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Reflections of a Third Culture Parent: The Prize of Prizes


On that day...


Heart pounding, stomach churning, I sat in the back of the car as my mother drove me to the annual prize-giving at the local primary school I attended in Western Samoa.

 

I had won an award, but instead of being excited (There was a prize! And a party!) at that moment, I would have given anything not to have been on that car ride. Prize recipients were expected to perform a siva, a traditional Samoan dance, on a stage in a hall packed with teachers, classmates, and parents. While I would be joined on stage by other prize winners, these would be mainly Samoan children, for whom this dance was very familiar, and my ineptitude would be on display for all to see.

 

When considering an assignment abroad, their children’s comfort is often at the top of the list of parents’ concerns. A parent’s instinct might be that keeping things the same is best for their child and that any change, any unfamiliarity, will have negative effects, possibly long-term. Their children will feel ‘different’ and uncomfortable if uprooted from the things that they know in their home country. 

 

As a parent, you can choose to minimize this “differentness” by backing away from new experiences in which your child will be the “odd man out." Indeed, on assignment, parents may feel that it is easier to choose to only associate with similar, expatriate families, keeping life similar to their home country as much as possible. Or alternatively, they can choose to immerse their children in their new culture and seize a unique opportunity for their children to grow and learn, even though it might feel uncomfortable at times.

 

That day, I knew that it would have done me no good to tell my parents that I didn’t want to attend or even to feign illness in order to avoid this nerve-wracking experience. There was no question that I was going to step onto that stage and honor this Samoan tradition.

 

This wasn’t just about me and my nervousness about standing out. As a “guest" in Samoa, and in the other countries I have temporarily called home throughout my life, I have learned so much by truly becoming part of the societies in which I have lived, by honoring their traditions and respecting their cultures, by becoming friends with local children, and by learning about the ways in which people are different, and the same, as me. As a result, my experiences abroad have been so much richer, and I have carried the lessons I have learned through my life.

 

Stepping down from that stage, my neck piled high with the gorgeously-fragrant frangipani leis that had been placed on me as I danced, I was greeted by smiling faces and words of congratulations, and I felt warmly accepted by my new community and a little closer to truly becoming part of it.


By Emma Hoffman


Emma Hoffman is an experienced Bennett consultant who currently lives outside of Philadelphia. She is a true TCK (Third Culture Kid) and has lived all over the world. Her experiences as a student in many different countries, an educator, and a parent bring a great deal of empathy and knowledge to each family she works with.

Emma also has a fantastic sense of humor, which is always helpful when working with families and students!


To read more about our top-flight team of consultants, please see here.


Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.

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