Immersion and consequent cultural integration for our children seems simple: we move abroad and our children can embrace our ‘living abroad project’ by attending a local school and guess what, they will become fluent in a new language, which brings them unique skills and status compared with most kids back home. They are likely to develop enduring dexterity in switching languages, which according to research, will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. They could learn other languages quicker, and even stave off Alzheimer’s once they are over 50. There are obvious advantages from learning another language. But is it as easy as it seems to adopt a new culture and language, and what is the cost to our family culture and identity?
Cultural integration is difficult to achieve without speaking the local language. Fluency also provides evidence that a child has gained something tangible in compensation for the complications of living abroad. But it cannot compensate for being away from family and long-standing friends or losing one’s roots (the importance of this varies according to your family’s previous global mobility). You might also be sacrificing established networks that help children in less tangible ways, and more worryingly, jeopardizing their educational success. Is it worth immersing our children? Only if we are prepared to immerse ourselves, the parents, too, or play the role of an intercultural translator to help our children hold onto their international culture too.