Moving Abroad with Older Kids: Where’s the Road Map?

by Editor on May 28, 2014

We welcome my “neighbor” Sarah Goodfellow, who lives in Peru (I am in Bolivia), as our contributor today. I am so very excited that there are now two regular writers from South America on the team for A Life Overseas. Yeah! Learn more about Sarah on the Writers Page. Even if you do not have older kids yourself it is most likely you know someone who does. This piece will give you a look at some of the things families live out when they make a cross cultural move. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks!    – Angie Washington

Sarah Goodfellow

When we moved to Peru over 3 years ago, our kids ranged in age from 2 to 9 years old. We only knew one other family that lived abroad with older kids, so we had no instruction guide for how to do this with older kids. We were clueless. We knew it would be hard for them to leave the only home they had really ever known, their school and neighborhood friends, their soccer teams and Brownie troop. We just didn’t know how hard it would really be and that, over 3 years later, it would still be hard.

Our youngest knows Peru as home. There was no transition period for her when we moved because she had all that she needed at the time- her mom and dad. For her older sister, Riley, almost everything changed with one plane flight. She arrived in a new country and was thrown into a new school where everyone spoke a new language. She went from doing life with friends she had known for 5 years to spending her days with kids that she couldn’t even communicate with. That first year was rough to say the least.

What I didn’t expect was how hard I would take it all as the parent. We had prayed and talked through everything about our move and decided that putting our kids into a Peruvian school was important to us. We just didn’t realize what we were asking of our kids. The day I rode in a taxi and dropped my 5 year old off for his first day of kindergarten in a language he didn’t understand at all about broke my heart. This wasn’t the kindergarten experience that I had dreamed of for him.

Watching Riley navigate 4th grade and fitting in and feeling awkward and being the only one in her class with a different culture, language, and skin color almost made us throw in the towel on the whole living abroad thing. She changed that first year. She went from being loving and kind to being angry and rude. We knew it was because she was in so much pain and we knew we had caused it by making her move. Riley had a very strong faith before we moved, but that also changed. She questioned how a God that loved her would take away everything she loved and make her live in such a hard place. She wondered if the point of being a Christ follower was to be miserable.

Oh, how my husband and I questioned ourselves that year. What were we doing to our children? There was no joy in serving the Lord. Only lots and lots of pain. It’s one thing to choose for yourself to follow God into the hard places, but to choose to put your kids in the hard places? That’s a heavy burden to carry.

Thankfully we are now further down the road and finally in a place where we can say that it was worth it. I can give you the practical reasons:

  • our kids are fluent Spanish speakers
  • they appreciate and know Peruvian culture
  • they are more confident in themselves

But, more importantly, we have grown closer as a family and each of us has grown in our faith. Riley’s doubts were valid and real. And in the end she chose to trust, rather than turn away. We all did and continue to each day. Living abroad can make even the most faithful adult doubt in a loving God. Asking a child to deal with the intricacies, contradictions, and alienation of overseas life almost seems cruel. Some days I still worry that it is. But we continue to trust that God has not only called us here, but also our kids.

Do you have older kids in the field? What have you done to help them with the transition and difficulties of living abroad?

Or were you the older kid who had to move overseas? What advice do you have for us parents?

Sarah Goodfellow, NGO worker in Lima, Peru

 blog: But Now To Life the Life       NGO: Krochet Kids Intl

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