10 signs that you’re raising an expat kid in the Middle East

Living as an expat was never something that crossed my mind when I was younger.  In fact you could even say that I didn’t want to be an expat.  Ever.

Yet here we are on our second expat stint in the Middle East.  Both of my boys, the ultimate in expat kids, have spent more time out of the UK than in it and their childhood is so different to anything I ever imagined whilst I was pregnant.  It is anything different to anything I’ve ever imagined, full stop.

Here I am raising expat brats, who are anything but brats, just kids who have their moments (and thank you f*%&!g fours for that) who happen to be being raised in the Middle East.  Which has it’s own challenges and idiosyncrasies as does everything in life.  But what are the signs that you are raising an expat brat?  Sorry, I mean what are the signs you are raising a child in the Middle East?

They have been on more planes than buses

Generally if you’re headed out and about you drive.  Anything else tends to be a plane.  The expat kid has been on more planes than buses.  Planes are used to ferry you back and forth home, on holidays, anywhere out of the country.  If you leave the country you leave on a plane.  End of.

When we go back to the UK, or wherever in the world you call home, it is a real treat for them to ride the bus, or the tube, or any form of public transport.  It is a novelty.  One that may wear off quite quickly for the older members of your party.

clapham common tube

Check out that beaming smile – he would have ridden the tube all day

They are cold, even when it is warm

A warm summers day in the UK.  Kids are running round in shorts, in t-shirts, in swimmers jumping in and out of the paddling pools that are dotted around.  The expat kid from the Middle East is shivering in his jumper and jeans and looks aghast that you dare suggest they remove their jumper.

The excitement that is rain

The rest of the world grinds to a halt when it snows, the Middle East stops when it rains.  You may get snow days at your school, out in the Middle East you get rain days.  There are rain dances, rain prayers and general wonderment at rain.

When it comes, it comes in force and more often than not all the expat kid will want to do is go out and jump in the puddles.  Dance in the rain.  And get soaking wet experiencing something that doesn’t happen all too often.

jump in puddles in dubai

They know the sound of the call to prayer

And will even sleep through the early call.  They know what a mosque looks like and what happens inside.  Put them in front of a church and they are perplexed.  Is it a castle?  A house?

They’re used to bunking down in spare rooms through the summer

When somewhere gets hotter than the inside of an oven it makes sense to take advantage of the long summer holidays from school and perform what is known as the mass summer exodus.  The one that sees the majority of women and children leave their “poor” menfolk behind heading for cooler climes.

They don’t understand when you get your own petrol

Driving up to a petrol station involves winding down a window and requesting “full of special please” and only on the side that your petrol cap is on.  It’s making friends with the guys working on the petrol station and waving at them.

It isn’t getting out of the car and doing it yourself, that causes panic and confusion.

They climb palm trees

Climbing trees is a right of passage in any kids life, scraping your hands down the bark, getting as high as you can.  Feeling on top of the world.  Expat kids in the Middle East are no different, after all, kids are kids.  However the difference is instead of climbing apple trees they are busy climbing palm trees.

climb palm trees

They don’t know what a radiator is

A big, scary, white mounted WARM thing on the wall.  Not a clue.

They start to learn languages – that you may not even know

Living in the Middle East, Arabic is spoken all around.  The majority of schools offer Arabic as a language to be taken in school, even the tiny tots of three.  It is likely that they will know more Arabic than their parents after a term or two, Inshallah.

They have a diverse set of friends, all round the world

In a world where there is so much fear of the unknown, so much potential hate, the expat kid is at an absolute advantage.  Where you are from, what religion you practice, your culture – none of this matters to them.  The most important questions asked are “do you want to play” and “shall we be friends”

And that is why we love being expats.  Raising our expat kids.  Raising the third culture kid generation.

Expat Friends

The experience we are giving them.  The friendships they are forging.  The relationships they are making.  The world they are seeing.

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10 signs you're raising an expat kid in the middle east
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8 Comments

  1. Mairi Clare
    February 1, 2017 / 10:16 pm

    Very true, though my guys are the exception to the rule about feeling the cold! We spent 6 years in Abu Dhabi and every return to the UK saw them running around in shorts and t-shirts whatever the weather; till I managed to persuade them kicking and screaming, into fleeces at least.

    We even went to Oz in July (temps of around 5-12C) and we have photos of me wrapped up like Michelin man while my kids run around in thin cotton tops!

    • Laura
      Author
      February 3, 2017 / 4:08 am

      There is always an exception to the rule, mine hate wearing clothes but hate being cold more!

  2. February 2, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    I love the diverse set of friends my children have made. When we watch the Summer Olympics – my kids are able to name at least one person they’ve met from (most of) the countries that parade out. Amazing!

    • Laura
      Author
      February 3, 2017 / 4:07 am

      I LOVE that, mine were a bit little last year but I’m going to try that next olympics!!

  3. February 6, 2017 / 4:00 pm

    Really interesting post ! Funny to see how some things that are obvious to you keep surprising your kids!
    I wonder how being a third culture kids influences future skills for cross-cultural work. Do you think the fact that they are brought up with other international children would be more an advantage or disadvantage for the future sense of belonging /identity?

    • Laura
      Author
      February 6, 2017 / 4:12 pm

      Theoretically my husband was a third culture kid, he grew up living in Bahrain until he was 6 (then the Gulf War broke out and he went back to the UK) it’s definitely impacted his life, he’s always known and strived to come and work out here. And it played a big part in his interviews when asking why he wanted to move out here.

      I can see the difficulty in “belonging” to a place to call home, but I’m a firm believer that home is where the heart is and the world is a big place to see. I hope that the boys both have a sense of grounding that give them wings to fly and want to explore as much as we do.

  4. February 8, 2017 / 2:22 am

    I love that your children are able to experience so much diversity! That was something I loved about living in a different country, especially at a university. I had friends from all over the world. Thankfully, we’re lucky to live in an extremely multi-cultural town and neighborhood in the U.S. Out of our son’s preschool class of 8 kids, 5 of them speak more than one language.

  5. February 19, 2018 / 6:01 pm

    We are from the Philippines and my 3 kids have visited “home” merely 3x out of their (almost) 10 years in Qatar. We also have a vehicle back home so they haven’t experienced riding a train or a bus, unfortunately. I am honestly afraid that they don’t have street smarts, which I’m sure they would need in the future! 🙁

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