Friday, January 23

growing up expat

A friend of mine just forwarded me a Newsweek article "A Team of Expatriates" that mentions that many of Obama's top advisers lived abroad as children and discusses how that affected their world view and their view of America.

This is something I think about quite a bit in regard to my own little family. Moving abroad is very stressful. Punkone started elementary school in a place where he didn't speak the language. In a place full of kids that were different from him. Because he has an Italian name, his teachers wouldn't give him the extra tutoring offered to a girl in the same situation but coming from Pakistan. His outbursts were classified as simple behavior problems. They refused to consider that it might be related to the fact that he simply wasn't following what was going on around him and was getting overwhelmed and frustrated with the situation.

Well, without going on and on, it was a trying year for Punkone. Fortunately, he is an optimistic kid and just kept dusting himself off and hopping right back in the ring.

But I see a change in him. He's changed from the happy, easy going toddler he was two years ago, into an explosive almost bi-polar kid. Everyday is either the "best day ever!" or "the worst day of my life!" (to this I always respond with a smile and say "the worst day of your life so far"... which maybe doesn't help so much). Some of this is certainly his personality and may have evolved in this way regardless... but I can't help but think the added stress of living abroad didn't help matters much.

Is it ignorant of me to stick to the convictions that living abroad will benefit this child? Must we struggle in order to grow?

This makes me recall an idea that has been replayed over and over again in my head from the movie Matrix (overall, not a great film, but bear with me). It was the reasoning behind creating so much suffering in the artificial world... that humans were not happy having everything perfect... that they needed the suffering... that they preferred it that way. I have formed different opinions about this sentiment over the years. At first, I thought, bull shit. How could humans not be happy in a world without suffering? Now I might argue that, no, we (as humans) don't prefer to suffer, but maybe we need to struggle. Maybe we get so much more out of ourselves and life by getting shoved out of our comfort zones.

Of course, I'd much prefer to struggle with a new language then struggle to feed my family. But maybe growth happens in either situation. At what point do the scales tip from growth to deterioration?

I seem to have gotten lost on a tangent. What was my point?

Ah... inflicting the struggle of moving abroad on our children for their own good. Making them endure being left out, confused, even lonely. I wish this move had been easier on him. Would I do it again? Yes. Despite it all, I see already a stronger person developing in Punkone. One more tolerant (overall). One more open. And one who I think will be glad for the experience as he grows and hopefully, make him a better citizen... of the earth.


  1. that's interesting, that he chose his team like that. I do think it'll make a difference.

  2. Anonymous7:49 AM

    I do think there's a stigma associated with 'struggling' and it's a deep question if u ask, is struggling necessary?

    I wouldn't want my kids to struggle, call me selfish:), but when I look back, I think a lot of what I'm today, is thanks to the struggle that we underwent during childhood, like say, I was constantly picked on by bullies as I was the youngest and smallish- looking in class, but it also forced me to develop a technique to 'fight' them: like yelling at the top of my voice, to get attention, also to prejudge the situation and kind of go on a preemtive strike;) Thanks to the experience, I'm a non- doormat empathetic! Like somebody said, what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger!

    So yea, good question, makes one think...

  3. Anonymous8:20 AM

    I read the Obama article too... Thanks for sharing!

  4. I, for one, do believe adversity creates character. As long as Punkone has you in his corner, sonmeone who listens when he vents and offers open and humor-based advice, he's going to see that he can overcome, that he can work with what he has, and that he can make what he has better through cooperation.
    You're doing a great job. :-)

  5. Thoughtful post. I agree with your view. In this world of free will, struggle and delight or more in our own control than we realize. PunkOne's attitude will determine the balance of struggle/reward ultimately. Just knowing that you are there, you are listening, you CARE, is all he needs from you. Your boy will live in a world that needs his self-knowledge more than it needs conformity. We are counting on him! I think he will turn out just fine. Aloha-

  6. Anonymous2:55 PM

    Very thoughtful post. You and he will never regret living abroad. It gives you a different and more tolerant perspective on life and the world.

    Punkone could just be going through a "growing" phase, where he's more sensitive to every situation. Hang in there, you're doing great.

  7. Thanks for all the interesting comments. I see the tough times he has gone through this year, but also how much he enjoys it. I think first grade would have been easier on him if we had stayed in the states and I worry a little if having a rough start will shape how he performs at school overall...

    Education isn't everything, right?

    But I also believe that in the long run, living abroad will bring a lot of positive things to his life... I found it encouraging to read about President Obama's (so nice to say that) choices for his advisory board and even his own experiences. And I do think it will make a difference.

  8. Thanks for visiting my blog (and becoming a follower! It amazes me that people like my writing enough to want a steady diet of it.)

    My minister (who calls himself "the Charlie Brown of pastors") told this story once: When they put together the Biosphere in Arizona, they stocked it genetically superior plants and the perfect soil. They scientifically determined the right amount of sunshine and humidity. So, when the first spring rolled around, they were surprized when the fruit got to a certain size and then fell off the tree before it had a chance to get ripe.

    They decided it was a fluke, but the next spring the same thing happened.

    And this is why: because without the rain and the wind, the stems don't get strong enough to bear the weight of the fruit as it grows.


...and you may ask yourself, did I get here?