. Maybe I will choose to pursue a master’s degree in the United States and maybe I will embark on an even greater adventure in Asia… who knows? The thing I love most about Wolfsburg however, is the sense of familiarity and comfort that is easily found in such as small city. Every time I go anywhere with my mother, we stumble across somebody we know and are greeted with a smile or a friendly chat.
To move to a strange and unfamiliar city may seem like the end of the world, especially to those who are attached to wherever they consider ‘home’. Whilst I have certainly shared that sentiment once or twice, I have learned to appreciate the rare opportunity to expand my circle of friends. It has not always been easy to maintain these friendships, but the experience of sharing important parts of my life with newfound friends is one of a lifetime.
Of course, I have always missed out on the feeling of ‘home’, but what is ‘home’ really? Today, I see my international upbringing not only as a positive but defining feature of my life and my character. I thank my parents for the opportunity to experience what I have in just under twenty years.
Johanna Stackmann is 20 years old and grew up in Germany, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Spain and is studying Law with Politics and International Relations in London, UK.
„It´s okay to be sad and angry”
Third Culture Kids are children who often move to different places of residence due to their parents’ profession and grow up in several cultures. How are they coping with this situation? Ann Wöste is a children and youth coach, herself mother of two Third Culture Kids and has given a lecture on the subject for the International Friends of Wolfsburg.
Ms. Wöste, how do parents keep their children’s well-being in mind when they grow up in different countries?
You should be aware of the existence of the Third Culture Kids-phenomenon and that children growing up in several cultures bear traces of these circumstances. To get into the topic it can be helpful to draw on the experiences of others. There are great social media platforms and networks in which parents can share their own and their children’s experiences throughout their time abroad.
How do Third Culture Kids deal with the many changes?
The first move abroad is usually accompanied by emotional anxiety and further difficulties. Will I make new friends? Will I like my new school? Especially throughout the first days abroad, kids who are not particularly stress resistant can feel very insecure in an unfamiliar environment.
How can parents support their children?
You should give them room to feel. Children need to have the permission to be sad and angry because that is the best way for them to process their emotions. Generally they overcome all difficulties and value their time abroad as a positive, enriching experience.
It is imperative that you give them the space to feel and express their emotions. Children need to be given the permission to be sad, angry, anxious and stressed because this is the best and perhaps only way in which they can process their emotions. Generally, they overcome all of these difficulties and come to view and appreciate their time abroad as a positive, enriching experience.
Since 2011 Susanne Ak has been responsible for nursery and schooling matters at Global Assignments when employees are sent abroad for Volkswagen. As contact person for international HR colleagues and their families travelling with them, she is particularly focused on the process of successful integration into the host country, as well as a successful return of all family members. As a former head-teacher of British and international schools in the UK and in Berlin, she brings with her extensive expertise in international family issues.
Susanne Ak: “For me, “international” means being globally oriented and multilingual, ready to take on new challenges as well as immersion into other cultures in order to learn new things.
Third culture kids are children who answer the question “Where is your home?” with: “ I am at home in the world!”. There are many benefits to family mobility, but I listen very carefully when schools and nurseries have been changed relatively often and there is no long-term, fixed home base. My impression is that children are generally very well able to cope with frequent changes of location if the family environment continues to stay stable.
Particularly frequently I encounter questions linked to the changed of nurseries and schools; concerns about losing one’s circle of friends, changing the language of instruction and not being able to keep up in class. Integration and reintegration are also often fraught with fear, with reintegration often proving more difficult than integration. And last but not least: children who already receive additional support in their home country – will they be able to get this kind of support in the host country as well and will their weaknesses be strengthened if they have to go through a change of school.
For families going abroad for Volkswagen or coming to Wolfsburg from abroad, we offer individual, intensive counselling about schooling matters or questions about nursery care.
My job is to advise families in the light of their individual circumstances, specifically with regards to the age of the children, the home school system and the consequences of changing schools, reintegration and the recognition of foreign qualifications. I make sure that families get answers to as many questions as possible before they are assigned abroad, so that their fears and worries (and those of the children) are as small as possible before the family ventures ahead.
For Expat families as well as for families returning from abroad, the city of Wolfsburg offers a school counselling service in the School Business Unit. Parents get specific information about the local schooling landscape, including details about places available at particular schools. In addition to the comprehensive family information guide of the city of Wolfsburg, there is also the family service, which offers support with finding places for children on their return from abroad. ”