Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Meet Rebecca, an expat raising trilingual kids in the Netherlands

By chance I met Rebecca. Well actually we met through Marktplaats. It's a website on which one can buy and sell things. I was the buyer. Rebecca comes from Texas, lives in the Netherlands and together with her German-Italian husband she is raising two trilingual daughters here (16 and 14 years old). I would say that her girls are real cross cultural kids. I was interested in her experience. Rebecca writes a blog: http://signalsminusnoise.blogspot.com/

Twenty four years ago Rebecca moved to the Netherlands with her husband. Both her daughters were born here. 

Where’s home for your daughters? This question comes up a lot. They have done “Home country” projects at school. When my youngest daughter had to make a map of her home country city, she did a map about Dusseldorf, where her grandparents live. When it was a project on the climate of your home country showing rivers etc she choose to do  a map of Texas (so that’s a home too). There is no one answer for kids that are brought up this way. Home ends up being something you carry in yourself, both girls are at home in Texas, where their cousins, granny, and the lake house are. The Netherlands is home too. Germany is where the German grandparents and other paternal relatives are so it is home too. We were there every Christmas, Easter and part of every summer. The basement at their grandparents' home was their playground.

The downside of it is that they don’t have a fixed home, they don’t have deep cultural ties, they don't have the deep roots to any of these places, but they do have a connection. My home is Texas. They will not miss their house in the Netherlands like I miss mine in Texas. If we went to Portugal that would be a home for them too. In some ways they miss some of that. They will never have that patriotic aspect. They will never get tears in their eyes with any national anthem. My husband has a tie to the Germanic culture, it gives him pride in his country. The girls don't have any of that kind of connection or loyalty, but instead they have flexibility and a less judgmental attitude.

What languages do you speak in the home?
I spoke only English to the children, my husband spoke only German, they were raised in a Dutch creche from 7 months of age. Until the age of 5 the children had full choice about which language they wanted to answer, it was usually Dutch. Then they were encouraged to speak English back to me, German to to their dad, usually they communicated Dutch to each other. They were trilingual from the beginning.

They both changed from a Dutch school to an international school when the oldest was 10 years of age. She was furious. Her thought processes were in Dutch. Understanding English was no problem, input was fine but she had to think about it in Dutch and translate it to English to answer. It slowly switched over. It's harder for me to switch from one language to the other I make more mistakes.

Do you have some concluding words? 
The most important thing to deal with about third culture kids or cross cultural kids is that there is nothing that you can do that can make their experience like yours. Be flexible, see what fits your kids, adapt to what comes a long. For example our daughters celebrated the Indian Diwali festival in the international school. You may not be able to understand some of the things they are going through but there are compensations in lots of different ways.

Thank you Rebecca for sharing your experience. You had so much to tell me so this is just part one and part two will follow soon. We will compare growing up in Texas with growing up in the Netherlands next time. 

What's your experience? Where's home for you or for your kids? Do you have experience with raising trilingual kids? Or with raising cross cultural kids? Please share your stories with us.

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  1. Great interview! I'm married to a German, too! We tried the split language thing at home, but it didn't workout. We lived in China and he worked in an English environment all day and would come home and speak English to me and the kids. Sometimes we regret it, but his parents and siblings all speak English. I wonder if they didn't if we'd have been more intentional about teaching them.
    Great interview!

  2. Thanks MaDonna for your comment. It's true that situations are complicated sometimes. Each family has to see what is possible for them and what will work well for them. Each situation is different and each family is unique but it is fun and useful to hear the story of other parents in a similar situation.

  3. I also enjoyed the interview. I am American married to an Italian and we live in the NL - our kids are also trilingual. We did the one person, one language approach and it is going well so far. The only bummer is that Italian has definitely taken a back seat to English and Dutch. I still can't get over the fact that my kids speak Dutch to one another...I feel like they should speak English. We have never regretted our decision and just view it as an adventure.

  4. How interesting that you are also raising trilingual kids here in the Netherlands. It's always so nice to know that your not the only ones, just knowing that seems to help. Even if your kids can only Italian that is such a gift you have given them!
    I lived in Africa the first 19 years of my life and went to English speaking schools. The rule in our house was that we had to speak Dutch to each other, which we did, but to this day (and now we're all adults) I just love speaking English with my sister or brothers. Strange. It just "feels" right.