by John Wolcott,
Just the other day while eating family dinner, my wife and I started talking about the idea of returning to America. The conversation then transitioned to the differences between Thai and American cultural values and the ways in which Thais and Americans differ. My 7 -year -old daughter, whose eyes darted between my wife and I as we took turns talking, swung her head and asked, “Daddy, do American people eat this too?”
I was confused, not at her question, but that she would speak of American people as being different from herself – —especially since she was born in America. “You realizerealise you ’are American, too, right?” I said. She tilted her chin into her neck and giggled, and although I chuckled as well, it got me thinking about how my daughter identifies—or does not identify—with the American culture of which I’m from, and whether that lack of identity may somehow affect her if we move back or she wants to study or work in the states.
Would my daughter grow up to be a culturally rootless soul, failing to connect with American culture? Or would she somehow benefit from being what I discovered are Tthird culture kids, children who spend their developmental years in cultures other than their parents’ home countries.
I asked other non-Thai families and people who were raised in Thailand about their experiences, and I discovered there are three primary ways that you can teach your son or daughter about your home culture’s values while raising him or her in Thailand, so that when they return to your native country, they are well -adjusted.
Take occasional family holidays back home
Frances Watthanaya, who heads a programme in Northeastern Thailand for at -risk youth, is a Canadian native who now lives in a rice farming village in the Mueang Yang District of Nakhon Ratchasima with her Thai husband and 10 -year -old daughter. Unlike many of her compatriot families who live in Bangkok, Frances has almost no access to Canadian culture save for the occasional television show. Because of her extreme case, Frances believes there is only one way to teach her daughter about the cultural values of Canada.
“Spend time in both countries,” she said. “Spending time in Canada is the most important and the only way I can really instil those values in her. She has to see it and experience it for herself.”
You may not live in rural Thailand, but your child will still benefit from the occasional trip back home. They’ll have time to play with cousins, listen to grandparents recount family stories, and see how people interact day-to-day. This will teach your son or daughter more about your culture’s values than words or movies or music. If it’s not possible to fly back home regularly, though, you can still expose your children to your home culture right here in Thailand.
Join clubs, societies, or international schools
Although the world is slowly moving away from tribalism, children need to feel like they belong to a group who shares similar values to form a healthy sense of identity. One way to accomplish this is by enrolling your child into clubs, societies, or international schools where he or she can associate with people from your native culture. By doing so, this will prepare them for life outside of Thailand if they choose to study or work in your home country.
In fact, it doesn’t matter where you come from in the world, you will most likely be able to find a place to take your children to expose them to your home country’s values. You can do this by enrolling them in one of the country’s hundreds of international schools, or by visiting a smaller club.
Kevin Amlid, whose Norwegian father and Thai mother own a self-storage business in Pattaya, always found himself immersed in Norwegian culture when he was growing up. His father would take him and his younger brother to the Norwegian Seaman’s Church for two main celebrations every year: the Norwegian Constitution Day and Christmas Eve.
Amlid didn’t know it at the time, but he was picking up on the values of Norwegian culture through osmosis, so when he eventually left Thailand to study in Norway, he was able to adjust a little more easily than if he had never experienced anything about Norway while in Thailand.
If you live in one of Thailand’s multi-cultural cities like Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, or Hua Hin, you should have no problem finding a place to bring your child to introduce them to your home culture. But with that said, the best place to instil your home country’s values may be at home.
Highlight the positive aspects of your culture
The easiest way to teach your children about your home country’s values is to talk about the positive aspects of your culture with them. After all, studies show that the family is the most important unit when it comes to children learning about culture1. This means you as a parent can influence what your child learns about that culture, even if you’re not currently living in it.
This was the case for Caitlin Lee, an American who moved to Thailand when she was 5 years old. Despite growing up in Thai society and relating more as a Thai, her American parents always taught her about the positive values that they themselves experienced while growing up in Southern United States.
“I’m still redneck and I haven’t let that go,” Lee said. “I come from a long line of farmers, and I’ve had that type of work ethic instilled in me from quite a young age, and I find that to be quite American.”
Now that Lee has her own child, a 15 -year -old son, she now finds it valuable to teach him about the value of hard work. With that said, though, she also thinks there are more important cultural values to instil in her son, values that aren’t always taught to kids in Thailand.
“Just because someone is your teacher or your boss doesn’t mean they have the right to do or say anything to you,” she continued. “That is a very un-Thai way of going about things, which I’m currently learning with my son going to Thai school. And I’m trying to instil that value in him; just because someone is a teacher doesn’t mean they’re allowed to bully you.”
The inverse of that value to stand up for yourself would be to comply even if you know you might be in the right. And perhaps this ties into the value of saving face in Thailand. And if that’s so, Lee also wants her son to know that it’s okay to make mistakes, even if someone points them out.
“I grew up with a very American sense of humour,” she said, “and the whole thing with being able to look at yourself and laugh at yourself is a very American thing. The way I was raised is that you fall down, you laugh, and you get back up. I’ve had to work quite hard to teach my son the same thing because losing face here seems to be a little more severe.
“This teaches us how to grow and be humble and laugh in the face of adversity, and I think it’s something that should be instilled in every culture, to realise your negatives points and be able to embrace them and grow with them instead of feeling you need to hide them or get angry when someone points them out.”
Once thing’s for certain, no matter what cultural values we want to instillinstil in our children, we can only do so by consciously embracing them, acting them out, and talking about them with our sons and daughters.
John Wolcott is an American who’s been living in Thailand since 2014 with his wife and two daughters. When not writing or editing travel narratives, profiles, and feature stories, he likes to travel the country and practice photography.
Frances Watthanaya: [email protected]
Kevin Amlid: https://www.facebook.com/kevin.aamlid
Caitlin Lee: https://www.facebook.com/caitlin.haas