Growing up Global

By on August 4, 2008

As telecommunications and international travel continue to shrink our world, the value of a global perspective will become increasingly valuable. What better way to give your children a jump start on being a global citizen and prepare them for the future than enrolling them in one of Tokyo’s top notch international schools.

The experience of growing up outside of your home culture can have long-lasting impact on people’s lives – whether through the acquisition of a second language or by preparing you for success in international business. Living and learning overseas gives kids a fantastic opportunity to grow and develop in ways their old classmates could never imagine.

Talk to alumni of international schools and the most common thing you’ll hear them talk about is the strength and depth of the friendships that they formed in school. The shared experience of growing up overseas provides a bond that others may find hard to appreciate or understand. Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term “Third Culture Kids (TCKs)” in the 1960s to describe such children who have spent a significant period of time in one or more culture other than their own, and thereby integrated elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture. Many TCKs find that they end up having more in common with one another, irrespective of their backgrounds, than with kids from their home culture and this may be why the friendships made with other TCKs at school in Tokyo become so enduring – even when those involved are global nomads. It also explains the ease with which many TCKs integrate when moving to a new environment, especially another international school where there are others who have had similar experiences.

Fo many creating  “third culture” that’s unique to their family’s experience comes naturally and international schools provide the perfect environment for expat kids to develop new languages, learn about new cultures, make cross-cultural friendships and integrate them into their own lives. For a European, learning about American traditions from friends and studying Japanese at an English-speaking school can quickly give a child a much wider range of experiences than they would receive at school in their home country. Most international schools celebrate such diversity and encourage students to share their home culture with others at school, particularly in the lower grades. One week you might be celebrating Setsubun by throwing beans, another it’s creating Valentine’s cards or learning about Diwali – just by being in an international school, TCKs grow up in a genuinely cross-cultural world.

Educating your children overseas can also bring with it other benefits, as they will grow up in an academically challenging and stimulating environment. Studies by International School Services show that TCKs are four times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than their non-TCK counterparts at home. In some Tokyo schools, 98 percent of the graduating class in any given year will go straight to university. A similar study showed that later in life 40 percent of TCKs earned an advanced degree as compared to 5 percent of the non-TCK population, demonstrating that the great foundation that TCKs receive in their international schools can have long-term impact.

Whether your child is enrolling in pre-school or as a senior in high school, studying at an international school and living overseas will give them unique experiences that will prepare them for a life on a global scale. So take advantage of the opportunity to create a third culture for your family – in the end everyone, parents included, will learn something about being a global citizen.

About Matt Wilce

Matt Wilce is the Marketing and Communications director of the American School in Japan