Five Lessons I Learned from our International Relocation

At Wadi Rum Desert in south Jordan

At Wadi Rum Desert in south Jordan

International relocation gives us precious learning opportunities, although it entails challenges. I moved from Washington DC, USA to Jordan almost a year ago with my husband and two young children. On one hand, living in and adjusting ourselves to different environment has sometimes been a tough experience, because I don’t speak the local language and have to deal with different people and systems on a daily basis. On the other hand, however, there are many positive aspects; it gave us great chances to learn both for parents and children that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

In this article, I talk about positive aspects of our international relocation, the challenges I faced, and how I turned those challenges into great learning opportunities.

1. We can learn a lot from a different and diverse environment

Learning new culture and adjusting myself to a different environment are some of my challenges here in Jordan. Although I’ve intensively traveled to many emerging or developing countries (including some of the poorest nations in the world), I spent most of my life in Japan and USA. After starting to live in Jordan, I realized that what I had taken for granted was not universal. Compared to USA or Japan, Jordan has many areas to develop its infrastructures; for example, road transportation is not excellent everywhere, public transportation is very limited, the postal system is underdeveloped, and trustable service providers or contractors are hard to find. Facing these challenges, I’m learning more about this country, and becoming accustomed to a different culture.

The same holds true for my children, who grew up in USA and now have challenging yet educational experiences in Jordan. At playgrounds or schools, they encounter other children who communicate and behave differently compared to those in USA. Thus my children need to be assertive and communicate to a diversified group of children. Also, sometimes we have to queue and wait patiently for services at a post office or customer service desk, while we used to enjoy the same services more quickly and easily back in USA. Through such experiences, my children are gradually comprehending that different countries have different systems.

2. Parents are children’s number one teacher, even if you cannot find a perfect school

As a parent of preschool/kindergarten age children, finding suitable schools and supporting them during our transition were some of my biggest concerns. 

I faced a challenge of finding a play-based (rather than academic-based) preschool for my children, who had attended almost completely play-based schools back in USA. Jordan has strived to provide high quality education to each citizen. Without abundant natural resources, human resource development is an important agenda for this country. As a result, Jordan’s early childhood education (preschools and kindergartens) tend to be academic from early stages, emphasizing reading, writing, and math skills. Although a handful of preschools/kindergartens adopt children-centered and play-based approaches, majority of preschools (including international schools) are more or less academic in line with the expectation of Jordanian families.

Even if finding a perfect school for your children is not possible, parents are the number one teacher of their children after all. Thus, we focused on what we could do: providing emotional support to them to help them deal with the tough transition; preparing playful environments at home; and arranging occasional playdates with other children. International relocation is quite stressful to young children, just like it is to adults. Thus, my husband and I tried to support them emotionally by accepting their feeling and spending more time with them. In addition, soon after our arrival in Amman, I started to create children’s play area indoor and outdoor at our apartment unit so that they could enjoy free play as much as they wanted. Arranging playdates also helped not only my children but also myself as I was able to connect myself with other families with similar situations.

A nursery school with a nature-themed and playful garden

A nursery school with a nature-themed and playful garden

3. Nature is a very good friend of ours, especially for children

Jordan’s nature is beautiful, diverse, and unique. Amman and northern Jordan are particularly beautiful in spring with colorful wild flowers and blooming trees. Desert in the south, such as Wadi Rum, has stunningly beautiful landscape. I am amazed to see wild flowers surviving the country’s severe summer and plants growing in the deserts. Imagining how these plants developed special mechanisms inside their bodies to hold water efficiently in the extreme weather, I feel awed by the nature.

Jordan’s nature nourishes young children’s curiosity and open their eyes to the wonder of nature. In winter, we see trees whose leaves have completely fallen while waiting for spring; in spring we see beautiful wild flowers here and there; in summer we see how plants survive without much rain; in autumn we see various farm products in local vegetable markets. Do you think rocks possibly containing fossils are only found in museums? In Jordan, sedimentary rocks formed hundreds of millions years ago are seen along streets, in parks, and in deserts. I like to share with my children the joy of imagining how those sedimentary rocks were formed from minerals, organics, water, wind, ice, glaciers, or geomorphic processes in the history of the earth.

A flower bed in Amman. Amman is most beautiful in spring.

A flower bed in Amman. Amman is most beautiful in spring.

4. We can create playful environment without buying additional toys

I’ve been facing a challenge of creating playful environment for my children without using toys from stores. As I wrote in one of my previous blog entries, prices in Jordan are expensive, and toys of good quality are no exceptions. I became aware of how easy it was to play with my young children when I was in USA or Japan, where toys are not so expensive and a lot of public playgrounds or parks are conveniently accessible.

Thus, we had to make our own toys or to play without relying on toys. We have folded a lot of Origami pieces to use for pretend play, produced our own toys from scrap materials, made kites from scratch, and played tags, for instance. Also, we have done a lot of kitchen science experiments by mixing different materials (oil, water, spices, dish soups, baking soda, vinegar, food color) to observe texture, smells, or even chemical reactions. During the play, my children often create mess at home and give me astonishing moments by doing the totally unexpected. If I keep saying “No” to them and discourage them from exploring, children might be deprived of their precious opportunities to develop. It’s challenging, but is much fun at the same time.

5. Child friendly culture gives parents a special retreat

I like the hospitality that Jordanian people offer to families with young children. Whenever I bring my children to public spaces, people kindly talk to them and even offer candies. Giving plenty of love and attention to young children is part of Arab culture. As a result, Jordanian children grow with a lot of affection from family, communities, and strangers everywhere.

My Japanese mom friends in Amman also admire the hospitality that locals show to young children. In Japan, we are usually under a lot of pressure to keep young children stay still and well-behaved in public space, and young mothers often face judgmental and critical remarks especially from the elder, such as “What a naughty kid to speak in the train! Your mother should have disciplined you properly.” Here in Jordan, I don’t feel pressure so much, so I can enjoy relaxed family time outside of the house.

(This article was originally posted as a guest blog post published in Living in Jordan as Expat.)