Thursday 18 September 2014

From expat child into adult hood

I read a lot on the internet about Third Culture Kids, TCK from both the TCK and the parents. I read a lot on the internet from adults about their TCK experiences, but what I don’t read about is the tranisition period and what actually happens when you arrive in a new country as a child and the tranisition into adult hood back to your country of birth.

As expats who moved to South Africa in January 2011 with 2 children then aged 11 & 15 we never gave any consideration to what would actually happen to the children when they became adults and had to return to the UK.

The move was a stressful period in all our lives, no company support or help, despite the promises, but that only became evident on our actual arrival.

Rather foolishily, in hindsight, we trusted HR to have done their job, done research and to have consulted with the professionals prior to our arrival.

We had to have student visas in place for the children prior to their arrival and after supplying the relevant documents in regards to the youngests SENs and the new school requesting he sat an entrance test and information supplied to us that they would be attending an English school, visas were issued and 2 days after our arrival the children were in their new schools.

It became clear that towards the end of the first year that the youngest child was struggling in school, but as he was due a move into the senior school and after meetings with the staff it appeared to be ok, towards the end of the second year, I discovered that although they accepted he was dyslexic and provided additional support in the form of a reader and a scribe for tests and end of year exams they were not providing learning support during lessons. Then to our alarm they showed us a document from the company to say we would only be in the country for 2 years and therefore they hadn’t really been doing anything to support the youngest, despite us seeing the Ed Psych for a South African assessment who also diagnosed Dysgraphia, as well as being Dyslexic and we also obtained new Irlen glasses for him.

A very quick decision was made for him to return to the UK to boarding school so he could get the right level of support and follow the British Curriculum.

In the mean time the 15 yo was coming on in leaps and bounds. We left the UK 5 months prior to him sitting his GCSEs. We did consider delaying the move to accommodate him, but to be honest and this is something he admits he was aware of at the time, was that he was unlikely to get the grades he needed for further education. His behaviour improved and his attitude to study did also. He still ran with the in crowd, he was very popular and made 1st team cricket and rugby and played football with TUKS for the first 18 months.

Socially, the expat experience has made the biggest impact on the eldest and he has taken so much away with him from South Africa which he can use in his future, but it has left him at the age of approaching 20, without any formal qualifications in the UK.

With the school year starting in January, our son was 4 weeks short of his 19th birthday in December 2013 when he matriculated and due to his student visa expiring in January 2014 it was decided he would return to the UK to join the British Army. We couldn’t guarantee we would stay in South Africa for the next 4 years for him to complete Varsity and with the new changes to the laws in regards to foreign workers, it was the right decision as we are moving to Dubai within the next 3 months.

When our son aged 19 returned to the UK, he was an adult, no longer a child, he returned to live with family members while he submitted his application, but we didn’t anticipate the hassles he’d have with returning as an adult, he had no NI number which took 8 weeks to apply for, I had to locate a child benefit number, which we’d stopped claiming when we left the UK. He had no bank account, no previous UK address, no utility bills, no evidence of him having lived in the UK as an adult. He was able to surrender his South African driving license for a fee and exchange it for a UK one, which gave him proof of address.

His interviews for the British Army didn’t start until April 2014, it was suggested he applied to Sandhurst to train as an Officer, and he returned to South Africa for a month before the interviews in August.

My son made a hard decision this week and that is to join the British Army through the normal recruitment process and not take up the Officer training for 2 reasons.

Having done some research his matric is equivalent to A/S levels, it doesn’t translate into GCSEs without having it converted which will take another month or so, he would then have to obtain 3 A levels, which would take him another 2 years and would have to start now, meaning he would be nearly 22 before he could start a degree and he feels that he’s wasted this year already and just wants to get on with life.

In hindsight he should’ve completed his GCSE’s in the UK then followed the British Curriculum here for his last 2 years at school and sat A levels, then he could’ve returned to the UK at the same time, ready to make his application and would be starting University now.

My husbands company moved us a family to South Africa and left us to our own devices, as a teacher in the UK, I had knowledge how the education system and everything else works over there, I had no knowledge of how it worked here. We made mistakes because we didn’t know what questions we needed to ask, the youngest child is now sorted, his education won’t suffer from his experiences as an expat, TCK, child, but the eldest has.

The only thing that South Africa has shown the eldest child is that if you want to succeed it is all down to you.

I would like to advise all other expats with teenage children to carefully consider the implications of what happens to their child when they become an adult, especially in countries where obtaining work is almost impossible for a foreigner, what can happen to their child when they become an adult and have to return to their home country and the difficulties of doing so with foreign qualifications.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write all this down and share your experiences. We are in the process of putting our children into UK boarding schools (they are 12 and 14) to see out their secondary schooling. They have had a mixture of Intl and British schools during our expat years. Your comments support our decisions and make me feel better about the separation issues I know we will face. Thanks!