By Anna Catalano, guest blogger
Much has been written about the professional advantages of working abroad. In today’s global business environment, it’s clear to see how important it is to understand and “live” the differences that societies around the world maintain and the uniqueness of each country’s business practices. But a collateral benefit of having a global experience is personal – the impact that it has on the individual and the family.
Our family spent two years living in Beijing when the children were very young. Of our two children, only our daughter, who was between the ages of 2-4 during those years, remembers that experience. But when we lived in London between 1999 and 2004, beginning at their ages of 6 (daughter) and 4 (son), those five years there were instrumental in shaping their views and perspectives of the world. We moved back to the states five years ago as my daughter began her eighth grade year. She completed high school last year, and is now in her first year of college. Spending the last five years in a suburb of Houston, Texas, has given her a strong base of wonderful friends, a terrific high school experience, and a US-centric value set of the importance of democracy, freedom, and individuality. But one thing that makes her truly unique and special is that she had the experience of spending five years in London, and attending an international school with kids representing 60+ countries around the world. In a recent hand-written letter to me on my birthday, she wrote, “…and thank you for giving me the opportunity to see and even live in so many different parts of the world. I want you to know how much that really has shaped me as a person, and how much it means to me that I’ve been exposed to so many things, and have a more ‘worldly’ outlook on life”.
There is no doubt in my mind that my son, now 15, feels the same. He navigates comfortably in a multi-cultural world, has a keen interest in world history beyond what is taught in US high schools, and weighs in strongly on political and world events. Having grown up in the UK, he continues to follow Premiere League Football, and seemed tremendously more literate about the recent World Cup than the average US observer!
We sometimes forget that in addition to the immediate professional benefits of moving abroad for a job , the collateral benefits are tremendous. As we moved each time, and faced a new country and culture, we had one another with whom to share the experience, and as a result, the family unit has grown even closer. Our memories of travel and meeting different people shape who we are, and who our children become. My husband and I have always had a goal of making the world “bigger, not smaller” for our kids. By giving them the opportunity to be global citizens, they realize the importance of keeping their world big, and not being afraid of venturing outside of their comfort zone.
Our greatest legacy is about how we leave the world. We shape the world of business as professionals, and we shape the world in general through how we raise the next generation. There is no doubt in my mind that spending some years as citizens of the world provides a much richer and broader perspective on life.