As adults, we know the benefits of living cross-culturally. Young people especially gain a global worldview, valuable language skills and the ability to create bridges between cultures. In fact, 44% of children who grow up in cross-cultural settings earn a graduate degree by age 22, and most of them work in highly skilled professions such as medicine, education, entrepreneurship and business.
Many third-culture children, however, feel overwhelmed or even frightened at the spectre of leaving friends, school, sports teams or family members to make their home in an unfamiliar place. As parents, we want to help our children slip comfortably into their new environment, making friends and settling quickly into school.
Based on our experience at Global Indian International School (GIIS Singapore), we recommend parents take the following six steps when moving their families from India to Singapore.
- Expect anxiety. Your sons and daughters are losing their friends, family members and places they know. Feeling sad for those losses is only natural no matter how excited the children feel about the move to Singapore. Try to keep a familiar routine by not changing meal menus, bedtimes, rules or consequences after moving. Affirm your children's feelings of sadness, and let them know you miss home sometimes, too. But don't let your family get caught up in thinking about the past. Instead, focus on the adventure at hand.
- Prepare your family beforehand for the local culture, and let them know what to expect when they are out and about. While many Singaporeans eat Indian food, celebrate Indian festivals and sport Indian fashions, the two cultures are markedly different. Singapore expects residents to follow far more rules than most Indian cities such as not chewing gum, spitting or honking a car horn. Your children will also hear a lot more English and Mandarin on the street than they probably experienced at home.
- Share with your children your best ideas for how to blend in and make new friends. As in any culture, friendly people make friends easily. Children and teens in Singapore typically like to learn gymnastics, play sports such as table tennis or take up a cool new hobby like Parkour. Many secondary school students also enjoy visiting the vintage shops, burger joints and flourishing parks of the city together.
- Read a book with your child about moving to a new country. For young ones, we recommend The Mission of Detective Mike Moving Abroad by Simone Costa T. Eriksson, and for teens, there's Mitali Perkins' multi-award-winning novel You Bring the Distant Near. Not only will these books and others like them help validate your child's third-culture experience, but reading is also a great way to sharpen academic skills.
- Give your children an idea about where they will stay. You can use Google Maps to check out how close the new house is to school, the rugby field and the nearest pool. If you know other Indian families live in the neighbourhood, tell your children so. That information should help alleviate some anxieties.
- Let your children know that Singapore is a place where they will find schools where other students of their own ethnicity and age study. Children blend in easily while also expanding their horizons by interacting with students of other nationalities and learning other cultures. Here, schools are a safe, engaging and enriching experience for students.
Living abroad gives children a better start in life by exposing them to many different cultures, faiths, languages, lifestyles and geographies. Like all major life changes, however, international moves can prove challenging to children and teenagers. A wise, attentive and prepared parent can alleviate much of their children's anxiety and make the transition function smoothly.