For a child living abroad, there's no place like home

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For a child living abroad, there's no place like home

"Home" is a lovely word for all of us, even when we live there. But for the child living abroad, "home" has magical associations.

Some years ago, when I was a foreign correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, based in Germany, I did a story about the families of Turkish gastarbeiter, or guest workers, who had come to Germany to find work and a better life than was available to them at home.

A problem for the Turkish parents was encouraging their children, some of whom had been born in Germany, to love Turkey but to see it in context.

"They think Turkey is heaven," one father told me. "They want to know why we can't live there. They are angry at me for making them live in Germany."

It's not hard to see why. Holiday visits to Turkey came during school vacations. The weather was nice. Grandma and Grandpa showered the kids with gifts and kisses. Everybody was happy to see them. And there was no school, no homework.

Who wouldn't want to live in a place like that? In Germany, Turkish children frequently fell behind in school or were made to feel like outsiders.

"What I can't make them understand," the Turkish father said, "is that we are better off in Germany. If I could make a better living in Turkey or have a chance to send them to university in Turkey, I would never have left."

It was the same with my children - made even more inexplicable to them by the fact that we had not left the United States in search of a better life.

On our visits home, cousins were eager to get our children up to speed with the latest offerings of pop culture - taking them to the latest "Star Wars" movie, or to a pizza chain that featured a video game arcade.

"America is the best country," my 10-year-old son explained to me once in great earnestness. "It just is." For him it was beyond debate.

I made him state his reasons. There were four:

1. America has the best movies.

2. And the best TV cartoons.

3. Grandpa walks us down to the ice cream shop.

4. It's just the best country.

David was 12 when we moved back home after 10 years abroad. For several years he adhered to his view that there was no place like home. He was never going to travel, he said. What was the point? America was the best country, so why leave?

But through his college years it seemed that more and more of David's friends were from Brazil or India or elsewhere. "I just have more in common with them than I do with American kids," he explained. After graduation he hung around for a few months, and then set off for Japan.

Four years later he's still there. "I still think America is the best country," David says. "I just like living in Japan."

by Hal Piper

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