WHAT MOVING ABROAD DOES TO A TEENAGER

I have debated hitting publish on this post.

I feel that it may step over the bounds of my eldest's privacy. I feel that it may be taken out of context and bashed about the internet.  I feel that it may dissuade someone from taking the leap of 'Why Not" when considering an international move with a teenager.

But I also feel that this blog is meant to be sharing MY truth and my experiences and observations, so I will hit publish on this piece entitled "what moving abroad does to a teenager."

For all intents and purpose, moving a teenager abroad is no small feat.

When you move a child who is in his younger years of elementary school, or a little girl who is not yet IN school at all, they take their cues and comfort from the fact that yes, the entire family is moving together and the fact that YES, you can take your stuffed bear.  There are other discussions to be had with children of this age that revolve around "Is there ice cream there?" and "can we go swimming?"

These little guys settle in, make new friends based solely on what their new pals' favorite color is and all is generally well.

There are moments involved with moving children abroad that are enough to make your heart quiver a bit, and you shake in your boots because it can be daunting and exhausting .... but the littles see it mostly as a big adventure.

The reality of moving a teenager abroad is strikingly different. 

The reality of moving a teenager abroad is that quite possibly you are removing them from :

1.  The only sports they've ever loved (lacrosse and American Football)
2.  A girlfriend
3.  A tight-knit group of guy friends that spend every waking moment together
4.  Grandparents who they seek solace and comfort in
5.  Weekend bbqs, 4th of July parties, water parks and sleepovers with way too much RedBull and video gaming
6.  Getting a learners permit at 15
7.  Getting a drivers license at 16
8.  Summer sports camps
9. (the list can go on ....)

The other reality of moving a teenager abroad is that their emotional state is quite possibly more delicate and fragile than that of a 1st grader.  Being a teenager is hard.  Teenagers (whether being moved abroad or sticking out those years at "home") are questioning life in general.

Asking why THEY matter on this earth.  Wondering what their life will be like when they grow up, and resisting against the pressure to make decisions about their future.  Learning how to identify with others around them.

Falling in love with someone who won't even glance their way.  Fighting with a parent and yelling "you just DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!"  Making wrong choices.  Making good choices. 

Struggling with whether to attend the party where they know alcohol will be served.  Choosing one class over another in 9th grade because they think it will be easier.  Hoping that pizza is on the menu at the cafeteria that day.  Wishing their mom didn't insist on driving them to school instead of letting them ride the bus.

I digress.  Being a teenager is hard.  I get that.

When you move a teenager abroad, you move them to this new location and cross your fingers that the first few weeks of school will go ok, and that there will be at least ONE person that they meet who is deemed "cool" and that you can create enough comfort food dishes for them so that even dinner doesn't render them too homesick.

One day you wake up, maybe one year later ... maybe two years later, and realize that while you thought everything was hunky dory, you seriously impacted this teenager's life by moving them abroad.


Not only have you taken away everything that they thought was normal, but you uprooted them from their safety net.

In a healthy situation though, you did all of those things - as a parent who just wants the best for their teenager.  You discussed and talked about the ramifications of making an international move before signing on the final page.  You weighed it out and spoke honestly with them about the potential trials, pitfalls and worries.  You told them - through your own tears and scared little voice - that you weren't sure what the future would hold, but that the family was going to go on the journey together.

 (hiking the Panj La Trek in March, 2011 - Himalayans in the background)

In this situation, you also gave them incredible opportunities to travel the world. 

To get out of the confines of the imaginary dotted lines that create the borders of the 50 states. To see the Hills of Garhwal, the Taj Mahal, the Roman Colosseum, ride the Singapore Flyer, visit the electronics markets in Hong Kong, walk the streets of Barcelona (in the rain), be bored in Provence, France, and on ... and on ... and on.

In this situation, you also watched them flourish and make friends with kids from literally ALL over the world.  Kids who will only be in their "space" for a limited amount of time, because no one stays here forever.  You watch relationships take shape, take form and blossom and then slowly start to wither away.  You hope that they become better for it. You hope that with the process of learning how to love anyway, even if you know you will soon say goodbye, comes a mature and wise lesson.

You also watch from afar and hope that the negative parts of living in a country where things aren't always pretty ... don't become buried so deep that your teenager forgets to be compassionate. You realize that when a person sees poverty every day, you can become numb to it, and you simply desire that he will still choose to see needs and help to meet them when he can.

I think at the end of all of it ... when you reflect back on moving a teenager abroad, and what it does to them ... this uprooting and shifting and changing ... that it's all good.

It takes a lot for a teenager to admit that it's hard to move abroad and at the same time, a lot for a teenager to admit that they are actually ENJOYING their time overseas.



I think that we're at the point in our journey where our teenager is very much enjoying his time here.  He still desperately misses his friends from back home and those sports ... well, we ALL miss that!

He is currently spending a month of his summer with my mom in Kenya.  This is his second time to spend part of a summer with her, and it is pretty cool.  He's already acclimated to the culture, the climate and the lay of the land, so to speak, so he's able to easily step right in and get busy with their crazy packed itinerary.

His month will be full of fun, good eating, adventure days and some outreach and volunteerism.  It will be packed chock full of wisdom from my mom (referred to as Mama Naomi in Kenya!) who is a wealth of quiet advice and life lessons.  It will be a natural break from his family, and a forced respite from video games and youtube.

He may come back a changed kid.  He may come back the same kid that flew internationally by himself for the first time this year.  He may have a twinkle in his eye from being a bit refreshed.  He may have a chip on his shoulder for missing his "whole summer" and being stuck in Kenya.  Who knows!

I've done enough rambling and mumbling about this subject.  I -- as always when I sit down to 'just write' -- leave you with no real wrap up or conclusion ...

What I know is that when you move a teenager abroad, it opens up their world to opportunities they would never otherwise have.  I also know that when you move a teenager abroad, it hurts a bit, aches a lot some days, and feels very unfair other days.

Overall though? It is an absolutely amazing journey that we've set our teens on.

They may not appreciate it now, but one day ... (ONE DAY!)  I have faith they will look back and be overwhelmed with their long list of accomplishments, experiences and memories.



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