The word home elicits many different thoughts, emotions, memories, and experiences from everyone. To some, home might be where you were born, where you grew up, the place you are the most connected to, or even where you feel the most like yourself. Imagine leaving home, leaving behind friends, family, loved ones, and memories. Now imagine relocating, not just to a new state or province, but to an entirely new country. How would this affect you? How would you cope with a culture, language, or society, all very different from your own?
These are just a few of the many concerns of families like yours who move to Beijing, China. Adults who relocate, of course, have to deal with the difficulty of adjusting to a new world, but imagine how this transition affects children. Transferring schools, making new friends, being pressured to learn a new language and assimilate to a foreign society can really wear on one’s self esteem. A child’s self-esteem is very delicate, and much like grades in school, can easily be brought down and a challenge to bring back up. Here are a few tips to boosts your child’s self-esteem, keep an open/ honest relationship, and bring you all closer together as a family.
YOU listen, THEY talk
Create mini daily bonding sessions: This doesn’t need to be a planned event with ice cream and fun activities. By simply letting your child talk about their day for 10-15 minutes per day, you can gage where they are in terms of adjustment, happiness, culture shock, etc. They’ve just moved to a new country; they will have A LOT to say. Especially on the first day. Let them talk without interruption. Use understanding gestures such as facial expressions, nods, and eye contact to let them know you are attentively listening. Eventually, if you notice your child seems stressed, or is having a hard time talking about their day, they are probably experiencing culture shock. Ask questions relating to the differences in culture in order to elicit certain responses without directly asking “are you experiencing culture shock?” Simple questions like,
“What’d you have for lunch today? Sounds interesting…Did you like it?”
This question can let you know how they are adjusting to authentic Chinese food, where they might be traveling to if dining occurs off campus, how much they might be spending etc. Of course, depending on the age of your child, these questions can be more or less complex, but overall they should remain simple, so kids don’t feel pressured or hesitant to share their real feelings.
Breaking down language barriers
Adjusting to a language in a new country can be extremely time consuming and challenging. Especially in China where the language is tone based, quickly spoken, and uses characters, instead of letters as a writing practice. There are a few simple things you can do with your child every day in order to help them adjust to constantly hearing and speaking Chinese.
Watch lots of Chinese Television
Even though you and your child may have no idea what they are saying, watching Chinese television helps you to listen for tones, adjust to the speed of speech, and even begin to recognize characters if you’re using subtitles. Chinese cartoons are an especially good resource for you and your children to pick up basic mandarin. Chinese cartoon characters tend to speak relatively slower and use more basic mandarin than what you might be used to hearing. This creates a fun, relaxing time for you and your child while also subconsciously “studying”. One can also watch the Chinese news. It’s easy to check weather forecasting because of the pictures and temperatures on screen. Make a game out of it!
Managing Culture Shock
Cooking with your kids can be a fun way to adjust to a new culture and to have some much deserved bonding. Use questions like the one listed above to figure out what your child likes to eat. Then, find a recipe and make it! It could also be beneficial to make your child’s favorite dish from home in addition to a new Chinese dish, mixing the new with the old. Being in a new place doesn’t have to mean your old home and the associated memories will disappear.
Eating with chopsticks can also be a fun, new way to bond and get used to a very prevalent cultural difference (if you are coming from the west) without feeling silly trying.
Take short trips, even day trips, so that China doesn’t seem as foreign. Explore a new park close to home, take the train to a new restaurant, see some famous monuments, travel to a nearby city, go shopping, or watch a martial arts performance at a theater. In Beijing, there are a multitude of cheap and affordable restaurants, many of which are home to local traditions and national treasures.
No matter where you are from, transitioning to the fast-paced city that is Beijing is a challenging adjustment for anyone. Always keep in mind that adjustment occurs in cycles. One day, you’ll love it, and the next, slightly less. However, a challenge does not have to wear you thin. With these small, yet meaningful activities, you and your child will be excited, willing, and ready to break the next barrier together, in your new home.
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF ALIYAH PHIPPS