How My Son Adapted To A New Country and Culture
Moving abroad offered us a huge opportunity for personal growth. However, it was full of challenges and here's what we learnt when we moved from India to Sweden.
By Shalini Mehra
About a year ago, our work gave us an opportunity to go and live in Sweden – a country that is respected globally for its social security, education policies, environment and safety – and we wanted to explore this opportunity. We were excited as we knew our lives were going to change, but we had no idea how this move would affect our children. And, we had high expectations as we took the plunge. And, now as I write this story, I can say that our stay in Sweden has been an enriching experience. It has also come across as a great opportunity to learn about a new country and its culture. While both our children faced their share of problems adjusting to a new environment, the challenges my five-year-old son faced were critical. Here they are:
The challenges and adapting to them
1. Food choices: My son was the only child in his school who ate vegetarian food. While we were wondering how to tackle this problem, my son’s school decided to help him out. Every day, a portion of vegetarian food was specially prepared for him. I must mention here that the Swedish society is made up of individuals from various nationalities and cultures, having different food habits and speaking different languages. Acceptance and respect for every individual holds the whole system together. This is what helped my son. Also, the school doesn’t compel any child to engage in a particular activity if he does not want to do it. Such encouragement of individuality helped our son in a great way.
2. The official language: Before we moved to Sweden, our friends and acquaintances told us that we would not face any problem communicating with those around us. “Everyone speaks in English,” they said. But, we were in for a shock. When we took our son for football classes, we realised that everyone spoke only Swedish. This is because schools (unless they have the International Board Curriculum) in Sweden promote the Swedish language. There are free courses for adults to learn the language as well. And, how did this affect my child? He lost interest in the game as everyone, from his coach to his peers, only conversed in Swedish. This was one challenge my son could overcome only with time.
3. Early schooling: In Sweden, formal education for children starts at the age of seven. At the age of five, my son had already completed two years of schooling in India. So, before my son joined the school, the teacher insisted on meeting us to tell us what we could do to help our son adjust to the new environment. My son's school, which is a preschool managed by municipalities, begins at 9:00 a.m. and ends at 3:00 p.m. During school hours, he has story time, playtime, snack time and relaxation time. Although there are no formal lessons, children manage to learn a lot. For example, my son learnt numerous Swedish words, expressions and how to count from 1 to 100. Here, a child’s day at school is structured to provide a sense of routine while giving him several opportunities to learn as he plays and interacts with everyone else. Therefore, my son found it easy to adapt to the new system.
4. Being responsible: Due to a good public transport system and high safety standards, children as young as eight, travel to school alone. Even my five-year-old is beginning to remember routes and associated bus numbers. Travelling alone means being responsible for yourself. And, both children and their parents learn this lesson early on. My son too picked it up quickly.
How my son fared in sports and other activities
Fitness is a way of life here and a lot of importance is given to sports. But, neither parents nor children are in any hurry to learn or reach a milestone. They want to play to keep fit and believe in giving time to the game to learn more. It’s an ongoing process. Also, age is not a factor either. My son who lost interest in football has found a new interest now – gymnastics!
As far as extra-curricular activities are concerned, everyone between the ages of 6 and 22 can enrol in classes to enhance their skills in art, dance, music and theatre. This is considered important for personal development; so, the classes are offered at a subsidised rate. We plan to start guitar classes for our son soon.
Life is all about experiences and the lessons we learn from them. The decisions we take will shape the future for us as a family as we keep learning from our new experiences in a foreign country that we now call home.
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