Beijing may have been your home for many years, or a few, or just one, but eventually the time will come when you have to leave for good. You may not mind saying goodbye to the pollution, but you will miss your friends, the Chinese locals and the culture. Moving to another country or back to your home country is exciting. However, this excitement is almost always tempered with a sense of apprehension. Even if you consider yourself a moving expert, with each move comes a range of different challenges.
"It’s important to go through the ritual of saying goodbye," says Devon Stafford, Upper Elementary School Counselor at the International School of Beijing. But don’t overwhelm yourself or your family with too many goodbye parties and tearful farewells.
Lucinda Willshire, a mother of four, is the co-author of Slurping Soup and Other Confusions. After recently repatriating to her home country, Australia, she recommends staying family-focused in the lead-up to a departure. While Willshire arranged farewell parties for her children and their friends, she made sure to keep them to a minimum. She also took plenty of photos of their friends as well as her family’s favorite spots in Beijing.
Try to focus on where you’re going, rather than what you’re leaving behind. Mandy Nevall and her family have lived in Beijing for a year and will be moving to Kuala Lumpur this summer. While trying to keep her children focused on the family’s next destination, she also reminds them that friendships are ongoing, no matter where you live.
As much as parents don’t like to admit it, most kids don’t like to move Willshire’s daughter Lyndsey developed a skin rash due to the stress and Willshire suspects that she was holding in a lot of emotion. In fact, Willshire and Lyndsey were projecting their stress upon one another, only making the situation at home tenser.
Preparation is the key to a smooth transition. The Nevall family went to Kuala Lumpur on a look-and-see trip, so the kids could visualize what their new home and school would look like. The Willshire family also made a trip to their new home of Melbourne a few months prior to the move. While there, the kids attended school orientations and Willshire booked them into Nippers – an Aussie surf lifesaving program – for the summer.
"It can take anywhere from two months to two years to adjust to the transition" says Stafford. "It is typically harder for older kids to move than the younger ones. But siblings tend to be closer when they are third-culture kids. When they move around a lot, they have each other for support."
Stafford also points out that it’s important for parents to be positive about the move and be exemplary problem solvers. While it’s okay for parents to share their concerns with their kids, there are limits. If you decide to present a problem to your kids, you should also express how you plan on dealing with it. Keep in mind that some issues and concerns can be addressed and solved as a family. "This creates empowerment within boundaries," explains Stafford.
Parents need to remember that their kids didn’t make the choice to move. However they should be able to play some part in the transition. "Let them make some of the decisions," says Stafford, "like what school they attend, or have a say in the home you choose."
Willshire agrees. "Appreciate that moving is a very big event for everyone and that each family member will have their individual reactions that need to be supported. Talking about the move and listening to everyone’s feelings is very important. Some people can benefit from counseling prior to the move, and also in the new post."
there’s no place like home
Stafford stresses that moving to another country and moving back to your home country are two different things. Going home to stay is more challenging than people expect. In the book, Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, authors Pollock and Van Reken write, "For many TCKs (third-culture kids) this is one of the most difficult transitions they go through, no matter how many other moves they have already made. How TCKs do or don’t cope with the re-entry experience can shape their lives for years to come."
Willshire admits that after 15 years abroad, she is worried about reverse culture shock. Their two youngest children have only lived in Asia. "The kids are concerned mostly about leaving their friends here [in China]. This is always very hard and very sad for all expats. They love living in Asia and this is what they are used to. [My children] don’t regard themselves as ‘Aussie’ even though they sound Australian. They speak several languages and enjoy the cultural and language experiences that are available in Beijing. They are worried that they might not fit in."
Whether you are moving to another country or back to your home country, you should know what you’re getting into. "Understand that your child will be different, and this is a good thing," says Stafford.
the elevator pitch
Moving to another country is difficult for parents, too. Most people will not understand the benefits or the challenges that came with living in China. And while it’s easy to talk ad nauseam about your China experience, the old adage "You had to be there" is particularly apt. Your new, and even your old friends, simply cannot fully appreciate your life-changing experience. For this reason, it’s a good idea to prepare an "elevator pitch" that encapsulates your time abroad. Keep it snappy and cover all of the bases: what you and your partner did while you were in Beijing, how long you stayed, what you thought of China, and importantly, what you and your family are doing now. Talking about the country you’re currently living in allows you to transfer the conversation onto common ground. Keep your pitch a few minutes long, and make sure you practice it before you arrive in your new country, because you’ll be repeating it many times.
Most expats know that the concept of home changes. Beijing was your home; soon another city will be your home. For third-culture kids and adults, home is wherever your family is.
Dr. Rob Blinn, Director of Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinics (BJU) Psychological Health Center
Dr. Blinn is available at both the BJU Shunyi Clinic and main BJU hospital, but call ahead for an appointment. 1) Every Tuesday 1-7.30pm and every other Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm. Beijing United Family Shunyi Clinic, Unit 806, Pinnacle Plaza, Tianzhu Real Estate Development Zone, Shunyi District (8046 5432); 2) Mon, Wed, Thu, 9am-5pm. Beijing United Family Hospital: 2 Jiangtai Lu, Lido, Chaoyang District (5927 7000); 1)北京和睦家医院诊所, 顺义区天竺开发区荣祥广场806号; 2)北京和睦家医院, 朝阳区将台路2号
Dr. Stephen-Claude Hyatt, Head Psychologist at Beijing International SOS Clinic
Dr. Hyatt is available Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm, but it’s best to call ahead. Beijing International SOS Clinic, Suite 105, Wing 1, Kunsha Building, 16 Xinyuanli, Chaoyang District (646 29112) 北京国际救援中心, 朝阳区新源里16号琨莎中心一座105室