Raising a Child in Thailand from a Foreign Perspective
Living in a foreign country entails scores of challenges. While single expats may argue that the thrills and adventures far outweigh the struggles, those with children in tow discover that it is a different story altogether. Or is it?
Meet Nina, a single parent employed as a teacher in Thailand. Years ago, she went back to her native country to fetch the four-year old daughter that she had left under the care of her aging parents. Now her daughter is already a teenager and currently enrolled in one of the schools here in the Kingdom. Needless to say, the mother and daughter are both happy to be together. Seeing her child fully adjusted to the Thai culture is now considered by Nina as her proudest achievement as a parent.
“I am pleased to have raised her well in a foreign country, and almost single-handedly at that!” she beams. “She is happy to be here; she’s doing well in school, and quite fully adjusted to the culture as she has a lot of local friends in the neighbourhood. She even knows how to speak the local language.”
But not everyone is as lucky as Nina. After all, she came from a country whose culture is not miles different from that of Thailand. To a greater extent, those coming from western countries find raising a child in Thailand a task much more daunting.
For Matthew and Giana, raising three children in Thailand is extremely challenging. “The food, the language barrier, the heat… our children are constantly complaining about these,” says Matthew, a public relations executive. “The language was really the ordeal at first,” his wife Giana continues. “Most of the time, they just stayed indoors, as it was difficult to find English-speaking kids whom they can play with.”
The presence of international schools in the country, however, provided a relief for both Matthew and Giana. Although tuition fees in international schools are pricey, their kids feel at home with the international environment.
From nursery schools to Christian schools, boarding schools to schools catering to special needs and everything in between, Thailand has more than 150 international schools for children of foreign expats. There are even schools specializing in offering curriculums native to other nations, like Germany, Switzerland, the United States, and the UK.
Progressive learning is something very new, even alien to most people, especially in Asian countries which focus very much on test results and rankings. But even though it is a fairly new concept for many, more and more schools in Thailand are being founded on the concept of learning through play, child-centered education or Phenomenon-based learning, like in Finland.
Safe and sound
Thailand is one of the safest countries for children to live in Southeast Asia, according to The Economist’s Safe Cities Index 2019 report. While many children find Thai food too spicy, there is also an abundance of western fast-food chains and restos in the cities. Thailand is also very child-friendly; children are considered of huge importance in the Thai culture.
Understandably, children from temperate countries find Thailand too hot, but what probably makes up for the heat is the access to some of the world’s best beach destinations that kids enjoy.
Across the country, especially in the capital city of Bangkok, there is always something happening all year round, and that means plenty of great things and activities that kids of any age can enjoy with their families. Amusement parks, zoos, aquariums, and many other fun places never run short of the dose of thrill and excitement, not to mention the temples, park and museums that can be both educational and entertaining.
Raising children, indeed, is a big responsibility, more so if this has to be done in a foreign setting. There will certainly be pitfalls sometimes. But, just like life in general, it all boils down to having a positive mindset in order to appreciate the discoveries and realizations that come with the process.
Independent and emphatic
Nina’s daughter was barely five years old when first brought to Thailand. Language was the big stumbling block. Yet it was Nina’s fearless decision to enroll the child in a regular Thai school that is now reaping great rewards for both mother and daughter.
“My child is more than bilingual now. She accompanies me to my trip to government offices and she is my reliable translator. I admire her independence and great faith in humanity – qualities which she would not have acquired had she stayed in my native country where independence is often misconstrued as arrogance,” says Nina.
For Matthew and Giana, they are amazed how emphatic their children have become. “They were able to develop a high tolerance for diversity, apart from being adaptable and sensitive,” shares Giana.
Being in a foreign country, just like being a parent, is laden with challenges. How we respond to those challenges will have a corresponding effect on us and the children for the rest of their lives. What becomes of greater importance is how to positively address the more difficult aspects of living in a foreign country and guiding the kids in this experience in a way that will serve them well in the future.