What Kids Say About International Assignments

Michael F. Tucker, Ph.D, CMC
Tucker International

Some years ago, Art Linkletter had a featured segment on his television show “Art Linkletter’s House Party”  called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”  Bill Cosby hosted a later version, and there were also similar series in the U.K. and Australia.

We at Tucker International have found this to be true today when we listen to kids accompanying their parents on international assignments.  The following are some of the things we have heard from them during our intercultural training programs for them and their families.

The Turtles, the Cat, the Dog and the Orangutan
A ten-year old boy going to Indonesia insisted that he was only going to go if his two turtles, cat and dog went… unless his parents promised him a baby orangutan.

Mom’s Happy – Dad’s Happy, What About Me
A ten year old boy had this to say about the ease of the move:  “My mom’s happy; she gets a maid.  My dad’s happy; he’ll get a lot of money.  I’m the only one in our family who feels sad about going.  It will be easy for them.  They are old!”

My Mom the Grandma
A ten year old girl summed up her feelings about how long she would be away from the U.S.A.:  “When I get back, my mom will probably be a grandma.”

Boy Am I Lucky
A teenager’s view of the move:  “I hate it.  Everybody keeps telling me how lucky I am to get to live overseas.  But they don’t have to do it… I do.”

The Pilgrims and the Indians “Over There”
A seven-year old girl from the UK moving to the Southern USA was listening to the story of the first Thanksgiving.  When the part came up about the Pilgrim Fathers having the neighboring Indians for dinner on the big day, a look of horror came across her face.  The youth trainer asked what “was the matter,” and the little girl replied, “Ohhh, the Pilgrims ate the Indians for dinner!”

My House, My Pet, Am I Next?
A nine-year old boy broke into tears as he was explaining the family’s international move:  “My parents are selling my house and my dog, I think I might be next!”

We’re Not Really Moving?!!
On the first day of the pre-departure training program, (the family was departing on their assignment the following week), a twelve-year-old girl was asked how she felt about moving to Switzerland.  She said “I don’t know.  I haven’t really thought about it.  I am not sure we are really moving.”

Some of these stories illustrate the need to provide high quality intercultural training for kids.  Young people, generally ages seven and above, are very sensitive to changes associated with international relocation.  They are sometimes left out during the international assignment decision and preparation process.  It is very helpful to counsel and educate them on how to handle changes that greatly affect their lives.

Intercultural training can reduce fear and stress and create a more realistic and optimistic view about the international move.  The results are young people about to become “third culture kids” who are happier, more supportive, adjust easier and have a willingness to culturally engage themselves in the country of assignment.

The best practice followed by many successful organizations is to provide intercultural training for assignees and their families.  Many studies show that if the family fails to adjust successfully while on assignment, the likelihood of a failed assignment is high.

Does your organization include children in pre-assignment inter-cultural training?  What has been your experience with children of assignees?

More about Michael:

11 responses to “What Kids Say About International Assignments

  1. Dear Michael,

    Very nice writing about kids´right to have an opinion about international assignments.
    My new book called ´The Mission of Detective Mike Moving Abroad´ is also an attempt to make adults understand about children´s perception about moving abroad. Check it out at http://www.interculturalplus.com

    • Maxine T. McClellan


      I checked out your site and found some very interesting information. I’d like to keep on top of the work your are doing and with your postings but don’t see any RSS fead, email option, twitter, etc… Do you have any easy way to follow you? If these links are there then I couldn’t find them.


    • Simone,

      thank you for mentioning your book, that I will order and can’t wait to read.
      I am looking forward to your workshop at the FIGT conference next week!


  2. Maxine T. McClellan

    Great post. Thanks very much for writing. Going to be posting this on our Minas International website for all the Expats with children living in Minas Gerais Brazil.


  3. Simone:

    Thanks for your comment–we will order your book for our trainers.


    Your posting would be welcomed–I have fond memories of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Our HQ was there when we were managing American Peace Corps training in Brazil.

  4. Maxine T. McClellan

    Michael –

    Small world sometimes. If you ever want to keep in touch with what is going in Belo Horizonte link up with our Facebook Fan Page. Also, our website will be live this week.

    Thanks again for the great post.



  5. Michael and all who have commented – I so thoroughly agree with your thoughts and this is such an important issue to have raised.

    At School Choice International families often come to us wanting “the best school, the A-list school, the school their colleagues’ children attend.” These concerns often are at the expense of considering the huge impact that the cultural differences in educational systems and customs surrounding schooling which play a huge role in children’s adjustment and subsequent ability to get the most out of any school experience they may have.

    We also have tools to help families and children make these transitions – we have a series of books on education in different countries called “School Scoop” describing the little things kids care about when starting school in a new environment – knowing how to dress, how birthdays are celebrated in school, and what to give the teacher for Christmas make children feel far more comfortable starting in a new school. These books are available on the Amazon bookstore on our site: http://www.schoolchoiceintl.com/some-resources/shopping-cart.asp and also through our web based tool that describes educational customs and curriculum world over – http://www.Globaleducationexplorer.com.

    Thanks for writing about this!

  6. Michael,
    thank you very much for sharing this great article. I worked with many expat families and heard similar comments from children. Unfortunately, a lot of companies don’t support the cultural training for the children. Some families receive a “family training” though. I strongly suggest expat families to make sure their children / teenager receive a cultural training. The benefits are tremendous for the moment and for their future as Third Culture Kids.

    My experience with the the children of assignees is probably similar to yours. In many cases, the children don’t understand what is going on during the relocation process and they don’t know what exactly the future will bring. They only receive very little information and often they are not heard. Depending on the age, some children understand that they have to go to a new school and maybe learn a new language. But in very rare cases the children I worked with knew about cultural differences.

    I am looking forward to hear what others experienced.

    Thanks again!


  7. Dear all,

    Nice to see so much interest in children moving abroad. My next goal is to offer a workshop for intercultural trainers specialized in Children.
    Liz, I will order books you mentioned.
    Michael and Lisa, I wish we could find a way to collaborate on developing improving standards for children workshop!
    Maxine, I would love to exchange info about expat in Minas Gerais. I run an expat group in Campinas, Sao Paulo.

    Martina, my book will be on Amazon in a couple of weeks. Thank you for your interest. Simone

  8. Martina,

    I have a RSS fead in my blog(http://www.interculturalplus.com/blog/)
    Please join me!

  9. It is great to hear from all of you! We began doing training for youth in the early 1980’s. It has always been one of our favorite activities. We have them (and their parents) complete a needs-assessment questionnaire in order to customize the program, and then we do an evaluation. The evaluations are always fun to read–they loved their trainers (some want to take them along on the assignment), learned a lot and feel more confident. It was and sometimes continues to be a tough sell to offer this, but most of our clients now do. Some even support travel to Asia for our Boulder-based youth trainers!