Watching my now mostly adult children navigate the world around them, I can’t help but think that this planet would be a more understanding and tolerant place if more of us had grown up the way they have, with several cultural heritages to influence them, and with the opportunity to get to know different parts of the world. It strikes me as a little ironic that, even though we are increasingly connected across the globe, both virtually and physically, somehow interpersonally we seem to become more polarized and less understanding of each other.
I had many concerns about having children abroad and raising them far away from home. I worried about what it would be like not to have a family support system to rely on for advice and help. How do you replace the comfort, knowledge and wisdom of family and long-term friends in a place where you have none? The answer is an ambiguous “you can, and you can’t”. The truth is I often found it very difficult. However, as time passed, I started making connections and forming new bonds. And, eventually, I had built something akin to a “substitute family”.
For my children I wondered if they would struggle with connecting with their grandparents and cousins, whom they only got to see once or twice a year – is that enough time to form a bond? I questioned whether they would ever feel at home in my culture, if they would adopt any of its traditions?
As my children got older and had more of a say and were making their own choices, I thought maybe they would lose interest in their heritage on my side. I thought maybe the trips back home would become a chore to them and not something they enjoyed, let alone something they wanted to set aside time for.
I am sitting at an airport as I write this, with my youngest and my oldest, one already an adult and the other well on her way. Both of them excited to go visit family. All I can think is, I shouldn’t have worried so much. They are firmly rooted in both cultures; they speak the languages and love celebrating all the traditional holidays. They have a close bond with family on both continents.
Furthermore, they are capable of a deeper understanding of different cultures. They know that just because your cultural heritage is different, that doesn’t mean you aren’t also similar in many ways. They have navigated culture clashes. They know that you can combine traditions and ways of life without losing their meaning and importance. They have done it all their lives and whatever lessons they have learned along the way, have had an impact on their tolerance and open-mindedness, I firmly believe that.
We are about to board our flight and as I watch my daughters calmly wait their turn, I have this last reflection — after having been hauled across the planet since infancy, they are awesome travelers!
By: Felicia Shermis