When we moved to Dubai, I gave up my career to support my husband's promotional opportunity. I arrived in a new country and culture without a plan for myself, but having a family seemed to be the natural step, especially as Dubai is family-friendly. Leaving my career was hard to do at the time, but it's been a wonderful experience and allows us great flexibility as a family.
I was lucky to have both my children in a country with excellent quality private healthcare. While many women choose to return to their home country for birth, that wasn't an option for me due to a 17-hour flight and high-risk pregnancies.
Identity has been the main issue with having the children in a country where they don’t have citizenship. Our only option was to pursue the citizenship of our home country for our children. Given the option, we would have pursued dual citizenship as this would have given the girls a link to their cultural identity. They are technically Americans, but they have never lived there. We now live in the UK, and they may feel British, just like the other children at their school. I want them to feel a belonging to the country if that’s important to them.
When people ask what nationality they are I generally describe them as culturally confused. Time will tell. My little one was five-weeks-old when we moved from Dubai to the UK. My older daughter remembers life in Dubai, but has spent the last 18 months in the British school system. She knows she sounds different to her classmates and when people ask her why, she tells them she’s an Arab. She has both a broad and incredibly narrow sense of culture all at the same time!
I honestly believe the children have a good life abroad and wonderfully enriching opportunities. I don't want them to feel different their whole lives. I don't want them to feel different from their peers living abroad and then feel different to Americans if we move back there. We're trying to find a balance. Their cultural experience will be different, but not necessarily better or worse. They might know different television shows or music or foods to their peers in the US, but those aren't things that matter.
I also think they'll have an expanded view of "home". Home is where I live and contribute, but not necessarily where I'm from. Home is the dining room table where I have breakfast with my parents and do my homework, and that sense of home can exist anywhere.
The main disadvantage to expat life is the instability. We don't know how long we're going to live somewhere and where we're going next. I've tried to let go of that worry. We'll land exactly where we're supposed to. The last four relocations have proven that. We've loved every place we've called home for different reasons. But I imagine it's going to get harder as the children get older and their friendship groups and interests are established. I just don't want them to feel displaced or lonely. People who have lived in the same place their whole lives find expat instability hard to understand and swallow. I see it as part of the adventure. Where we go next, and when, is a mystery, so we'll enjoy life in this spot for as long as we're here. We will make it our home, even if it's temporary.
The other primary disadvantage is the distance from family. Our children don't get to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends nearly as much as we'd like. I'm grateful for FaceTime and Skype, but it doesn't replace a hug or a bedtime story on Grandma's lap.
It’s interesting to try to see your expat life through the eyes of your children. They don’t see cultural differences as a benefit of being an expat.
I think they'll have an interesting story to tell, hopefully making them unique, accepting, adventurous, compassionate people.
They don’t see themselves as different. They just accept people, regardless of their race or religion, and that's what makes all the struggles worthwhile.