How an expat child deals with transition
In Part 1 of Learning resilience from my expat toddler, I talked about the difficult transition my daughter had when we moved from Los Angeles to Belgrade. My chatty English-speaking socialite had to learn to swim in her full-immersion Serbian-speaking preschool.
The first tactic was to learn to be a patient and active listener. Here are three more tactics…
Find your own way to be unique and outstanding
For her first two winters here in Serbia, Danica insisted upon wearing a long-sleeve leotard and tights to school every day. (Yes, yes, don’t worry; she wore a hat, coat, gloves and leg warmers outside.)
Soon enough, everyone knew her as “the ballerina.” Whenever someone commented on her get-up, Danica would perform her latest choreography.
I think this unique style allowed my daughter to get much-needed attention, without her having to create drama to receive it.
I learned later that her “dancer style” caused some chagrin for the other mothers who insisted on corduroys or jeans over tights, and three+ layers on top. Apparently the mothers could no longer say “No one else is allowed to wear dresses to school in the winter!”
Seek out English speakers when you feel the need to vent
Danica found a creative solution to her need to chit-chat.
Even though her teachers and classmates didn’t speak English, a few of the parents did. Various moms and dads would stop me on the sidewalk to tell me about the long conversations they have with Danica each day when dropping off or picking up their own child.
Most important: learn the language as quickly as possible
This is a no-brainer. During Danica’s first year in Serbia, I heard her speak about twenty words in Serbian. But after that first year, she was suddenly mistaken for a native speaker.
Now, before school on Monday morning, she likes to think of topics of conversation for the day ahead. Once she arrives, she inevitably doesn’t even have time to say good-bye to me, she’s too busy sitting in a circle with her girlfriends having what I can only describe as “coffee talk,” without the coffee.
We’ve been here for two years, and now she translates when I’m trying to communicate. We meet grandmas with their grandchildren at the park, and it’s Danica who introduces her brother and me. She always takes the time to explain in proper Serbian, using the “respectful” form when speaking to elders, “My mama doesn’t understand a lot of Serbian. You will need to speak s-l-o-w-l-y to her.”
I’m really proud of my little girl.
We’ll be in Belgrade for several more months. Then it’s back to “real life” in Los Angeles.
My husband and I are wary to leave, if only because Danica and Maksim feel so at home, happy and engaged in their little lives here.
By Laura Dennis
East Coast US native, Laura Dennis (@LauraDennisCA) lives with her husband and two little kids in Belgrade, Serbia, where she blogs about anxious (adopted) expat mommy life. Her 9/11 memoir, , about her adoption reunion and more, is available on Amazon in paperback and .