Relocating with Children: When Divorce Enters the Equation

July 6, 2010

By Liz Perelstein, President of School Choice International

Excerpt from ExpatExchange.com

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Over the past few years I have been asked to provide expert testimony concerning education and relocation. These cases have been associated with two scenarios:

  • a potential move in a family where parents had divorced or were divorcing, or,
  • where parents have separated while on assignment and the custodial parent wants to move home while the working parent remains abroad.

As society has become more peripatetic, this issue is bound to arise increasingly. The five-year legal battle of David Goldman to gain custody of his son Sean was highly publicized because it was identified as an important precedent in custody battles during the current era of mobility. As the relocation of separated families has become more common, states within the United States have enacted legislation that addresses the issues inevitably raised. These laws vary considerably by state. Parental consent may be required so that when the non-custodial parent does not consent, the issue may be decided by the legal system. Intrastate moves are allowed more frequently than interstate moves which suggests that proximity and ongoing contact is considered crucial.

I have not found articles that deal specifically with legal considerations in international relocation for divided families; however, there have been a few studies (despite small sample sizes) that support the belief that ability to successfully maintain relationships with both parents is significant to a child’s well being (Journal of Family Psychology, 2003). Accordingly, legal requirements for international relocations most likely would be more stringent than those for domestic transfers because of the obvious fact that distance affects the ability to maintain relationships with both parents.

Families need to think about:

  • the child’s age;
  • how important the move is to the parent;
  • whether there are pros as well as cons for the child;
  • can parents keep conflict away from the child and his/her education;
  • how the child can maintain a relationship with both parents;
  • and what is the child’s personality like, in particular, does the child adapt easily to change?

Companies that relocate divorced parents have to consider:

  • the child’s age
  • legal implications,
  • timing in view of these legal issues,
  • cost and emotional impact on the employee as well as child.
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Report Cards from Around the World: Kathmandu, Nepal

October 9, 2009

Nepal-Flag_0

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at report cards from around the world.

~Fasten Your Seat Belts~

~Second Stop ~ Kathmandu~

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himalayan_peaks_nepal_photo[1]Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, which is home of the mighty Mount Everest. Though troubled by unrest in the last few years, Kathmandu remains a popular tourist destination, especially among the adventurous. As a developing country, Nepal has made enormous strides, though life expectancy (at 63 years) remains low and infant mortality rates highest in the region. Although Wikipedia suggests a 98% literacy rate in the city of Kathmandu, the World Bank reports a literacy rate of 48.2% for the country, and highlights gender disparity (female: 34.6%, male 62.2%). Regardless, Kathmandu has many schools that offer a quality education.

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Pupil Progress Report Basics

  • Type of School: Local, English-standard school
  • Academic Year: 2000 – 2001
  • Class: X (10)

Here’s the report card! The blue circles highlight a few interesting aspects of the report and the numbers correspond to notes below the image.

Nepal Report Card, Page 1

1. Population and Environment

Some schools offer Population and Environment, a class that may be equivalent to Human Geography (offered as an Advanced Placement class in the American system).

2. Percentage and Position in Class

This student received 70s in her classes (which would be a C average in the United States), however this is considered “Very Good to Excellent” in the Nepali education system. Her high achievement becomes evident in her position in class: 2nd, 3rd or 4th out of 19 students. Speaking of which, the class rank would rarely be reported in most American classrooms, except for the valedictorian at graduation. This illustrates differing values in competition within the educational system.

3. Division

In the Nepali system, students are separated into three divisions, a sort of “streaming.” Here’s a break down of the divisions:

explanation of marksHere’s the second page of the progress report:

Nepal Report Card, Page 2

4. Teacher’s Comments… “Try harder and do better”

Unlike the report card from Dalhousie, the Nepali progress report includes teacher’s comments (which covers about 50% of the card). The general theme, even for one of the highest achieving students, seems to be “to do better,” “prove her worth,” and “aspire higher.”

5. “She should shed her over confidence”

This statement clearly demonstrates a cultural difference in the value of confidence versus, perhaps, humility? Has your teacher ever said you were over confident?

explanation of marks and to parents_2

See Report Card from Dalhousie, India; Soro, Denmark

Report card analysis to look forward to: Malawi, Australia, Canada, Mexico and more!


Handling Repatriation ~ Ideas for TCKs

August 28, 2009

Today, Boston College had an orientation specifically for Third Culture Kids (TCKs). Expatriate kids are finally getting the attention they deserve! I was delighted to give the key-note address. I presented some findings from my research on TCKs, which explores the factors that affect psychological well-being, but also some personal stories and some food for thought.

I’d like to share a few of the take-home points. These do not come from research or statistical analysis, but are ideas that I have been thinking about for a while.

Treat repatriation like an assignment ~ What would happen?Coming Home?

Third Culture Kids are great at adapting, except, it seems, when it comes to repatriation. Psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists all suggest that the heavy expectations of going “home”—only to find a place does not feel like home—can make repatriation very hard. I’ve often wondered if TCKs would fare better if they treated repatriation more like an assignment, even if only as a mental tool to deal with difficult situations. Maybe it would be easier to use the adaptation skills they learned on previous assignments to deal with the move. If a TCK expects Americans to be “foreign,” would it be as difficult to make friends? Of course, all the issues would not disappear (i.e. people might still wonder why he or she is using “lift” instead of “elevator”), but maybe a TCK would not mind quite as much.

National and Communal Identity ~ A Matter of Perspective

There are two aspects of identity that I’d like to highlight: nationality (in the sense of national identity) and a sense of belonging (communal identity). Obviously the two concepts overlap; nationalistic people are probably more likely to feel a sense of belonging to their country. For instance, during the last election, I was proud to be an American and felt a strong sense of community with Americans living in Canada. However, national and communal identity CAN be mutually exclusive.

arra_pic

Third Culture Kids may have a strained relationship with their national identity; I’ve interviewed TCKs who express feeling especially American while abroad, only to feel completely foreign in the United States. Some continue to call themselves American and really believe so, while others only call themselves American only because “it’s the easiest answer that raises the fewest questions.” Sometimes it helps to take a different perspective on national identity—some of the interviewees refer to themselves as TCKs or Global Nomads, or simply say, “I’m nationally challenged… because Americans seem to like the ‘challenged.’” They have a positive view of their background that takes into account their international experiences. A TCK’s national identity may take time to develop, and that’s okay! Chances are, their sense of national identity will be a much deeper one than most.

Regardless of their national sense of identity, TCKs can still feel a sense of belonging in their community through their religious beliefs, leisure activities or sports clubs. In this high-tech age, courtesy of Facebook and DIY websites, there are even online TCK communities. (In the past, finding a TCK community was especially difficult; after repatriation, TCKs spread out and often become invisible, or “hidden immigrants”). Finding a community, a group of people with a shared interest, can help a TCK settle in and give them a support network. The point is not to connect with other Americans or non-Americans, but to connect. At the end of the day, we are all people.

Seeking help

TCKs might need extra support, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. By the time a TCK is 19, she or he will have had more than a lifetime of experiences to absorb and process. It’s not going to be easy. More and more, counselors and advisors are becoming aware of TCK issues. TCKs should not be afraid to use counseling services offered at universities and colleges to help deal with any issues they may face.

Every person takes a unique journey… You might as well enjoy yours!

TCKs have amazing opportunities to experience the world, traveling, understanding new cultures and gaining different viewpoints, but all that can be hard to remember during difficult times. Take time to remind yourself of the good times you’ve had abroad and the benefits you’ve reaped from living a global life.

~ A special thank you to Laura Saylor and Boston College for inviting me to speak! ~


Summer: A Time for Fun Learning

August 13, 2009
Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers

In his latest book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses education in the United States. He refers to a researcher from Johns Hopkins who found that students from inner-city public schools actually outlearn their wealthy peers during the school year, but then fall behind during the summer vacation. He goes on to explain that while poorer students are left to their own devices over the summer (while their parents work long hours to provide for the family), privileged children spend their summers participating in activities, academic or otherwise, under the close supervision of their parents, nannies or camp counselors; in other words, the children who spend the summer “productively” continue to learn over the summer. Gladwell also describes a school in a low socio-economic area where students have a much shorter summer break (among other expectations, such as a rigorous curriculum and a strict school schedule), resulting in high academic achievement. Gladwell suggests that in order to help poor students do better in school, summer vacations should be shortened.

Outliers

These findings also have implications for children growing up abroad. Parents may want to take a close look at the length of vacation time and how an expat child utilizes those precious weeks or months. Think about summer schools or camps, as they may provide opportunities to explore or develop comprehensive skills in music, theater, art or sports, in a way that a smaller international or local host schools may not offer. Finding summer schools or camps may be difficult overseas, but certainly available through-out the United States.

Expatriates definitely have great opportunities for cultural experiences, and summers and winter breaks are a fantastic times to explore the host country and neighboring areas. Parents might try to think of the trip as more than a vacation (sunbathing by the beach) and consider a few engaging activities for the children. A trip to a museum or ancient city might be the typical “educational” experience but there many more fun ways to continue learning through the summer, even on vacation.

Here are a few great ideas:

  • Learning the local language
  • Read the local newspaper
  • Read a book by a local author
  • Cook a traditional meal
  • Participate in a local tradition
  • Learn a local art form (for instance, West African drumming or Bharatanatyam dancing in India)
  • Visit the local zoo or a wildlife reserve
    The Bangkok Post, featuring the King and Queen

    The Bangkok Post, featuring the King and Queen


    Living Abroad: Does it Make You More CreAtiVe?

    August 7, 2009

    The Duncker Candle Problem

    Look at the picture below. You should see a candle, a pack of matches and a box of tacks next to a cardboard wall. Can you figure out, using only the objects on the table, how to attach the candle to the wall, so that the candle burns properly and does not drip wax on the table or the floor?

    If you’re in the mood to share (and we’d love to hear from you!), scroll down and leave a comment with your answer!

    Can you figure out the answer?

    Can you figure out the answer?

    Now, here’s the correct solution; you need to empty the box of tacks, use the tacks to pin the box to the wall, and place the candle in the box. The box acts as a candle holder! Don’t feel bad if you didn’t get it, I didn’t either.

    The Research

    In a recent study, William W. Maddux and Adam D. Galinsky used the Duncker Candle Problem, illustrated above, to test creativity. (Were you creative in your answer?) Due to previous research in the field, the psychologists hypothesized that creativity correlates to living abroad. Research has already found first and second generation immigrants and bilingual individuals have comparatively high levels of creativity, and in their article, Maddux and Galinsky presented a long list of creators, including writers (Hemingway and Yeats), artists (Gauguin and Picasso) and composers (Handel and Stravinsky), who created their most famous works during or immediately after living abroad.

    The Dream by Picasso

    The Dream by Picasso

    Maddux and Galinsky conducted five experiments, and found a strong positive link between living abroad and creativity. According to the research, the more time an individual spends living abroad the more likely they are able to solve creativity tests, like the Duncker Candle problem. While the study is not causal—meaning the research does clarify whether creative people tend to live abroad or living abroad fosters creativity—the study does offer some strong empirical evidence for a link between living in foreign countries and creativity.

    Surprisingly, traveling abroad (i.e. visiting) did not have the same effect! This suggests that having to adapt or acculturate to a new culture is what really drives this creative ability correlation; living in a different culture and learning cultural norms allows, maybe even forces individuals to see life from different perspectives, positively affecting creativity.

    These findings have special implications for children growing up abroad. Maybe this research provides a different perspective in looking at the pros and cons of sending expat children to local schools and exposing them to the culture of the host country? Maybe those of us in the international community can celebrate and share our creativity, a very positive aspect of a sometimes difficult life? Maybe parents can begin to foster creativity in their children, creating an “in” for them into a social network? (This references the article titled “Education Outside the Classroom.” Check it out!) One thing is for sure, this is another piece of evidence that expat kids, TCKs, Global Nomads, and the like, really are the next generation of global leaders.

    A special thanks to Joseph Leahy for bringing this article to my attention.

    Find this interesting? Read the whole article!

    Maddux, W. W. & Galinsky, A. D. (2009). Cultural borders and mental barriers: the relationship between living abroad and creativity. American Psychological Association, (96)5, 1047-1061.


    Recalling Expats?

    July 27, 2009

    In recent months, companies have begun recalling expats from multiyear assignments up to 12 months early… The CEO of a Pacific Northwest manufacturer (who requested his publicly traded company’s name not be used) is pulling his European division manager home after only eight months of a two-year assignment because the business can’t continue to foot the $500,000 annual bill for his salary and living expenses.      –Workforce.com, March 5, 2009

    Education is a top priority for middle class families in every culture worldwide, and always has been.  This was true of Eastern European immigrants to the United States 70 years ago, Chinese families who have pinned all of their hopes and dreams on their sole child, and parents in the Northeastern part of the United States who are still, according to the New York Times magazine on July 19, willing to spend $40,000 on college placement counselors for their children despite the economy.  This results in scarcity of suitable school options in major cities globally.  Even if there are vacancies in less popular schools, those that are generally considered “top tier” are overbooked no matter what the economic situation.

    As a result, repatriation, which always is difficult, brings additional challenges when it is sudden and forces families to seek schooling for their children mid-year, particularly under rushed and stressful circumstances.  In addition to the logistical challenges involved in gaining admission to schools, children are excluded from extracurricular activities – the football team already has been chosen, as has the cast of the play – essential aspects of re-entry if they are to successfully make friends and reintegrate into their home cultures. Repatriation to one’s former home is particularly difficult, according to Craig Storti, because expectations and reality clash.  When employees are moved home without sufficient notice, they, and their families, do not have sufficient time to process the emotional aspects of the repatriation so it is all the more important that they receive assistance with the logistics of the school search and transition, as together both aspects are quite overwhelming.

    Things that employers can provide are:

    • Accurate and easy to use information in the form of books, research, websites and web based tools;
    • Transition assistance so that families understand that the former school may no longer be the best school for a child given the wealth of experiences s/he has had overseas as well as the curricular differences;
    • Expert help in identifying and getting into schools that meet the unique needs of each child at this point in time;
    • Specialized assistance for children with special needs, gifted children, and those seeking schools in particularly competitive locations.

    This is something that companies must think about if their goal is to develop policies that will serve them in good times as well as bad.  Benefits of good support when employees with children are recalled are rapid employee productivity, increased loyalty, talent retention, willingness to take future assignments, and improved morale, which includes encouraging other employees to undertake assignments when needed.