Community & Service 23 Sep 2015

Tips for Transitioning to a New Culture

By Geoff Upston, Counsellor, TK Campus
Photograph by CIS Communications
Hello, my name is Geoff Upston and I am the counsellor at TK Campus. Having lived overseas for the last 15 years in China, Qatar and now Singapore, I understand the unique challenges we face as we transition to new environments. One of my roles as a counsellor at TK is to support families in transition as they navigate the challenges and opportunities moving to a new country and/or school can present.

Transition can mean many things to many different people but in this brief article, hopefully I can offer some friendly, basic and helpful hints for families in transition. The following hints and tips for families are a collection of strategies that I have collected over the years in different roles, as a teacher, counsellor and parent. They are by no means original or all encompassing, and many of you would have already used some, but I hope they at least offer some assistance in your busy lives.

Since school started, I have met with all of our new students as well as many of our new parents. I will be happy to further support our families here at TK through the coming year. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions and concerns you have.

So, you’ve arrived in Singapore and find yourselves at TK. Now what? A few ideas……..

  • Get to know your new school - take those opportunities to mix and mingle with other new families and existing families. Remember, we’ve all been there before at some stage and most people are only too glad to help.
  • Watch your children closely - they will be having mixed feelings, sometimes extreme highs and lows. Validate these and offer continual support. Let them know this is normal and be there for them when they are feeling fragile. This is normal.
  • Share the strengths of being a “third culture kid” with your children. (Third culture kid is a term coined by David C Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, experts in the field of cultural transitions, in their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. As an international teacher, I have found this book a great resource for myself, families and students.) Celebrate your diversity.
  • Set realistic expectations, listen to your children - at this stage of transition they are being told a lot of things and taking in huge amounts of new information. Set times for them to vent, share, celebrate and inquire. They may also need time to “mourn” their previous country/school/friends/pets.
  • Celebrate your arrival - by now you may have been here several weeks or longer but have “hit the ground running”. Do something special to mark your arrival - it’s amazing how many of these first experiences remain as long-term favourites.
  • Keep family routines and expectations constant. Children need and thrive on routines and these are transferrable wherever you go. Make it a priority to spend regular quality time with your children - no toys or gadgets are as valuable as time spent with our loved ones.
  • Be mindful - mindfulness is very useful in allowing us to recognise and validate our mixed emotions at this complicated time. I often use the “clouds in the sky” analogy. Emotions (good, bad or indifferent) are like clouds - they come and go, stay for a little while, but are never permanent. Things do pass.
  • Explore - become part of the community, join parent groups, arrange playdates, get to know the local culture, the food, traditions, and get lost in your new environment (just make sure you know how to get home!).
  • Acknowledge the past, celebrate new beginnings. Allow your children to express sadness and mourning for the things they have left behind, but embrace your new future and all the opportunities it presents. Technology allows us to communicate with people from all over the world, but also keep forging ahead to build new bonds.
  • Encourage your children to make new friends but not just one. New students often try desperately to make a new “best friend” as quickly as possible. Encourage them to take their time, get to know a variety of people and have a range of friends.
  • Let your children have an input in their new life - this could be decorating their new bedroom, choosing the next family outing, naming a new pet, or arranging play dates. Activities which allow them to have some control and “plant roots” will be hugely beneficial for their transition. Remember, they will feel as if everything has been out of their control and any decisions they can make now will take on large significance to them.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Validate their feelings and acknowledge that everyone takes their own time to adjust to these new beginnings.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Make time for this - your children will see this as the most valuable time of all.
  • Predictability is important for your child at this time. Try not to introduce too many new surprises, and keep them informed of any upcoming changes.
  • Know your family’s support networks - often your child’s new school is a great place to start. Find out who your child’s friends are and reach out to other parents. Go to coffee mornings, engage in school events, volunteer, keep up to date. Don’t be afraid to reach out - TK is a great community and everyone here is very supportive!

Good luck and enjoy your new adventure!