April 23, 2011

Expat Joys - Variety and Life Skills

I had trouble pinpointing a good title for this one, as it encompasses so much of the expat experience. I could have also called it "gaining perspective."  What I mean to convey is the following:

If you'd told me two years ago that we'd have to give up the kids' baseball and basketball in exchange for netball, field hockey, and cricket, I would have been crestfallen. It would have sounded like the end of the world to me. Our American lives were so permeated with those sports that it seemed unimaginable that there could be any meaningful life without them. My message to all of you: There is! And do you know what? It feels liberating.

Let's face it, most of our kids won't be professional athletes. So why are we so hung up that they get onto the gold glove baseball team, that they get to pitch in every game, that they get to play point guard, that they continue every breathing minute of their lives with that sport so as not to fall behind their peers? If we're honest with ourselves, is it  not often our own ambition that drives a lot of that? (I've explored a bit of that trap in my Strong Mothers Strong Sons analysis.)
In reality, what our kids will need most later in life is the ability to adapt quickly and to learn new skills, and that is exactly what has happened to us here. They were inserted into an entirely new school system, having no clue where to go and what to do for the first few weeks. They had to learn entirely new sports where they started off way behind their peers - I mean, the average American kid has never held a cricket bat in his life! - but  have since then accumulated quite a few "most improved player" awards, boosting their egos. I remember how I was outraged - and I mean OUTRAGED - the first week of school when I discovered the girls weren't allowed to join the school soccer team (boys only) and marched myself to the principal's office without delay. I often recall what he told us that day: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." While that may sound arrogant, I've come to truly appreciate that advice - and the opinions of our principal - over the last year. I still think gender discrimination is wrong, but there is enough else on offer that I didn't feel the need to pursue that battle.


So we've done as the Romans - or rather, South Africans - do, or at least tried to. Basketball and baseball are off the table, and instead the kids are now invested in  netball, cricket, field hockey, horse riding, scuba diving, swimming, tennis, and (boys) soccer, as well as singing, marimbas, piano, saxophone, and flute. Not that sports and music are the only areas in life where you acquire new skills. They are just a good example for our experience here.

But acquiring new skills is only part of the equation. I'd also venture to state that everyone in our family is happier than before. I know I am happier as I'm no longer driving around town like crazy for any of this, as it is all done through the school, and the kids are probably happier too because I'm no longer giving "useful" hints on how to improve their skills. I may still yell "get the rebound" during a netball match, but I usually quickly shush when everyone is staring at me like I'm from a different planet.Which I might as well be when it comes to cricket. I no longer feel compelled to drag Jabulani to batting clinics and such to improve his game, as we did with baseball back in the U.S., because cricket merely feels like a pastime, while baseball was serious business. Why? It's just our mindset.I finally feel like I can truly enjoy watching whatever the kids are doing, but I had to move across an ocean and see our lives disrupted in many ways before I could unlearn my old obsessive habits.



Finally, if you've been reading this blog from the beginning, you will know that I've become much more relaxed - often by necessity, but still - about life in general. This is Africa, but it's not a pain, it's a gift.

Turning expat hassles into expat joys is just a matter of perspective.


Entire Expat Joys series:


4 comments :

Maria said...

This should be required reading for every expat (or prospective expat, for that matter.) Your kids are blessed to have a parent with such a fantastic attitude.

Sine said...

Maria, thanks for the nice feedback! My kids would say that they're also "blessed" with a mom who nags excessively, so it's all a matter of perspective:-).

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I think you have touched on a very important, and often missed, aspect of expat life. Adapting oneself to the local culture is not only wise but healthy. It is the best defense against becoming the ugly American or ugly {insert nationality}.

Sine said...

And it also helps give us a better understanding of people coming to our shores as refugees. We often fear that which we don't know, but if you've lived abroad among people who are different from yourself, you are more able to acknowledge the humanity of people you haven't lived among yet, rather than label them as "scary."