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01/11/2011Tips for moving children to a life abroad
The children of expats have extraordinary needs and reservations when it comes to moving abroad. One expert explains how families and companies can help children live abroad successfully and positively.I was only seven when my family was relocated to Hong Kong for a great professional opportunity for my father. Looking back now, I realise my parents did a terrific job at preparing us for the unexpected. They put a lot of energy into researching everything that would be of importance to us: our house, schools, and recreational activities. In other words, they did their homework.
No matter how prepared a family may be, it is critical to never forget the children. Companies usually do a nice job of preparing the adults, but forget about the kids. With all the chaos that comes into planning a move, the thoughts and feelings of the children of these families should never be overlooked.
As someone who lived through the moving experience, and the author of We're Moving Where? An Adolescent's Guide to Overseas Living, I'd like to offer some words of advice to the companies that move their employees overseas.
The human factor
For starters, remember that you are moving an entire family. Each member of the family has their own unique fears and concerns. While adults adjust at a faster pace, children and adolescents have to cope not only with the move, but with all the emotional changes that go along with being young.
Companies should never forget the human aspect of the move. Many children may not even understand why they are being relocated. For that reason, companies should not only encourage but pay for seminars aimed solely at the children.
While no time is ideal to move a family, it's a lot easier to move at the beginning of a school year when things are new for everyone. Moving in the middle of the year is a disruption both socially, academically, and emotionally. I would recommend not only moving a family at the beginning of a school year, but scheduling the move no later than a month before school starts.
There are also cases when companies need to move employees with adolescents about to finish up their high school years. No matter if they are moving to a new location or moving back to a home country, moving a family with a senior in high school can be a very difficult scenario. By the time someone is in their last year of school, friendships and relationships have been strongly established. If possible, a teenager should be allowed to finish what they started and be with their friends.
It's very important to get to know your surroundings, especially when living overseas. Adaptation takes time. Children and adolescents should be given plenty of opportunity to adapt to their new home.
Involve the kids
The more involved kids feel regarding the move, the smoother the move will go. For that reason, I encourage companies to have someone specifically designated to look after the well being of the families involved. This means not only listening to their concerns, but also promoting the positives that go along with living abroad such as adventures, appreciation for new cultures, new beginnings, travel, and even similarities to their current home life.
Kids can't always comprehend the amazing opportunities that living overseas can bring. The majority see moving almost as a punishment. That's just another reason to support having a person assigned to promote all the positives. Anxiety levels would be significantly lower.
Helping the family keep in touch
Companies can also help the entire family keep in touch with family and friends left behind. Setting up email accounts for the whole family, allowing phone calls, or even free or reduced air fare allowances, would be a great way for companies to acknowledge their appreciation to families they send overseas.
There is nothing easy about relocating to a foreign country but I was fortunate to have parents who took care of my fears and worries about living abroad. While family and friends can help reduce some of those fears, companies who send families abroad should do all they can to make the transition a positive one.
Finally, keep in mind this fact: the happier things are at home for the relocated employee, the harder that employee will work at the office.
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