For most of my adult life, I have lived overseas in various parts of the world. When I started my career, I was a single woman in a relationship not even thinking about children. However, as the years passed and life progressed, I got married and had two children who have spent most of their young lives living overseas and becoming global citizens. Of course, as a parent, when you make such a decision, you are always weighing the pros and cons of life overseas versus life back home. For my family, I can say the pros vastly outweighed the cons. However, I can also understand that the idea of uprooting your family and heading to destinations halfway across the world can seem like an impossible task. It doesn’t have to be, though.
The largest con and only major downside for our family is that we are away from friend and family networks. Because of that, we can’t always be there in person for the big moments, like weddings, baby showers, graduations, and funerals. The important extended family connections are not as close as they might otherwise be if were living back home, due to the distance. However, since we live in the digital age of social media, social networking platforms have made it much easier to maintain and develop those relationships in the absence of in-person opportunities. They’ve helped us be connected and to feel up to date on each other’s lives and goings-ons.
There are plenty of pros, though. One is adaptability and flexibility. By living overseas and being exposed to different cultures, immersed in various languages, diverse beliefs and value systems, complex time zones, and distinctive societal rules and norms has forced my children to cope with change. The beauty is that they don’t even realize it because living abroad is all they know, so it is their norm. Growing up overseas has taught my children how to thrive in ambiguity and figure out how to navigate in foreign places and situations.
There’s also the perk of language development. There are a lot of great bilingual education and immersion programs in the United States and many people live in multilingual households. However, living overseas, children are not only formally educated in another language, but they are also exposed to it constantly. They hear the languages spoken in the streets and on the radio when driving in the car, they have to read signs in the foreign language, and they interact with people in daily life in the foreign language. It has been proven that language immersion is one of the best ways to learn another language and to plant the seed in the brain that helps them to have better linguistics later in life. Children who learn a second language have a higher cognitive function, great academic achievement, and increased cultural enrichment.
Now for the schooling. While the thought of uprooting your children from their school environment seems like something you might not want to do, I am here to tell you to consider it. Many of the international schools overseas are better resourced, have smaller class sizes, qualified teachers from all over the world, and a very diverse school population. The things your children will learn inside and outside of the classroom are truly incomparable and will set them up for success for whatever academic pursuits they have after high school. Studies have shown that students who lived overseas during childhood have a higher likelihood of attaining a college degree than those who haven’t.
As for the family dynamics, because you are away from extended friends and family, this creates closeness in the nuclear family. You end up spending more time together and doing more collectively, which makes the intra-familial bonds stronger. Life overseas isn’t always easy, so you end up leaning on each other more, relying on each other, growing together, and showing up for each other in ways not always needed when you’re back home. I have found this to be one of the most beautiful and fulfilling parts of life overseas.
Lastly, the quality of life can be better elsewhere. Depending upon where you live in the world, the cost of living may be lower and the dollar may go further, which means you will have a higher quality of life and can do more things as a family. We have been able to travel with our children to the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon jungle, Machu Picchu, visited the tallest building in the world in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and been to exclusive beaches, and more. These amazing experiences are luxuries that we wouldn’t have been able to afford had we lived back home. We were able to take advantage of such opportunities by living overseas.
Living overseas is not a decision to be made lightly, though. There are lots of moving parts and things to consider. However, I have never regretted the decision to raise my children abroad. Though we miss our family and friends dearly, we always enjoy coming home for visits and giving them an excuse to travel to visit us. There is a big world out there with so much to offer. With the shift to remote living happening due to the pandemic, there are fewer barriers to picking up and living with your family overseas. Why not give it some thought? You won’t regret it.