How Living Abroad Changed Our Approach to Parenting | #parenting

In 2017, I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy in Szczecin, Poland. By the time he had entered the world, I had already lived in Egypt (where I met my husband) and spent time in both China and Thailand. My husband, an international American football coach, had lived in Spain, France, Italy, and Egypt prior to our meeting and getting married. When we joined forces, we decided to continue to living as Black Americans abroad indefinitely. From our own experiences, we understood how much we had gained from doing so, and we wanted that same, if not better, life for our son.

Defining ourselves as “global citizens,” our family has lived in Poland, Egypt, China, Malaysia, and Mexico to date. We are Americans who have been blessed with the privilege of living around the world—and rather than having the expectation that the world should adapt to us, we adapt to it. We learn as much of the language as we can, we shop and eat locally, and respect cultures and lifestyles that may be the opposite of how we grew up. But over the past few years, we’ve also found that our son has been introduced to many advantages that he may not have obtained had we decided to raise him in the U.S. 

Imani Bashir with her son and husband. 
Courtesy Imani Bashir

The power of language

One of the most invaluable things we have been able to introduce to our son while raising him abroad is multilingualism. There are over 650 documented languages worldwide, however, only 20 percent of Americans can speak another language outside of English. In Europe, it is over 56 percent. As expats, we have seen first-hand that local communities overseas often speak two or more languages in their homes. 

It is also much easier to pick up a language at our son’s age, especially when surrounded by those speaking it all the time. While he may typically speak English throughout his day, he is repeatedly introduced to languages outside of his native tongue (Spanish, currently) when he is in school, with a nanny or babysitter, or in social settings like the playground. When he comes home he will regurgitate words and phrases with increasing effortlessness and, eventually, fluency. Living abroad offers a different, more realistic way of learning languages, rather than being taught in the classroom. 

The world is his classroom

By living abroad, we’re allowing our son, at age three, to learn at his own pace. We champion his development without following a set curriculum; there’s no tests or forced measurement of knowledge, and no barometer of what he needs to know by a certain age or stage. Moreover, the U.S. education system has many disparities in Black communities. Statistically, Black children are reprimanded much more harshly in school than others and Black children are given less adequate resources—keeping them from being able to perform at higher levels.

Instead, we are using the world as his classroom—or what some people would call “worldschooling,” an approach that an increasing number of parents are considering as remote learning continues due to the pandemic. We use our everyday surroundings as opportunities for us to teach and for him to learn—opportunities made so much richer by travel. Before he turned two, my son could recognize and recite the entire alphabet, as well as colors, animals, and more. 

Developing confidence

Living abroad has shown my son that he can belong anywhere in the world. (He’ll walk up to any child and call them his “friend.”) He is not being raised in a society that would force my husband and I to teach him, at a very early age, that he is seen or perceived by others in a negative light, for absolutely no reason. The reality that we are Black is evident, however, it is not constant a signifier of who we are and how people treat us. He gets to exist in the world as his whole self and thrive. 

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