The Rulebook for International Relocation

The Rulebook for International Relocation

It is a well-worn cliché that moving house and changing jobs are two of the most stressful life events any of us will face; when relocating with a family in tow, that stress is only compounded. Here’s how to best take care of your kids when facing international relocation.

It is a well-worn cliché that moving house and changing jobs are two of the most stressful life events any of us will face; when relocating with a family in tow, that stress is only compounded. Here’s how to best take care of your kids when facing international relocation.

By David Tysoe // October 23, 2022

Rule #1: Involve your Children in Decision-making

Big moves can be particularly tough on children. 

For your child, your promotion means being uprooted from their burgeoning social networks; it means being transplanted into an entirely alien environment; it means starting again from scratch.

The lack of sense of agency many children feel during big moves can challenge even the most resilient child. To mitigate their potential negative response, try to involve them in small decisions that will directly impact their new life abroad. Let them help choose the furniture and the colour of their new room, which TV you’ll be getting or what new sports they will get to try.

I’ve previously written about the importance of “fit” and allowing children to have a voice in choosing their school; read my article on choosing the perfect international school for your child to see why this simple step will help ensure your child’s happiness, as well as your own.

Rule #2: Be Certain

Children are intuitive.

You yourself need to be happy with your decision to move. If you are hesitant about the move, they will pick up on it and echo your sentiments.

On the flip side, if you’re genuinely excited about the impending move, then they will be more likely to view the change in a positive light.

Look for the positives in the move and let your children find them, too! If you’re not excited, then ask yourself if this is the right move for you and your family.

Rule #3: Visit

If possible, arrange a trip for the whole family before the big move.

Go and have a look at your new home and plan a few exciting activities so that everyone can see the new location in a positive light.

Keep this positivity going at home, too, by talking about all of the new things you’ll be able to experience in your new home. Consider putting up a map of your new city on the wall, or learning the language of your new country as a family.

There will always be tricky moments, but encouraging a positive mindset will make the whole process much less stressful for everyone.

Rule #4: Socialize

Do not underestimate the importance of making friends, finding like-minded people and building a community that you can rely on throughout your time abroad.

Make a plan ahead of time to get your kids involved in clubs and extracurricular activities. Find a local expatriates group or community club for yourself to give a try, as well. 

Rule #5: Keep in Touch

It’s natural to miss your old home, old friends and, of course, your family. In the modern day, we have a variety of options to help maintain your and your children’s connections from back home. 

Before you leave, schedule  calls and video chats with family and friends. Additionally, ensuring you have some visits from friends and family on the calendar before you leave is a great way to provide comfort and stability for your children. It’ll reassure them that they aren’t losing all connection with their previous lives.

Rule #6: Research

The biggest step you can take to ease the transition is to thoroughly research all of the available school options for your children. Inform yourself about all of the available options, and decide which factors are most important to you and see how each school measures up. There are many different things to take into account, so take your time, talk to friends, family and colleagues, and read some of these great articles on the web.

Remember: take into account each of your children’s needs, personality and individual preferences.

Consider, too, the effect the move will have on their education. If possible try and time the move to be at a natural breakpoint (e.g middle school to HS transition, 11+, etc.). Moving school in the year before big exams can be a seriously bad idea. There may be situations where certain children will be better off staying at their current school and moving later. Either delaying the move, staggering when each parent makes the transition or boarding (more on that later) could be the answer.

If you feel at a loss when it comes to placing your child in an international school, read some of our free tips or book a consultation with one of our school placement experts.

Rule #7: Keep Calm and Battle Misinformation

The internet is awash with sensationalist and poorly sourced data on expatriate failure rates. While researching schools and information about your and your family’s move, you’re likely to run into several of these sorts of articles. But, don’t worry! The vast majority of these articles are more concerned with selling you a service than with dispersing accurate data.

One relevant example is the claim that 40% of corporate relocations end in failure; this particular headline hook appears across the web, making appearances everywhere from various relocation company’s websites to sponsored blog posts. Fortunately, this is unreliable data: its source is untraceable. Many sites link to a now-defunct study once apparently listed on Personnel Today, potentially conducted by Right Management (here are two often-used links to the now-defunct study).

Similar sites tout the claim that a shocking 70% of corporate relocations fail, a statistic which is pulled from an out-of-date study published in the Summer 1999 Mckinsey Quarterly, which actually stated that “failure rates for overseas postings can run as high as 70 percent and typically range between 15 and 25 percent.” When looking at it like that, it’s much less scary. Right? 

Still others claim that 70% of relocation failures are related to family trouble (only one of which attempts to provide a source, linking a now-defunct graphic—containing no empirical evidence—designed by The Impact Group) or cite another outdated study from 1995 as proof of a corporate relocation failure rate anywhere from 25 to 40%. It is important, also, to note that that very study concluded with the following statement: 

In view of the very, very limited number of solid empirical studies in this field, my suggestion would be to refrain from any exact figures on expatriate failure rates … until at least one solid large-scale empirical study has been conducted on this subject.”

But what, then, you might wonder, are the actual facts? 

Let’s look at a few.

1) Depending on the definition of ‘failure,’ there are sources that suggest the actual failure rate of corporate relocation could fall anywhere between 6 and 45%. That’s a fairly large range!

2) There is no definitive data on the percentage of these failures that are due to family-related issues. According to this peer-reviewed study, 52% of all international relocations involve families with school-aged children, which it says may be “one of the most critical causes of expatriate failure.” It cites further studies on the impact of relocation on families, but does not, by any means, claim that an unhappy family causes the majority of repatriations.

If you’re interested in reading more about the realities of expatriation, I highly recommend you read this balanced and well-researched blog post written by Katharina von Knobloch. 

Rule #8: Invest in Tutoring

Switching school systems is a big challenge. It’s often a great idea to hire extra support to help your child before and during the transition. Different countries teach at different speeds and in different orders, so students may be ahead in certain areas, but behind in others. Making sure that they’re up to speed with their new peers can give them a huge leg-up. 

Research has shown that 22% of expat students have difficulty adapting to the new curriculum and 18% struggle with new teaching styles. Engaging a tutor with whom the student is comfortable and familiar can help set them on the right path. Tutoring can also be helpful when overcoming language barriers, allowing students the personalised help that they need to quickly gain proficiency in a new language and adapt to their new environment.

Rule #9: Consider Boarding

Boarding has a number of pros and cons, but is worth considering if your family is going to be regularly moving. Studies show that children with very mobile families and constantly shifting home-bases are more likely to struggle later in life. This is one of the primary reasons why we might recommend boarding: the stability provided by a boarding school can be a huge positive in a child’s life. 

Boarding allows students with mobile families to still get the experience of living abroad, experiencing all the benefits of being a TCK (third-culture kid), with fewer of the negative repercussions associated with residential mobility. 

Rule #10: Remember the Positives

Third-culture kids (TCK) are a well studied phenomenon, and the benefits to such an upbringing can be life-changing. Research shows that TCKs showed more positive diversity beliefs, intercultural sensitivity, intercultural communication, and building commitment than non-TCKs. Other surveys suggest that 85% of TCKs speak multiple languages, with 47% speaking 3 or more. The benefits of multilingualism are far-reaching and stick with them for life; everything from better employment opportunities to reducing cognitive decline in old-age.

The advantages that TCKs have in our ever-shrinking world are undeniable, and as they enter the workforce they’ll be able to leverage their skills for greater success.  

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