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Repatrating Children

By Valerie Scane

Repatriation creates as many issues for children as it does for their parents. Dr. Barbara Schaetti, principal of Transition Dynamics, an expatriate consultancy in Seattle, USA, lived in 12 different countries before she was 23. She uses both her personal experience as well as professional training to offer some suggestions on supporting children through the repatriation process.

She first warns parents to remember that repatriation will be different for mobile children or "global nomads" because their identity development has been shaped by the experience of growing up abroad. No matter how much parents try to keep their child connected to their national culture, the child will have a completely different experience of home than the parent. "Their experience is always mediated through the specialness of holidays, the national media, or their parents' stories." she comments. Global nomads are neither part of their national or passport culture, nor the host culture, but rather part of the expatriate culture.

Long before repatriating, Schaetti suggests parents discuss the concept of home with children, helping the family to understand that the parents' concept of home will not be the same as the children's. Home, for global nomads, becomes contained in relationships rather than geographic locations, and parents need to accept and discuss that with their children.

Before repatriating, she also encourages parents to work with their children to develop coping skills. One coping strategy might be the development of "cultural detective" skills. While in the host country, teach your children to become aware and accepting of differences between their own and the host cultures. Upon repatriation, encourage children to investigate their home culture with as much interest. Not only will this help the child to adjust more quickly, but also it acknowledges repatriating children�A"o^s differences. It takes the pressure off children to fit in immediately because home becomes another posting into which, given time, they will integrate.

Once home, the parents need to pay attention to the child's behavior for at least a year to 18 months. While some issues may emerge immediately, parents shouldn't assume that the child is fully settled even if their behavior appears good.

Schaetti encourages parents to help children find international groups at home. Children in these groups will have had similar experiences of crossing cultures and will give repatriates the comfort of knowing that they are not alone in their differences. These groups may also help children maintain their intercultural sensibilities. As the world becomes more globally focused, intercultural skills will be come increasingly critical. Helping children maintain and even develop their skills further will serve them well as they move out into the world themselves.

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