Long-term Expats – Are My Kids Really American?

Recently, with the economic crisis and the dreaded Kurzarbeit, we have been thinking about whether the US is an option for us again job-wise. There is nothing concrete happening, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder, how will it affect the kids?

I dragged my older girls, then 3 and 5, halfway across the world seven years ago, to a place where they neither spoke the language nor recognized the food. When we got here, I was constantly having to convince them to at least try things that looked “weird”. No artificial coloring, no flavors, no funny shapes. For the first three months, the only thing they would eat when we were out was Schnitzel, and that was because I told them it was a giant chicken nugget. Don’t worry, I enlightened them later.

So what would happen if we took them back to the States, back to the American school system and the kid-friendly food? I know that my mom has a hard time feeding them now when they stay with her. That kid yogurt in Trix flavors and lots of colors not known to nature looks great in the package, but once they get it open, two bites is enough. My mom fed her squirrels a 2/3 full box of Fruity Pebbles last January, and even they wouldn’t eat it! I figure we can find fizzy water and that sort of thing, but what would we do when they went back to school?

Now, the kids do sound American. They don’t have funny German accents in their English. They get lots of the pop-culture references because when they do watch movies, they watch them in English. What they don’t know about is the basics: American history, the words for adding and subtracting, lots of basic vocabulary that we don’t use in our family. What do you do with a kid who sounds American, but doesn’t know who George Washington is? Or know the Pledge of Allegiance? Will they get made fun of? I remember the exchange students who smelled funny and talked funny and wore the wrong clothes. Could that happen to them?

I see my kids as American on the outside and German on the inside in lots of ways. They would prefer to speak German and usually try to when they come home from school. It is a trial to tell me a story about someone from school if they have to do it in English. When the 2nd daughter meets up with other “real” American kids, she doesn’t understand a lot of things. She doesn’t really read in English, because when she tries, she gets lost in the words she doesn’t know. The older one reads more in English and is generally more aware of the world around her, so it might be easier for her.

So the question is, do I sign them up for ESL classes if we move back? The 2nd daughter can’t write in English at all. I guess time will tell, but I think I will be reading a lot of “What every 4th grader should know” to beef up if we ever do end up moving back. For me it will be another kind of change, but I’d like to prepare them if ever the chance arises…

One thought on “Long-term Expats – Are My Kids Really American?

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Have you heard about Third Culture Kids?

    If you have not, reading about the idea might be helpful to you to understand a little of what your children will feel when moving back to the USA.

    Third Culture Kids are roughly defined as children that have spent all or part of their developmental years in a country outside that of their parents home country/culture.

    There is a book which is very interesting called ‘Third Culture Kids. Experiences of Growing Up Among Worlds’ by David C. Pollock & Ruth E. Van Reken. I would highly recommend ordering the book. It is interesting and gives an excellent understanding about how children experience moving back to their ‘home’ country and I also believe there is a section on how parents can help their children adjust to the move.. although I have not read it in over a year, so I can’t remember exactly.

    Here is a link for some general information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Culture_Kids

    There are also many other websites dedicated to TCK that are quite helpful too.


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