Current research into the reasons why assignments fail conclude that they often do due to family issues, and/or because of difficulties trying to integrate into the host society. When it comes to conducting research, organisations often focus on the effect the international move has on the assignee or their accompanying partner and often lacks the perspective of the child.
As someone who spent the majority of my early life and schooling years living in Spain, I wanted to cover a few points from my perspective as to what it was like growing up as an expat kid.
Where do you come from? Not an unusual question to ask someone the first time you meet them but, for global children, answering that question can be rather tricky. For me, it’s also not an easy one.
I would answer London if I chose the short answer, the longer version is that my parents moved between multiple areas in Spain and the UK over a period of 12 years, however I have lived most of my adult life in London and the Home Counties. The other common question I faced was, where do I consider my home to be – this was also a tricky question to answer. “Wherever I lay my hat” was my go to.
The unique life experience of having to move and regularly adapt to new environments has given me a strong sense of ambivalence as to where home was, where I belonged and a strong feeling of being different. Personally, I often feel closer to someone who has the same experiences as I do, regardless of nationality or cultural background, than I might do with someone from the same country as me.
A new understanding of the term “Home”
The concept of having a home is important to many people. There is a wide perception that if you don’t feel at home anywhere, then you must be rootless. For me, I don’t believe this necessarily applies. Instead, from my experience I see the home as something mobile, not a caravan or RV, but a something that is not linked to a specific geographical location. I find a home is a feeling more than a place and this feeling is mobile and recognisable. Home is where I feel at home and therefore, home can be in multiple locations.
The important role of an international school
Most of us probably remember our schools for lots of things – good and bad – but for me, as an expat child, school served as an important link in my life growing up. The support my schools provided in developing and encouraging extra-curricular activities and social networks was a huge bonus and made making friends an integral part of my experience.
My experience was by no means as turbulent as those expat kids that move between multiple locations globally. However, I believe the expat experience truly opens up a multitude of possibilities and exposure to different cultures which promotes an open-mind and the ability to see the world in many different ways.
If my story resonates with you I would be delighted to hear about your personal experience.