Saturday, October 11, 2014

What expats can learn from a six year old...

A new student started in my class this week. Fresh off the boat from America. As he experienced his first two days of school, he taught me some things too. Reminders of moving to a new country. For the first time... 

Culture shock is real.
This sweet little guy had a great first day of school. Excited. Made new friends. The other kids in the class welcomed him with open arms, as international kids do. On Day 2 the same talkative, happy boy got teary-eyed about 20 minutes into the school day. Seeing "Assembly" on the schedule set it off because he didn't know what it was. A stomach ache and missing Mom and Dad followed the rest of the day. And it made me remember my own bouts of culture shock when I couldn't communicate that I wanted to buy strawberries in a Chengdu market or when I had to drive myself across Nairobi in rush hour. Whether 6 years old or 30, culture shock is real.

We live in an "international bubble".
As is normal in an international school, when we met our new first grader, I asked him what country he came from. International kids always know how to respond to this. Sometimes they say one country, sometimes three, but they always name the countries they "come from". This child responded, "Minnesota". Again I asked, "That's a state. What country is it in?" After going back and forth with guided questions, I finally said, "Isn't Minnesota part of the United States of America?" A little quizzically he replied, "Ya." I forget that kids back home don't know much beyond their community. It's normal when they're six years old. But I've gotten used to 6-year-olds knowing all kinds of things about the world. Just ask them what they're going to do during the next school holiday. Most recently I've heard... eat chocolate in Belgium, go to a play park in Austria and visit Grandma and Grandpa in Scotland. That's not normal except to expats.

We are lucky.
Near the end of the day Dad came to support his son adjusting to his new environment. This included tagging along to the assembly, which had set off the culture-shocking-day in the first place. We watched students share their learning, perform dances from five countries and show a small video clip of a man dancing around the world while cheers came from the audience with each country that came on the screen. At the end of the assembly, Dad was sharing how amazing it was to see all those countries and cultures represented in the assembly. He was enthusiastic about what his children will glean from being part of this international community. Yep, we're very lucky. We get so much from being part of all the diversity that being an expat provides. And the travel is a big plus too!

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