Expatriation, Third Culture, And…Where Are We Spending Christmas This Year?

Right at this moment, my husband and I are packing for a weekend getaway to Shenzhen, just over the border from our home in Hong Kong. Simultaneously, our two kids are preparing to see each other again, our daughter is flying from Auckland to visit her younger brother in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island.

As an expatriate family, these sorts of things are commonplace. We’ve all been living this nomadic life ever since we migrated to Singapore, some two decades ago. Unlike most expats, we chose to strike out to Asia without a job posting for my husband, “like pioneers”, we laughed. (Thankfully, he secured employment straight away, and still works for the same Swiss-based multinational.)

We sold our Vancouver house, also an unusual move for expatriates, who tend to keep property in their home countries as a base to return to after the overseas employment contract is completed. This act gave the whole situation a sense of permanence, no going back. When we eventually moved from Singapore to Hong Kong a few years back, that essentially shut the door on our kid’s childhood. No going back there, either.

Hubby and I now live in an area of Hong Kong that is considered an expat enclave, surrounded by many young families: kids with nannies, kids in International Schools. I often wonder, do these expat families give a thought to the future, their future, that I am presently living.

In raising a “Third Culture” family, (even if we still retain close ties to our home country), we are giving our children a gift. It is the gift of possibilities. It is the gift of the world. Yet, in giving this gift, we must realize that there’s a downside…quite likely, they will follow our example, they will choose a path apart from us, very likely living in another country far away from us.

These are the questions of the Third Culture: Having no clear roots, where is home? Is it the place WE were raised, or is it the place we raise OUR families? How can home be a place they’ve never lived, yet WE call “home”?

In our case, our two kids chose to school in New Zealand, and they loved it so much, they both have chosen to settle there permanently. We plan to follow, in retirement, in a year or two.

For now, though, we’re all left in this flux state, we see them maybe twice a year, planning for the next family time together from the minute we reunite this time. This is the curse of the expatriate life nobody speaks of, or prepares you for.

* Images via free sources

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