Raising third culture kids

Dr Jim Doran, former head of the International School of London (ISL) Surrey, talks about his experience raising children in an international environment.

Dr Jim Doran, fomer head of the ISL Surrey Primary School, talks about his experience raising children in an international environment.

Life as an expat

Much has changed since the late 1970s, when my wife and I first moved overseas and began teaching at the American Cooperative School of Tunis. I taught my first science class in a room in which the previous science teacher had glued egg cartons to the ceiling for insulation. I had to wear insulated boots to teach in the winter.At home, our ‘central heating’ was a 'petrol bleu' heater in the middle of the living room. In the summer, we had to close the wooden shutters before dawn to try to capture the cool of the night, as the blazing sun increased the outside temperature to over 40C.From Tunis, we moved on to Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Panama, and then England. In the last 34 years, we have watched as the world became globalised, computerised, and, sadly, terrorised.We raised two children in the international environment. Unfortunately, my job as a dad has all but ended. Our son and daughter have both graduated from university and are now pursuing careers and lives of their own. I feel both a little sad and yet elated when I think about them; sad to realise that they are grown and the exciting work of active parenting is over, yet elated when I see what great people my children have become.I marvel at how our family survived those many moves to reap the abundant blessings of an international life. My children’s world outlook, their principles, their life-long friends, and their sense that they are, in some way, special, was largely influenced by our decision to go on that first exciting adventure to Tunisia.If that original international experience had been unpleasant, we probably would have never lived in so many different countries. My children’s global spirit continues, even though they now live in the US. In fact, if you ask my son where home is, he says it is wherever mom and dad are. They love to visit us and to visit their friends all over the world. The planet is their back garden.

Parenting Third Culture Kids

We have found that there is no ‘right way’ to parent Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). Every expat family is unique, and we are all fallible. Yet, even though we make mistakes when parenting, our experience with our own kids, and with the thousands of other TCKs that we have known, leads us to an optimistic message: the vast majority of kids turn out fine, in spite of our shortcomings as parents.Although the message is optimistic, active parenting is still necessary, especially when children are uprooted. Active parenting doesn’t mean over-parenting. Children need to learn how to lead their own lives, independent of their parents, even in the sheltered life of the expat.Over-parenting does not prepare our children to become part of the adult world that awaits them. In the old days when we lived in Tunisia, expat families were told to be strong and just get on with it. Now every international school has a transitions programme and PTA, excellent books and articles, and websites that shed light on the Third Culture Kid and expatriate experience. Raising TCK’s is not easy, but I truly believe the rewards are worth it.In 1984, sociologist Ted Ward called our international children “prototype citizens of the future”. Expat parents want to steer their children into joyful, constructive, and self-reliant lives wherever they may decide to reside in the world. We know that schools are an important part of that process, and it is our mission to help you do just that.“My dad may be a retired international executive living in the States,” a Third Culture Kid once told me, “but I will always be an expat kid, no matter where I live.”The ISL Surrey Primary School was recognised by Relocate Magazine for Excellence in Employee & Family Support. ISL Surrey accepts students from age two through grade 9 for an exceptional international education which includes early introduction of languages and mother-tongue support. 

Related Articles