Living in a different country can be life changing. For children, it can open their eyes to a whole new world. It can be exciting and scary at the same time. We've recently returned from living in the UK and we are still feeling unsettled.
You may think that moving from Australia to England would be straight forward, and in many ways it is, but Australian culture is very different to English culture. We speak the same language but are on different wave lengths. We lived in a rural part of England and having an accent means that we immediately felt and were identified as being different and personally I felt that I didn't fit in.
For my older two children, it was their first time out of Montessori and into traditional schooling. They thrived which I put down to small class sizes, specialist (and passionate) teachers and a school with a sporting focus. Their school days were long, Caspar in high school didn't finish until 5pm, but both children experienced forest school, hot school lunches (which they loved) and the general British way of doing things.
We travelled to places we'd never imagined. Travelling to non-English speaking countries was a valuable experience for us all. Learning about different cultures through books and video is amazing but it is not the same as being there. Children learn by doing and being and experiencing, doing normal things in a different country was often a real lesson. Now we place a higher value on travel (domestic and international).
Often we believe the way that we do something is the right way to do it (think riding a bike with a helmet, immunisation, immigration). It's valuable to unpack why things are so ingrained in to our culture and perhaps this makes us approach people and problems differently. Perhaps we begin to think about things more broadly, from a wider perspective. Perhaps this allows us to think about things from perspective of others and their history and culture.
We also now think about language differently. We now understand that effective communication isn't just about verbal language, words can have different meanings and our feelings, our energy, our body language are all a part of our communication with others.
There has also been the concrete lessons in currency, geography, landmarks and history. Caspar's (then 11yrs) school camp was in Northern France, crossing the channel via a ferry. The idea was for them to live like locals for a week. Wow, what an opportunity. We've now experienced landmarks like Stonehenge, visited more castles than we can count and we've travelled under and over the English channel.
Perhaps while travelling and living overseas we also learn more about ourselves. I've definitely learnt more about myself from a parenting perspective. We were constantly out of our comfort zone and this pushes us to be better versions of ourselves, it encourages us to learn new things and to grow.
What about Montessori? From a Montessori perspective I noticed British parents face greater challenges around space, often living in smaller, and darker spaces. Naturally there is the issue of weather and living in a cold climate. I found our English housing was not accommodating of outdoor play. Our Australian housing always has outdoor shelter with decking or a veranda to support outdoor and nature play during rain or harsh sun, which also makes the transition for indoor to outdoor play easier. In the UK outdoor play was something that most parents strived towards but in Australia it is something that occurs naturally and almost without thought. The hardest part for me living in the UK was the darkness. In the winter months it was dark at at 4-5pm. I am sure Europeans are used to it but it was difficult for us to adjust to.
Some of our greatest challenges around moving internationally with children have been managing the children's expectations, and their worries. At times the children have become anxious about the unknown, about transitions and about friendships. We have tried to be confident with our decisions, involve the children in decision making as much as possible, retain familiarity and routine as much as possible. While living overseas there is the temptation to travel and explore all the time but we tried to balance this with our children's needs to play weekend sport, attend sleepovers and weekend playdates. Our children wanted to stay at home and not to be tourists every weekend.
While he have returned to our home country we are now living in a new city, Sydney. The children are in new schools and we have new landmarks to check out. On returning to Australia Otto (2 yrs) struggled hugely with jet lag, he was sleeping all day and awake all night for weeks. Otto has also regressed significantly with his independence, co-sleeping more than ever but also he likes to be carried more and needs more support with dressing and feeding. His general clingyness has increased. Although his level of concentration and independent play has remained. Otto definitely felt the transition stage of staying in hotels, temporary accommodation and then the long haul flights, the most difficult. It's likely because the environment had a greater impact on him, during transitions he was less able to access his own snack, play with his own toys, he required more supervision and generally had less freedom.
There is so much more I could write about moving internationally with children. We were so privileged to be able to live in the UK, and we are forever grateful for the experience. Moving, especially with very young children can feel daunting and overwhelming but it is worth it! Please let me know if you are considering the move or have any specific questions.