Are expat kids happy?

My own expat child

This post is a little different from the normal articles I put on this site. Mainly because it is personal, but I feel it’s relevant to ExpatChild as it deals with questions we ask ourselves and our children when we relocate overseas. Besides, it gives me an opportunity to bring up something we’ve experienced since arriving in Berlin which annoys and upsets me and my daughter (understatement!).

A questionnaire for your expat child

I’ve just completed a questionnaire sent by a group connected to my husband’s company. It was called something along the lines of ‘Children Overseas’ and asked questions about our life overseas with children.

There was a section that needed to be answered by children. Different age groups had a different set of questions. My daughter completed the ones for her age group – 5-12 years. It was an interesting insight into her thinking. To be frank, most of the answers weren’t a surprise as, thankfully, we have a close and very talkative relationship.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the questions with you, along with her answers and my thoughts. You may like to try this with your own children.

One answer gives me an opportunity to rant about something that is currently happening here though, and I wonder if any other readers have experienced something similar and if so, how did you deal with it?

  • Q: Do you like living in other countries?
  • A: Yes!
  • Me: Just as well, really! She doesn’t really know any different as she’s lived overseas since she had just turned five years old.
  • Q: Do you know where you were born?
  • A: Yes, of course! England.
  • Me: No surprise there.
  • Q: Do you enjoy school?
  • A: Hmm, no, err, I guess, most of the time, yes.
  • Me: She doesn’t resist going to school but there have been some issues at the school she’s attending. I’m pretty sure she answered what she thought I wanted to hear.
  • Q: Do you want to go to Boarding School?
  • A: YES!
  • Me: Again, no surprise as she’s wanted to attend boarding school since she read the Enid Blyton books, Harry Potter and watched St Trinian’s!
  • Q: Do you want to travel when you are older?
  • A: Yes
  • Me: Some children who grow up overseas like to put down roots when they grow up and others continue to travel.
  • Q: Do you have many friends?
  • A: No
  • Me: It makes your heart break, doesn’t it?

She has absolutely no problem making friends, and she actually does have plenty – at school. However, it seems the mothers of these friends are unwilling to allow their child to become properly friendly with her outside of school. More than once I have heard this killer comment, “There’s no point being friends with her, she will be leaving soon.”

Soon”? We’re expecting to be here for four and a half years! And it’s not just from parents; I’ve had it said to me by teachers too. The children have also picked up on it and are repeating it to my daughter. Honestly, this is the most heartbreaking aspect of all this right now.

This ‘outlook’ is possibly more prevalent here in Berlin as it’s come up several times now, but I have heard it once before, in Japan from a fellow expat, strangely enough. And other parents of expat children say they’ve experienced the same closed-mindedness too. [Since writing this, many, many people have contacted me telling me similar tales, and most of them are expats living in Germany. You have been warned!] What’s the answer? Sadly, I have absolutely no idea. Is it something you have heard and experienced? How did you deal with it?

And the final question…

  • Q: Where is your home?
  • A: Japan! Or is it England? Umm, Japan is where I feel most at home – I miss it. But England is ‘home’, isn’t it? Or is Berlin home? What does ‘home’ mean? I’ll just put “I don’t know”.
  • Me: Err…!
NB: An update to our personal story if you’ve just arrived on this post

Shortly after posting this, certain matters escalated at the school my daughter attended here in Berlin and we realised it would be detrimental to her to continue at that school. We had to find another one.

As she had already attended two schools in less than two years in Berlin, there was little point moving her again here – the issues mentioned above would continue as it does seem to be a cultural ‘thing’. Besides, we’d only have to move her yet again when we leave. Home schooling in Germany is illegal so even if that was an option for us, we wouldn’t be allowed to do it. So we made the decision that she has always wanted – boarding school in the UK. She started there in April 2013.

Whilst it has been hard, it is the best decision we’ve ever made: academically, personally and in every other way, she is doing wonderfully well there. Her confidence and self-belief, so shattered by her school-time here, is being rebuilt by competent and empathetic teachers who do not bully.

Read more about us here.


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Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad. There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution.

Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.

It’s easy to get very stressed at this point. Don’t panic! I’ve put together this book to help you kick-start your search for the best type of school for your child.

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  1. We live in Germany as well and have attended numerous international schools. This has been the hardest one for my kids to crack due to the ” they won’t be here for long” issue. In the other places the turnover was frequent and every student came in fresh and new and clung to each other and friendships were born. At the “international” school it is 80% locals. And there is rarely any turnover as people move in and stay. So far it has been the worst school for my children. Friendships are not created here, the school has no behavior policies, the academics are 2 hers behind where we have come from as well. If I try to raise concerns they are squashed because no me wants to rock the boat. Saddest though, is that my kids don’t really have friends and they are not being challenged academically. There are no other schools around and we have been considering boarding school, but we are afraid of it, to be honest.

    1. Oh I am SO sorry to read this 🙁 It’s almost identical to our story. ‘Our’ school is mostly locals who will stay and the turnover is almost non-existant.
      There are also no particular behavioural policies and teaching is extremely lax. However, the work is ahead in many subjects, but not all.
      We have now made the decision for our daughter to go to boarding school. She is extremely excited about it and really looking forward to it.
      Can I ask what it is you’re afraid of? Perhaps I can help. Please feel free to email me if you prefer. You can find me through the ‘Contact Me’ page.

  2. Thank you for sharing and I was just asking my children (8 and 10) similar questions. We are currently living in Spain, our own choice. They feel that home is where ever we live and they are “from” where ever they were born. Of course, we aren’t moving around much so not as confusing. We have not had the same “short timers” attitude from the locals here, but that said we are in a small Spanish town. My kids go to a Spanish public school and everyone has embraced us/them like we are family. I am sorry you are getting that in Berlin. There is always something to work on and a fire to put out. I hope they change their minds.

    1. Hi Heidi, thank you for your comments. I’m so glad you aren’t experiencing the same attitudes. Having spoken to many people about this, it does appear to be a local ‘thing’ – whether that’s Germany or just Berlin, I don’t know.

  3. Both my children AND I have experienced being written off because we won’t be here long enough to “matter”)… and we are in an international school! But I am also in the former DDR, so maybe it’s cultural, because we’ve also lived in France and Singapore and never encountered this attitude. I finally just began saying that we will be here for the longest term that the company will allow and it has helped a bit. Having lived around the world, I know that it is a great opportunity to have connections in many different ports – not everyone sees life that way (but they should!)

    1. I’m sorry you and your children have been through the same. And yes, we’re in an ‘international’ school as well! Perhaps it is a cultural thing; such a shame for everyone, really.
      I like your response, and I’m glad it works.

  4. I would definitely challenge the teachers on the “there’s no point, you’re leaving” issue. Families are much more mobile these days, even those that are not expats. At my son’s elementary school here in Canada there were always kids moving – across town, across the province, across the country. I would be absolutely up in arms if I thought my child was being “written off” for this reason. For goodness sake 4 years is a lifetime when you’re under the age of 12.

    As for the “where is home” issue, well that’s classic a Third Culture Kid theme. She’s very astute for her age to be asking the “what does home mean” question. An interesting discussion for your family to have.

    1. Judy, believe me, I have! And eventually moved her from that particular school after taking them to task about it. I won’t put up with that from any teacher. Sadly, it’s different with parents.

      It was indeed an interesting discussion regarding home. She’s a very astute kid and I’m very proud of her.

  5. Oh yes the where is home thing! At least I can answer that one now we are settled back in the UK but when people ask me where I am from what do I say? I was born in one country, lived on an off in 7 or 8 more, moved between different places in England including one place where my parents had a home, another where I went to school and a third where I went to Uni, then worked in several more places before moving overseas again…If I am on holiday I can say I am from the town where I now live, but I couldn’t say it to people here because we have only lived here (on and off) since 2006….I think I claim to be a true TCK!

    1. Yes, you’re definitely a true TCK!
      I have enough difficulty saying where I’m from and I was born & raised in the UK, just different countries of the UK.

  6. Oh yes: I used to have the same reaction to the last answer. And still have it. It’s not easy for a TCK 😉 About this “outloock” situation: my children are going to an international school and lots of children stay 3-4 years, so everyone – also teachers! – are used to cope with these situations. Your article made me realize that I’ve heard this comment from a few of my friends here, who consider that their children need longterm-friendships and that these friends need to be “here”, present all the time. I don’t agree: I still have friends I met over 20 years ago all over the world. We’re still in contact and meet regularly. But I guess this is a question of “forma mentis”.

    1. In some international schools, the pupil turnover is high, so they are used to the comings and goings of friendships. Here, however, there are actually many more ‘local’s’ than other nationalities and it is making life pretty tough for her. Something new to discover in every country and at every age group.
      But when friendship and inclusion is actively discouraged by adults… grr!

  7. Oh my word, I started blubbing when I read the last answer, very interesting though, I shall ask my daughter the same questions and see what her answers are. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

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