Embracing Diversity as an Expat: Raising Children in the Foreign Service.

18 Jan


I feel like I began this year on a very ‘introspective mode‘, rethinking life, our lifestyle, and the way we plan on leading it forward…

This is a second post on my ‘random thoughts‘ about bringing our children out [first one discussed multilingualism and its approach as parents], especially when it comes to the diverse society they [children] are about to face…. any moment from now…

The discussion on social diversity is not only part of our family’s daily life, but it also tailors the way we are raising our children, and the way we would like them to understand and perceive their surroundings.

Being a foreign-born spouse, who has moved out of Brazil over a decade ago, constantly traveling because of work and family life, I had to learn early that, the need to readjust and reinvent oneself is a critical part of the adaptation process in a foreign country. I’m also a parent, and often find myself trying to answer a few questions, to my own children, as well as, to other parents facing similar challenges: “What can I do to help my children around the issue of diversity?” And, in fact, how ready is our society to embrace diversity? 


Life as an expat has shown me that we (parents) are the only ‘constant‘ on our children’s lives. Childhood friends come and go, depending on their parent’s jobs. Schools change. Countries, cultures, music, social patterns and expected behaviors last as long as one’s post assignment does.
For a child, especially the young ones, parents are their strongest link to the concepts of ‘reality‘ and ‘normalcy‘.
Over time, children will learn who they are and what to do through these experiences – absorbing a sense of their routines, traditions, languages, cultures, and national or racial identities – at their own pace, creating their very particular ‘hybrid culture‘, assuming their own identity, as unique social beings.
We are diverse, we speak different languages in our household, we come from distinct cultural and/or religious backgrounds… and our children could not be any different from that narrative. Our children are coming up as divergent individuals, in a much richer way than we (parents) were brought up. We are all very unique, and that notion needs to be reflected not only on the job represented by our officers (and their families) overseas, but also, through our own behavior as social creatures.
Diversity brings innovation and creativity. It’s important for us, parents, to add to our home environment, so it is reflective of other (cultural, racial, ethnic, family style) groups. It’s critical to express pride in our own heritage. Building positive identities and the respect for differences, would mean inserting these concepts to the routine of children’s everyday lives.

I don’t have answers for these questions, and maybe, secretly, would hope to find a few over here… from other expat/parents out there... I’m aware that we [parents] are all seeking answers, suggestions, so, I’ll echo my voice with many more… who knows? Comments/messages are very much appreciated, and more than welcome!

That said, what is our role as parents? How could we help our children regarding diversity? One of the suggestions is that we need to be constantly involved in their lives. Listening to their stories, learning about their ventures and challenges adjusting to new/unknown realities. We need to devote a great deal of patience for establishing a healthy communication channel within our household, and between all the levels of our (expatriate) community; opportunities will present themselves at the school, at the work level, at social events where children may take part… . It’s necessary to talk to our children about differences, in a very understanding and respectful way. Let us be resourceful and take advantage of the diversity around us.

One of the advantages this life as expatriates offers to families is the possibility to enroll our children in international schools. It’s already been discussed that students who attend schools with a diverse population (student body, faculty, staff) are capable of developing an understanding of the perspectives of other children’s backgrounds, learning to function in a multicultural, multiethnic environment.All of us are born free of biases, (un)fortunately, we tend to learn them as we grow. Is it a totally negative aspect of our lives? Could we turn our ability to make social judgments into a positive impacting tool? Let the discussion begin! 😮


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11 responses to “Embracing Diversity as an Expat: Raising Children in the Foreign Service.

  1. teeceecounsel

    January 23, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Lovely post with vital issues raised. We are born neutral and from up-bringing, various interactions begin. Knowlege grows, perspectives change and our opinions alter as we become conscious or aware of certain things.
    For every child, the parents have the role of ensuring that the wrong notions, values and attitudes are not passed to their children. Very often, parents hide certain facts from their children and when the children get to know about those things, they attatch the wrong interpretations to them. Things like hatred, revenge, bitterness, violence and all forms of vices are fruits of either ignorance or ill intended manipulations. There may be diverse cultures, styles, languages and tribes but our children can learn to approach them all with an open mind and most importantly, love.
    Beautiful post!


    • 3rdCultureChildren

      January 23, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      Thank you very much for all your support, thru these kind words! Our society needs more people with this type of open-mind and understanding… Thanks for coming over and sharing this fantastic comment – much appreciated! 🙂


  2. Spiritual World Traveler

    January 11, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    I’m not a parent but I’m the child of an Army man so I was in the role of your children. I learned about differences first hand. My parents refused to live on the military base. We lived among the locals, learned the language and celebrated their customs. I learned to appreciate diversity by being immersed in it and realizing we are all actually the same – just look a little different, speak a different language and cook a little different (ok sometimes A LOT) but you get what I mean…

    Your children are so fortunate to experience diversity first hand and you are so conscious of their upbringing!

    Happy 2013!


    • 3rdCultureChildren

      January 11, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      I totally get what you mean – and you’re so right! The whole idea of “different, but the same”… At the end, we’re all the same… unfortunately, we become bias with time, which is a shame… I’m so grateful we’re able to offer our children an opportunity to see/learn/live a diverse world… We are what we make out of ourselves! Thank you for sharing your life experiences… that’s what I believe blogging is all about! Having the ability to offer a richer experience between writers and readers 😮 Thank you!



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