About Parenting Abroad
Welcome to Parenting Abroad
If you are an American parent who is living and raising kids somewhere outside of the U.S., then you are in the right place! I have created this platform to bring content and community to the ever growing population of American families living overseas.
Parenting Abroad is designed to help expat parents to develop kids who are informed U.S. citizens even if they are living and being educated overseas.
The hub of Parenting Abroad is this website. Here you will find podcast episodes, blog posts and resource pages created just for you. If you have a question or topic that you would like to hear more about, let me know! I would love to chat with you so drop me a line with your question or just to say hi!
Who is this woman?
In a nutshell, I am Jennifer Langkjaer. I am married to a Dane, Thomas, and we have a daughter, Emma, who is 14 and a son, Jacob, who just turned 12. We moved from Houston, TX to Switzerland for Thomas’ job over 12 years ago and have been here ever since.
And now the longer version . . .
As with many expats, the simple question “where are you from?” can lead to a VERY long answer. To make that long story short, from the ages of 7 to 11, I learned about living abroad, when my father’s job took us to the U.K. I did not realize it at the time, but I learned a lot about my own identity, and how it feels to be an “outsider” from a child’s point of view. I also learned about the reverse culture shock that so many expat families experience when moving home again.
I guess it was fate that I married a non-American. My husband, Thomas is Danish. It was a classic exchange student meets girl story. We met in Mandeville, Louisiana, where I lived during my teens and early 20’s. We were married in ’93, and moved to Houston, Texas which I truly consider my home town, since it is they place I have lived the longest/the most times.
Let’s fast forward a decade. We had bought a beautiful 5 bedroom house in the Houston suburbs. I had recently stopped working to stay home with our first baby, and we had just found out that I was pregnant with our second! We had only been in the house for a month or so, when Thomas came home with the exciting news that his boss had recommended him as a candidate for an expat assignment.
What I thought would be 2 years in Switzerland has turned into 12 years and counting. Believe me when I tell you, there have been a LOT of ups and downs in that time. With each phase of our journey, and each stage of our children’s development, I have learned more and more about what it means to be an expat, and also what happens when we raise kids in a country and culture that are different from our own.
What is Parenting Abroad about?
As expats, when we relocate, the first months or even years are spent in assimilation mode. We learn the language, find our way around town, learn where and how to shop, and what to cook. We discover the cultural norms, we make acquaintances and hopefully find friends. We do our best to fit in, and to help our kids to fit in as well.
There are a lot of great resources, books, blogs, classes and clubs to help us learn about living in our host country. Often these are created by other expats who understand our needs because they have been through the same struggle — I have personally benefited from many of these.
After a while though, I realized that somehow, I had ended up on a quest to become a better Swiss person, a better Swiss parent, raising better Swiss kids . . . and that is not really what I signed up for. Of course I want our family to be productive and contributing members of our community, but ultimately, I am raising American kids
My Expat A-ha moment
As Emma and Jacob got older, I realized that there were so many things that I had assumed we would share, or that they would learn just as a matter of course. Things like watching Sesame Street, or reading Dr. Suess. Picking out a Halloween costume. Learning the Pledge of Allegiance or what George Washington looks like. How many inches are in a foot? What is a touchdown or a home run?
I realized, that if they were going to learn all of the little things that go into creating an "American" person, I was going to have to teach it to them, or at least expose them to it. I started asking around to see if other expat parents felt the same way — turns out I am not alone!
Living as an expat — a balancing act
I have so many conflicting feelings about my expat life. For the most part, I love it here in Switzerland. We own a beautiful home in a great little town. It’s clean and safe and healthy. Honestly, there is not much to complain about . . . but that doesn’t stop me from complaining 😉
I often feel homesick. It almost feels like a mourning of sorts. Of course I miss my family. Beyond that though, I miss the comforts of the familiar and the confidence of knowing what I am doing. Even after 12 years, just when I think I am getting the hang of it, SLAM! Some little aspect of daily life reminds me, that I am not home. It could be an interaction with a teacher. Maybe I didn’t shop early enough, and now the grocery store is out of the cilantro I needed for dinner. Sometimes I get that junior high feeling like everyone else is part of the “in crowd,” and they are all snickering at some private joke, most certainly at my expense.
I realized long ago that if I am going to survive the long haul, I have to let a lot of things just roll off my back. I used to get so annoyed when people would try to convince me that Switzerland is better for me and my family. I would continue to argue my point, hoping to convince the other party that there IS a place in the world where you can just read a recipe and then go buy the ingredients, no matter how obscure — right now! A place where the home and garden store is open on Sunday so that we can work on our home and garden on Sunday (Just writing that has triggered my olfactory memory Home Depot — that “lumber plus peat moss” smell.)
The reason I found these exchanges so frustrating is that it always seemed to put me in the anti-Switzerland position. This is not a stance I ever wanted to take! It just was the dynamic that materialized — I have to pick one — It’s all or nothing! If you don’t like it here why don’t you move back? AAAARRGHH!
I can love living in Switzerland AND want Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. There are a million such examples of things that I like more about the U.S. and plenty to appreciate about my host country. This is a dichotomy that every expat deals with, and I think for each of us, we need to find a balance that works for US.
I owe it to my kids
All joking about cinnamon rolls aside, being an American is more than just enjoying comfort and convenience. It comes with a set of values that I believe are worth teaching. My hope is to provide ways to stay connected to those things that we love about America and being American. It’s for me, and it’s for my kids. I do not want them to grow up thinking their U.S. passport carries with it nothing but a tax bill. It is my job to teach them how to be good and responsible citizens, and it’s a job I take seriously.
It starts with learning to love your country, warts and all. When kids are little, they do not see the warts, and that’s okay. First comes the belonging — the being a part of something bigger. It starts with the history, the culture, the language. When I teach my kids love and respect for where they come from, I teach them love and respect for themselves. The world will be more than happy to tell them what is wrong with America. Let me give them a foundation of patriotism that allows them to someday defend, and YES to criticize their country. Let them participate actively rather than withdraw from their responsibilities as citizens of a democracy. I may not live in America, but I can give them this.
Thank you for visiting
If anything I have said here strikes a chord, I hope that you will join me in enjoying our American heritage and sharing it with our kids, no matter where we are living. If you would like to start chatting now, jump over to the private Facebook group and meet some of the other folks who are parenting abroad.
Talk to you soon!