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Op-Ed: How the Internet is helping expat children integrate

By Em Buchanan     Jun 6, 2014 in Travel
What happens if you're offered the promotion of a lifetime but it's in a different country? To some this'll be a no-brainer but to others, children need to be considered. So what's the best way of ensuring they integrate as well as you do?
Technology, we’re frequently told, has made the world a much smaller place. With the proliferation of face-to-face video calling and social media, global communications have never been stronger and more and more, international companies are sending their employees to work abroad.
Moving abroad for your job can be hugely demanding, rewarding, terrifying, galling and humbling - all at the same time. Depending on your lifestyle and age, the prospect of relocation may give you mixed feelings. Professionals in the formative stages of their career are often freer to move, less encumbered by ties romantic, familial or otherwise. Those more established will often have families, which will undoubtedly complicate matters.
If you fit the aforementioned, helping your children integrate into their new surroundings can be the most emotionally demanding part of the entire relocation process. After all, there’s so much to consider; language, cultural specificities, social structures, religion, behavioural nuances, safety, transport, schooling. The list is head-spinning.
So what should soon-to-be-expatriate parents consider with regards their children and the big move abroad?
Technology and digital media can help parents quite dramatically here. Websites like Military Youth on the Move offer sage advice on the subject and obviously, social media can be a real boon. By allowing children to keep in touch with their friends back home, the distance won’t seem so great. Moreover, parents who help their children plan for the new adventure by joining social media and remaining active online are supplying the tools their children need to keep their support networks up and running, wherever they may be.
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have opened new opportunities for friends of any age who, for whatever reason, find themselves geographically displaced. The frequency of posting keeps lines of communication open and helps different parties keep abreast of the activities of their friends. Similarly, the variety of media involved in these communications (imagery, text, video, links) helps bring those vicarious experiences to life as much as is digitally possible.
Lisa McKay, author, psychologist and US expat based in Laos, says, “helping children build these important relationships and stay connected to their home culture in other ways can help make such identity struggles less acute and prolonged.”
In this way, the vast difference in the child’s experience can be tempered more so now than ever before. Previously, expat parents were advised to integrate their children into their new environment as quickly as possible. However, this would often only underpin feelings of isolation and these days, social media helps to smooth those edges and soften the blow.
While expat-focused businesses still rightly advise that imminent expats take up language courses before they settle in their new environments, social media and video conferencing can actually help here again. Learning languages via Skype (or indeed via Google+) is becoming increasingly common, giving as it does that all important direct access to a native speaker at mutually convenient times and prices. Similarly, Facebook offers a wealth of possibilities for young language learners who may be shy getting started. By finding study groups and safely sourcing willing participants, young learners can do so through a medium they understand.
Although the power of homesickness for a child or young adult can be difficult to disengage, laying the ground in advance through established networks of communication can certainly help neutralise it. By empowering children to nurture old friendships and forge new ones through learning, you can go a long way to making sure the initial part of the expat experience isn’t as fraught as perhaps it once was.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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