One of our biggest concerns as expat parents is assimilating our own culture in our lives, as much as we love learning about other cultures, especially of our host country. Depending on where you live, this may be a difficult or easy task. Some countries are open about allowing different cultures to thrive, while others may have policies about protecting and promoting their own.
Still, as parents, it remains our responsibility to ensure that our children grow up knowing their roots, especially if you plan on returning to your country. We are lucky that way to be staying in Dubai, which is a melting pot of cultures. This allows us to learn about other cultures and stay in touch with our own at the same time. There are many Indian expats in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) which is a good thing, because it provides opportunities for cultural events and activities. Our son is only two, but as he grows older, I want him to develop an understanding of our origin country and culture in ways that interest him.
Retaining your Roots: Tips for Expat Parents
There are many ways in which you can keep in touch with your culture as expat parents. Here are a few suggestions:
Learning the language
Learning a language, or at least being familiar with it, is a window into another culture. Teaching your children your traditional language will open up opportunities for them to delve more into your culture. This is not a prerequisite, of course, but valuable for building a bridge between them and their original roots. Often, children fail to pick up a second language because the country they are staying in may not provide opportunities for them to use it. In that case, it’s up to you to create the right environment at home to practice it. Here are a few tips on making sure that your children aren’t passive bilingual.
Reading cultural literature
Children’s literature or cultural and scientific magazines can also be a gateway into understanding your roots. If these books aren’t available where you stay, you can always ask friends back home to mail them, or order online. It is important to choose the right books that demonstrate different aspects of your culture, such as social norms, music, dance, food, and everyday living. Folk stories are also rich in culture, and a good way to connect with mythology and symbols. For ideas on good books, see the Read Around the World Summer Series, or check out these tools for exploring culture around the world.
Attending and participating in events
It would be a good idea to keep an eye out for events organised by your embassy or cultural associations from your country. Children would benefit from watching live performances of drama, or music, and participating in similar events. Some communities also organise language or culture classes for expats.
Children’s films and TV shows
With online television, it’s now easy to access kids’ shows being broadcast in other countries. Through local language shows, children can get understand cultural references which would help them adapt when you visit home, or move back. Mythological children’s shows, such as those shown in India, are replete with historical and cultural information. You can also check for listings of children’s movies shown at film festivals.
Getting into the festive spirit
Celebrating your own festivals on whatever scale you can is a fantastic way to connect with your culture. You could do this by performing some traditions, having friends over, or joining in community celebrations. Often, festivals supersede their religious origin and become social and national celebrations. Holi, celebrated in India, is a good example of this. Try to explain the history and traditions behind each festival to your children.
Learning through fun activities
Children learn best by doing things, and there are many ways you could incorporate culture in the fun activities you already do. You can use art, craft, cooking, music, pretend play, or games to teach your children. Or how about this virtual tour, which is a great idea for understanding culture using different types of resources? The more creative you are, the more likely your children will develop an interest in their cultural background.
Staying in touch with family
I think the most important thing for retaining your roots is staying in touch with family. Family members, especially grandparents, can do so much by passing down stories, folklore, and family history. While life is definitely fun for expat kids, it is even better if they cultivate an identity which is a combination of where they live, and where they come from.
Tarana Khan is mom to a toddler, living an expat life in Dubai. She loves writing and has done her stints as a copywriter, reporter and content editor, before embracing parenthood full time. She blogs at Sand In My Toes, where you can drop by to read more of her parenting and other adventures! You can also catch up with her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Google+.