By Alexandra Paucescu.
When you say ‘diplomatic’ life, you automatically think about a life ‘on the move’ from country to country, a life in episodes, in which every couple of years, you put your whole life in a few boxes and leave everything but your family behind, to start fresh and go into the unknown. It sounds idyllic to some, maybe scary and complicated to many. But trust me, it gets even more complicated once you have kids.
And it is not just extra baggage, voluminous toys, school books or countless gadgets… all who went through it know for sure what I am talking about…
As I am the wife of a career diplomat, I was expecting a life of travelling from the very beginning. We moved for the first time when I had a toddler in one hand and another baby on the way, so you could say I started ‘big’ from the very beginning. Look for a proper kindergarten, look for a pediatrician, look for fun activities to do every weekend… But the most intriguing part was when I realized I was raising trilingual children (Romanian, German and English language). So, you can imagine the chaos of the first few years, all the languages mixed together in a way that it took us sometimes minutes to realize what exactly our own children were trying to tell us.
I remember the kindergarten teachers told us not to worry, as language fluency will come maybe a bit later. Our patience was certainly rewarded, as they became native speakers of basically three languages and were able to switch between them almost unconsciously. The human mind never ceases to amaze me! But please, try to imagine a kids party, a room full of toddlers that come to ask you something, looking at you with their big, innocent eyes and talking in languages you just cannot understand… and toddlers are not very famous for their patience, you know?…
For children of diplomats, speaking as many languages as possible is certainly an advantage. An international kindergarten or school offers the perfect setup to meet different people and cultures and to get the best education for the future.
Luckily nowadays there are numerous possibilities and options, meant to give a sense of continuity to our children and to ease the burden of finding the perfect school for us, the parents: British Schools, American Schools (mostly leading to International Baccalaureate), ‘Lycée français’ network (with the advantage of a unitary curriculum all over the world, coordinated by the French Foreign Ministry), ‘Deutsche Schule’ (a network of 140 German schools abroad, supported by the German Foreign Ministry) and, in Europe, the ‘Europe Schools’ (a network of 25 schools, which emphasize on a multilingual and multicultural approach, leading to the European Baccalaureate) .
Diversity is truly beautiful! All these schools bring children from all corners of the Earth together and build bridges of culture, education and cooperation between nations. And it is impressive to see how children can so easily relate, overcome language and cultural barriers and always find common ground… A lesson many of us, adults, still need to learn…
I’ve read somewhere recently that speaking in different languages changes your tone of voice and even attitude… that is certainly interesting and I confess, I saw it in my kids, too: different accents, different tone in their voice, for each of the languages they have mastered.
The fact that they are exposed, from an early age, to an amalgam of cultures, traditions and rules that are foreign to them, the fact that they change countries, houses, schools and friends every few years, all these, although deeply emotionally consuming and sometimes even heartbreaking, offer the perfect setting for a special development in all these diplomatic children, giving them a set of unique social skills, important and useful later, in adult life.
I think though, that it is sometimes totally unrealistic to expect that they will always embrace this type of life with pleasure, that they will not be bothered to be ‘the new kids in class’ once every few years, that they will always live this nomadic life with joy, get over its inconveniences easily and fully understand its benefits. It is perhaps sometimes cruel to ask them to leave all their friends behind, especially when they reach adolescence and friendships become more relevant, to expect them to start fresh with the same exuberance all the time.
I often tried to put myself in their place, tried to see things from their perspective and fully understand what they are going through. After all, it’s us, their parents, who chose this kind of life for them… The anxiety that we feel with each new beginning, they feel it too. But I was always amazed at the ease with which children adapt to new realities. I bow in front of them!
I can only hope that the future years will prove that all these life experiences helped shape their character into becoming the fine adults that we dream them to be. I hope they will be happy that they shared this kind of life with us and, looking back, will think that it helped widen their horizon and refine their prospective. Usually children of diplomats have no really deep roots.
Mine were raised to be free, fully conscious of their origins but not too tied up, not too religious, not too attached to places and customs, that they might need to change or leave one day behind, without prejudices, accustomed to the diversity of the world in which we live, as international, global citizens. For people raised in such an environment, immersion in different cultures is easier for sure and, in a globalized world, linked by technology, where distances seem to fade, adapting and feeling ‘local’ wherever you go, can be nothing but a great advantage.
A very wise woman told me once that ‘children are like arrows that parents form, need to point in the right direction and then, let go’… So, I just pray that we all choose the right direction …
About the author:
Alexandra Paucescu- Romanian, Management graduate with a Master in Business, studied Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations.
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian. Turned diplomatic spouse by the age of 30, she published a book about diplomatic life, writes articles and also gives lectures on intercultural communication.