Teaching Children to Embrace Their Multicultural Environment

My children are Indian expats- Saudi born; they speak four languages, go to an American school and have travelled to five countries before the age of five. If you’re a mother, raising expat children here in Jeddah, I am sure your children are a lot like mine.

My son’s best friends are from Pakistan and Syria. He loves a good Pizza and he knows it’s different from the Turkish Pide. His class teacher is from South Africa. When D is annoyed by my nagging, you will hear him say ‘Wallahi! I said I’d do it, didn’t I?’

Honestly, I didn’t know what Wallahi meant until I asked him.

I show him my five clenched fingers ‘daqeeqah’ gesture when I am on the phone, if he summons my attention. He knows that that means I need 5 minutes.

He is 10 years old but he knows how to open the shawarma wrapper from the right end. I still get it wrong. (Who knew there was a right way and a wrong way?!) Perks of growing up in a Saudi culture!

Raising children as an expat is very different from when you are in your own country, among your own people. Here, you take up a bit of everyone you meet.

I was brought up in Saudi Arabia myself but I never knew the difficulties my parents faced while bringing us up as expats. In fact, I didn’t think there was any difference. May be in their age there wasn’t…

Expat parenting comes with it’s own set of challenges. Although, we can very proudly say that we are raising Global Citizens with kids learning more languages and knowing how to get along with the different cultures, one can never know what to expect down the road unless you have experienced it first hand. I am a second generation expat. I grew up here but I didn’t know what to expect until my first born started school 8 years ago.

I have three children. The youngest started kindergarten this year. They all go to an International school. If you are raising school going children here in Saudi Arabia, you’d know that there is a good choice of schools and curriculums here. You can choose whether to send your child to a multicultural (also known as International) school or your country’s Embassy school( if it is available). But whatever school you choose, it is very important that we educate our children about the environment that they will be going into.

Growing up, I went to an Indian school here. That meant, except for a very tiny minority from elsewhere, most of my classmates were from India. I learnt the languages of my country at school, the history and geography too plus we celebrated all the different faiths and cultures from India. My parents encouraged us to speak our mother tongue at home. We wore ethnic wear on social occasions and ate our cuisine on a daily basis.

The cultural shock came when I went to India for the first time after high school. India is a diverse country and there are many languages and faiths there. Although I spoke the national language, I had never heard the regional language before. People too are different. It was the first time that I realized that I looked, talked and behaved very differently. I wasn’t Indian. I was an NRI (Non Resident Indian). But teens in high school aren’t very forgiving. I was teased and harassed for everything that I was. Lucky for me, I had family for support.

Fast forward to now, as I raise my little expats, my husband and I decided that from the beginning we would let our children live among different cultures so that they adapt themselves to living in diversity. We chose to enrol our children in a multicultural school.

The past 8 years since my eldest started school, every year we have had challenges. The very multicultural environment at his school has taught us many things but one lesson we learn over and over again is that children in a multicultural environment always need encouragement to remind them that they are unique and that it is okay to be different.

Every child needs to be told:

You are unique.

You are your happy color.

You are your own talk.

You are your own belief.

You are special.

You may be ‘something else’ but that is a special ‘You’.

Teaching children to be happy at being themselves takes a lot of effort from the parents, teachers and care givers. You will need to constantly reassure them that they really are perfect the way they are.

Most children succumb to peer pressure and try to blend into their environment. They may choose to dress, talk or behave like others. How then do you teach them that they can be themselves? What do you say to them?

It is not enough to just use words because with children, your action speak louder. Teaching children to be comfortable in their own skin while at the same time accepting others just the way they are without discrimination or bias, needs to be build into our parenting style. It will have to be in our every day lifestyle.

This post is part of the Raising Children in Saudi Arabia Series. Join me next month when I share the 10 tips that will help you encourage your child to embrace his culture.

In the meanwhile, tell me the comments : How has your experience been so far? What are your thoughts on the subject.

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  1. Fatima B
    Fatima B says

    Thank you for your insightful post. You’ve given me a lot to think about for when my toddler starts school!

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