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?

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