Tips for Living Abroad with Kids
When my husband and I decided to take a one-year sabbatical in France with our two kids, ages seven and nine, we had three broad goals.
We wanted to take a much needed break from our jobs, to introduce our children to another language and culture, and to learn to speak fabulous French.
Many of our friends had similar ambitions to live outside the U.S. but thought it would be too difficult to do with young children.
It’s worth it
During our year in France we were freed from our never-ending list of chores and obligations. Our life was simpler, and as a result we slowed down and spent a lot more time together as a family.
We explored our surroundings together, sampled the hot chocolate in various cafes, and lingered over meals. Additionally, my husband and I found more time to explore our individual passions such as cooking, painting, and of course studying French.
The kids are the key
Before long the kids were arranging their own play dates, and the whole family enjoyed it when French children came over to play.
Having the kids with us multiplied opportunities for interactions with our neighbors, and it was these shared connections which provided a sense of belonging we might not otherwise have felt in just a year’s time.
It is an enriching experience to live in another country at any age, but there are major advantages to doing it when the kids are still in elementary school. Our two children had finished kindergarten and third grade when we arrived in France and we didn’t hesitate to enroll them in a public French school.
With encouragement and some intervention from us, our kids began to understand and communicate well after several months in school.
We made sure their teachers understood that our main goal was for the kids to learn the language and have a positive experience. Since my husband and I already spoke some French, we also told their teachers that we were willing to help them with their homework assignments.
We knew that their language skills would improve faster if they were integrated into the classroom, and therefore made sure they completed their assignments (this had the added benefit of helping us to improve our own
How to prepare
We found that the local school was the best place for our children to learn the language. On the other hand, it was a great advantage for us to speak French before we arrived. The more you can express yourself, the easier it will be to meet locals and become integrated into the community.
How long to go
A year also allows time to settle in as well as to travel a little, but is not so long that you lose the sense of wonder. At home everyday errands can seem like chores that take you away from more interesting things.
I found enough cultural differences in the interactions between the cashiers and customers at our local market in France that—at least in the beginning—even doing the food shopping was engrossing.
We were away long enough to experience and appreciate France but not so long that our French life started to feel routine. In the end it didn’t matter than our language skills weren’t fabulous – our year with the kids had been exactly that.
Like this on Facebook: