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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When moving overseas for a permanent or long-term country change, it can be difficult for children to adjust to cultural changes but ensuring that the move is a happy one is highly dependent on making a cultural adjustment successfully.

Always speak positively about the change. Children will quickly pick up from you that you find change exhilarating or terrifying. Make it easier on them by being positive about it. There is nothing wrong with making comparisons but do this in an educational way, not a "I wish things were like home" way. This will help the children to see the change as an adventure and something to be excited about.Be patient. Your new environment is not going to be your old environment and even restoring the family dynamics will take some time. Even if you get a new home and move in, it doesn't automatically bring back the lifestyle that you enjoyed in your previous country. If you can accept this, you will not be battling the feelings of nostalgia - embrace the nostalgia (for it will wash over you) but also be open to wonderful newness of all that is around you and look for all the positive elements of the new country and living arrangements. Encourage the children to look for all the good aspects as well and share your ideas together.

Pack a "ready-to-be-home" box. This should be the last box on the removal truck and the first one out. Have each child place a favorite toy, book, bed item and wall decoration in this box. Add any other elements that you feel say "our home" the moment that you put them on the wall or in the house somewhere. The moment your goods arrive, take this box and remove all the contents immediately. Each child can put their special home items in their rooms and you can decorate the remaining areas of the house. Although it will take a while for it to be your home, these little reminders of the last place together from your home country will ease some of the strangeness of it all.Learn about the new culture as quickly as possible. Be open to the new customs and traditions. Help your children to learn the new customs and do your best to have them observe these customs. It is important to explain differences in behaviour that might cause problems if the children behave in ways that are frowned upon. Make sure that they learn new rules that will help them in social contexts, such as using the correct hand to eat food or bringing gifts for special occasions. Some local customs may bother them too, such as children being patted on the head a lot; help them to understand that this is an expression of love for children but if it gets intolerable for a toddler, lift her up and carry her until she gets used to it.

Learn the language. If you are not in an English speaking country, it is important to immerse yourself in the new language as quickly as possible. This tends to be easier for children and there are many fun ways that they can begin to learn a new language - through reading children's books, TV, DVDs, visiting the park and making friends, attending shows and the cinema, joining hobby groups etc. Even if they attend an English-speaking school, they will still need the other language for outside school hours and to really gain an appreciation of their time in the new culture. It also broadens their employment opportunities as they grow older.Have faith in your children's own strength. Children tend to be more accepting and more resilient than adults about differences. They learn quickly, they adapt quickly and they find their own ways to cope with new ways of doing things. And it doesn't help to try and hide the harsher side of life from your children, such as poverty and homelessness; the children will eventually see it and for many who do notice it, they become very aware of the need to give, share and be of some help, especially when they see other children in distress.

Help them keep in touch with old friends. Send postcards, letters and e-mails to friends from home. This is a good opportunity to have the children explain their new life in a positive light to someone who doesn't know it - in the process, this often helps them to realize all the wonderful experiences that they are having. If possible, arrange a visit from your child's closest friend when you are settled in. And sometimes you will need to comfort the children when the friends taper off as does happen - it takes a lot of effort to keep in touch and as time moves on, ties don't always hold. Enjoy the transition as a family. Often living in a new culture is something that brings a family closer together, as you all adjust and seek reassurance from those who care about you most. This is a special experience that you may not have had if you had stayed in your own country; cherish the closeness and the shared journey of learning and support. Do things together that get you out of the house and discovering your new place together; share your fears, joys and concerns together and help one another make this transition gently.

Always join in the celebratory events of your new country. It helps give you a good perspective on what matters to the citizens of that country and it helps you to start understanding the character of the country better. Children love festivities and celebrations, so this will help them to enjoy their new life more too. Ask your children to invite their new friends to your new home. Treat new friends of your children as guests, as and when they visit your new home. If you can, learn about the new culture before you leave your old country. This will help the children know special issues in advance and it becomes a source of interest to discover the things that they have learned from books and the internet in real life when they arrive.


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