Being an expatriate child is an experience that will open an infinite number of options, ideas and opportunities. Mastering a new language and enjoying new foods, customs, holidays, clothing and music in a lifetime opportunity for kids living in Beijing. However, becoming global citizens at a young age comes at the cost of missing out on many aspects of one’s own country. Once the initial excitement of a new country wears off, expatriate children soon begin to pine for their home country. They miss town decorations and festivities around holidays, and country specific culture and history in school. In response to this challenge, a number of schools and social groups have developed programs to help kids maintain a connection to their “home” country.
There are benefits for your kids to help them stay anchored to home besides enjoying the flavor of native foods, knowing the words to your national song or understanding the rules of a traditional game. It also helps them to maintain a sense of self identity, and can ease the adjustment process into life as an expatriate.
Dr. Lyn Wren, a family physician at Beijing International SOS Clinic, explains, “Every child responds differently to moving to a new country and having to adapt to a new culture. Reports are consistent that in the long run, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, but there are several things that we as parents can do to help our children navigate this journey.” She suggests using your native language at home, as well as maintaining home country foods and holidays.
The adjustment process can be very quick, or very slow. Dr. Wren recalls, “We had one case of a 13-year-old girl, who in a space of four weeks went from telling her parents ‘You are ruining my life by moving to China’, to ‘Moving to China was the best thing you ever did’. Parents just need to be patient with children whose process may be much longer and punctuated with outbursts and other obstacles to overcome.”
Besides the grounding benefits of ensuring your children understand their home culture, special programs that teach the home language, traditions and history gives them a chance to meet other children from their home country. Having a mix of friendships that includes at least one child from their own country can be comforting for a child.
Joanne Chow Rhodes, a social worker at Vista Medical Clinic, has had substantial experience working with expatriate children. She feels, “With the right support at home, expat children are able to extract the best from their own and other cultures, assess and decide what is meaningful and applicable, and contribute accordingly via their unique global perspective.”
A former expatriate child and mother of two, Rhodes speaks from personal experiences as well as a professional one. Having raised two daughters in multiple countries, she ensured that her children maintained their roots to China while living in a rural area of the US. On special occasions, the family would make dumplings. “A labor intensive endeavor,” she explains, “that allowed us to share time together. Chinese value food as an expression of love.”
Rhodes continues, “The ongoing support of social traditions from the home country is just as important as maintaining a home language. It gives children all the building blocks they need from their host and home country to achieve the highest level of their potential.”
Be it a tradition of sit-down dinners, bed time stories, decorating a Christmas tree, or fasting at Ramadan, Dr. Wren encourages families to maintain some family-centered or culture-specific traditions. “Such traditions represent a rich heritage of the home culture with helps to give our children a strong sense of identity whilst they experience the broadening of their new culture experience.”
Culturally-Themed Programs in Beijing
Beijing has a wide variety of options available for families of different countries of origin. These programs range from language classes and other activities, including food preparation, movies and festivities, geared towards children. For countries not mentioned below, contact your embassy. Many of them host a variety of activities and celebrations.
In addition to these programs, another resource for kids adjusting to life abroad is Slurping Soup and Other Confusions: true stories and activities to help third culture kids during transition. For more information on this book, see this month’s health article on stress.
Instituto Cervantes offers Spanish language courses specifically designed for children and adolescents. The courses take place on Saturdays and come in two forms: Spanish for children whose second language is Spanish, and Spanish courses for children whose mother tongue is Spanish. They also hold various cultural events, such as movie screenings.
1A Gongti Nanlu, Chaoyang District
Website: www.pekin.cervantes.es (Spanish and Chinese only)
Japan Rhythm Culture Centre (Japan R.C.C.)
The Japan R.C.C. provides classes in Japanese language, traditional
Japanese art, physical education, music and a variety of other cultural programs. Japanese children’s songs and rich traditional culture are combined in a program for families that help facilitate communication between parent and child.
Rm 206, 2/F, 36 Maizidian Jie, Chaoyang District
Contact: Reiko Fukushima
Phone: 6594 8850, 137 0111 7180
American Employees Association (AEA)
AEA runs a summer camp with the US Embassy in Beijing that has been serving the Beijing community for the past 13 years, and it is proud to offer safe, fun, and high-quality programs for Americans. Staffed by Red Cross certified counselors from the USA. Each week of the camp includes free bus service, field trips, Western-style lunch, rock climbing, daily swimming, games, theater, and more. There are options available for children 4-13 years old.
Phone: 8531 3349
Rohr Family Chabad Community Centre
The new Rohr Family Chabad Community Centre is home to the Jewish day school, Ganeinu International-Bet Sefer Ganeinu for 18 months to 10 years of age, and the Menorah Academy of the Capital Middle School for Grades 6-10. Zman Masa is an exciting after school program taught completely in Hebrew. It runs on Wednesday afternoons from 4-6pm at the Ganeinu International School. The center offers Hebrew reading, writing and speaking, as well as preparation classes for upcoming Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs.
Fangyuan Xilu (next to the South Gate of Si’de Park), Chaoyang District 朝阳区芳园西路（四得公园南门）
Contact: Dini Freundlich
Phone: 8470 8238 ext 210, 135 0130 3439
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
The German Saturday School of Beijing (DSSB)
Participation in the German Saturday School Beijing is open to all native speakers of German children from September to January. Classes are held each Saturday on the grounds of the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB). Class sessions are divided by age groups ranging from age 5 to teenagers and run from 9am to 4pm, 60 to 90 minutes each depending on the age group. Prices range from RMB 1,000 to 1,500 per semester. Contact them directly for specific times and prices.
Western Academy of Beijing, 10 Laiguangying Donglu, Chaoyang District 北京京西学校, 朝阳区来广营东路10号
Contact: Lisa Kohl
French Cultural Center
The French Cultural Centre has a well-stocked library of French literature, newspapers, magazines and movies. There is a kids’ corner with comfy stools and a booth. All of this is available for members, who pay a fee of RMB 80 per season, RMB 220 per year. The center also has free Wi-Fi and internet, movie viewing stations, a movie theater, a cafe and a French bookstore. All the books are in French and the movies are in French with French and Chinese subtitles (check their website for the movie schedule).
Daily 9am-6pm. 1/F, Guangcai International Mansion, 18 Gongrentiyuchang Xilu 法国文化中心, 朝阳区工体西路18号
Phone: 6553 2627
Swedish School Beijing
The Swedish School of Beijing teaches supplementary Swedish to children who already speak Swedish at home. Children who attend this school need to have knowledge of Swedish in advance. Classes are available for children from 6 years old through high school. Classes are every Wednesday from 4.30 to 6pm at Gahood Villa. The cost is RMB 50,000 per school year for children aged 2 years (half day); RMB 80,000 per school year for ages 2 to 3 (full day); RMB 100,000 per school year for children 4 years; RMB 120,000 per school year for children 6 to 10 years; RMB 130,000 per school year for children 11 to 12 years. Lunch is included in the tuition fee and school bus fees vary from RMB 7,000 to 12,000 (depending on distance). Classes already started in September, but new students are welcome.
Gahood Villa, Xibaixinzhuang, Houshayu, Shunyi District
Contact: Anna Nygren
Phone: 6456 0826
The Finnish School in Beijing
The Finnish School teaches the Finnish language, culture and habits. They support and encourage children to develop their mother tongue during their stay abroad. They have 11 teachers and more than 80 children, and the school is celebrating its 15th birthday this year. The program is open to children from ages 3 and up (up to Grade 9). They meet at the Western Academy of Beijing on Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. Divided into a fall and spring term, each term meets eight times with an additional end-of-the-term party.
Western Academy of Beijing, 10 Laiguangying Donglu, Chaoyang District 北京京西学校, 朝阳区来广营东路10号
Contact: Pirjo Tukia
Phone: 158 0104 0672