To raise a baby abroad in Korea or not to raise a baby abroad in Korea

My original babies: Chuseok 2010

That is decidedly a very specific question. But it’s one that has been coming up a lot lately in our house. It’s no secret to friends and family that ever since B and I returned from Korea back in March we have been missing it a lot.

Let me just get it out of the way and say that if we were to go back, it’s not because we think Korea holds some secret to our happiness. We indeed had eye-opening and wonderful experiences last time around in Korea. But we recognize that part of the reason why we see Korea through kimchi-colored glasses is that our friends and colleagues became like family and we lucked out and worked at a comparably sane hagwan the entire time. The experience that we had there was doubtless extremely special and we realize that God smiled upon us by inserting us into situations that made us grow individually and as a couple.

B and his kiddies making songpyeon: Chuseok 2010

And that’s a special thing. The kind of special thing that you can’t force.

Also, if there is one thing I learned from living abroad, it’s that there are myriad stages of culture shock and acclimatization to new situations, so it’s pretty obvious that right now we are just going through the stages of being reintroduced to a country that was home for a long time but now seems so different because of where we’ve been. So yeah, we don’t really love it here in our small town in North Carolina right now, but that’s mostly because we are still getting used to being in America again.

All this to say that it’s clearly not a decision we’re taking lightly or basing on having a rockin’ time the last go-round. At the same time, it’s a decision that must be made with an incredible amount of faith in ourselves and understanding that if things go awry, we’ll have another way more important person to think about: little Bebe.

There are so many reasons why moving across the world with an infant doesn’t seem like a very good idea. Interestingly, though, it’s difficult for me to enumerate them because they all stem from a fear of the unknown. I don’t know what it’s going to be like to be a parent, so it’s hard to predict the issues that are going to arise and how we will go about solving them at all, much less in a country that we know, but not as parents. But one thing I am uncomfortable with already is having a small child so far away from her extended family. I have to admit that this is partly a selfish reason because I want to have the resource of my mom and mother-in-law close by because they’re The Mommies. They know. I also want the baby to know her family, and I want to give the family the opportunity to have an active part in the baby’s life and see him or her grow.

But there are so, so many reasons why it seems like a great idea. First of all, it would expose the baby to a second language right when (s)he is ripe for it. The elasticity of babies’ and young children’s brains never ceases to astound me. I remember the very first day at our hagwan, I was speechless when I heard these very small children who had been exposed to English for a brief time converse seamlessly with their teachers. The mental exercise involved in learning a second language throughout one’s early youth is invaluable and something that B and I really want to provide for our child. And it’s something that we both are sure we could not be able to financially provide if we stayed in the US. The rent is just too damn high.

The whole providing-for-the-baby thing is an integral part of wanting to return, too. B and I both have masters degrees in humanities fields, and unfortunately we have not been able to utilize them as much as we would want ever since we finished school because since graduation, the American market has been simply glutted with people who are like us. So our professional luck hasn’t been as good as we would’ve hoped.

In Korea, though, we were saving an incredible portion of what we made. Healthcare was easily affordable (as it should be). We didn’t need a car. Good food was affordable too. The savings just kept adding up! We could afford the things that made our lives more interesting. We could travel to places that were worth seeing. And that’s a big one for the baby: we both want our baby to know the joys of seeing how it’s done all over the place. I want our child to be able to take where (s)he is living for granted and be aware that it could always be worse…or better.

This is a big issue, and one that I can promise you I will return to here. In the meantime, if you have any insight into raising a child in another culture, I would love to hear your comments, thoughts, and encouragement.

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13 comments

  1. Bridget Ciaramitaro · · Reply

    Donovan spent about three and a half months in Turkey. He says so many of the same things about Turkey as you are saying about Korea. I understand your thoughts about going back to Korea. I can’t believe I am saying this but I think the positives about working and living abroad out weigh anything lost. You are like the pioneers who came to the United States for a better life. Maybe it is time for us to consider moving abroad in search of a better life.

    1. Bridget, I often think the same thing about people going to work overseas these days. I hate to say it, but right now there just doesn’t seem to be that much opportunity in America for us, and it just makes a lot more sense for us to look elsewhere to put down roots. For me, that’s a new paradigm of thinking simply because I’ve always associated America with plenty and opportunity, and I never thought that I’d literally have to immigrate to another country to get all that I wanted out of life. I’m becoming more comfortable with it, though, and I hope our families will be able to accept our choice if we do opt to go back over with the baby.

  2. Vancouver isn’t my home country but I can’t imagine living anywhere but here (though the affordability thing … hmm). I’d visit China in a heartbeat, but I couldn’t live there. Interestingly enough, my husband’s ex-girlfriend lives in Taiwan but gave birth to her two boys in the States just so they’d be US citizens.

    Either way, I don’t think there’s a wrong decision. People are resilient, and that includes children.

    1. Sarah, how long have you been living in Vancouver and where is your hometown?

      1. Since … 1989? I was born in Changsha (Hunan province, southern China) and most extended family is there. My dad immigrated for his grad studies.

  3. This is something that we have been kicking around as well. On one hand, it would be good to have family at least on the same continent while we figure out parenthood. On the other hand, it would be great to expose our child to other languages and cultures from the get go. Ultimately, I think we will spend some more time abroad. It is just a matter of when.

  4. I have not had the chance to live overseas and so wish I had. Now that I’m married, it seems that my life is herer in Colorado (at least temporarily). Even though I don’t have any direct experience, it seems that the people I know who grew up with two cultures and two languages are some of the most sane, understanding people I know. Somehow, it seems to bring people down to earth a bit. That’s something I definitely think would be great for anyone – big or small

    1. It’s not too late, Mary! The world is your oyster if you want to get up and go. The “sacrifices” we made when we went were far outweighed by the monetary and personal benefits of living abroad.

      I agree with you, though, that people who have experiences around the world seem more adjusted and laid back. Haha, at least that’s what I kept telling myself when my husband and I went on a looooong trip this year to France and Iceland; I kept thinking, “Spending time in Europe will definitely make me a better parent.” Who’d have believed that that would actually wind up being true!

  5. Thanks for the LIKE!

  6. No easy or right answer, although if travel is important to you and your husband, you can make the effort to explore and expose your family to other cultures; that’s been our way. We’ve taken our kids to Europe, Turkey, China, Mexico, the U.S….just not to Maui or Las Vegas :) Also, you have to really consider what you expect of your extended family, and what you honestly think they can deliver.

  7. “…we are just going through the stages of being reintroduced to a country that was home for a long time but now seems so different because of where we’ve been.”

    Couldn’t be more true. The benefit of raising kids in a different culture is that they feel more like world citizens who are more respectful and inquisitive of the entire world, and not just one nation (unless it totally messes their minds up, like mine). But their are more advantages than disadvantages. :)

  8. […] awhile back I wrote about our urge to move back to Korea. B and I were missing it at the time and thinking about the risks and benefits of going back next […]

  9. […] Next Year? Games have officially begun. For past years’ installments, read this and this and this. We have decided to move next summer even if neither of us find a job right away. We are both so […]

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