Raising Children away from Home

Raising Children away from home

Danica Š. Novosel

Raising children in a foreign country can be challenging. The International Family Fair (November 8th, Het Koorenhuis, The Hague) aims to help parents find the information and services they need while living in the Netherlands. Two team members from the International Family Fair share their view.

Ilona_EllyAn Interview with Ilona Preiksaite from Lithuania and Elly Huang from Taiwan, two of the team members behind this year’s International Family Fair . Ilona moved to The Hague from London in 2013 with her Dutch partner and their (then) 14 month old son. Elly, a mother to-be, has been living in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband since January 2014.

1. Ilona, What challenges have you faced while raising your child internationally?

Ilona: For me personally, it is quite difficult to accept the cultural differences in raising a child between my own culture and my partner’s (Dutch) culture. I have had some disagreements with him.

2. Can you describe your experience of raising a bilingual child?

Ilona: My son speaks mainly Dutch which I find difficult to understand. With his father he always speaks Dutch and I feel left out. He speaks Lithuanian, too, but TV and all his surroundings are in Dutch. My son is still very young but I am concerned that when he starts school I won’t be able to help him with his homework. Actually, this scares me a lot. Sometimes I’m afraid that I won’t have a close connection with him because of the language barrier.

3. Elly, how has your experience of pregnancy in The Netherlands been so far?

Elly: I am now in my 14th week. So far, I have been happy with the medical care provided to me here. My husband and I both prefer to have as little medical intervention as possible so I think the Dutch system suits us quite well. We decided to go for a small-scale midwifery practice and, so far, I’ve been seeing the same midwife. That kind of friendly and intimate setting really helps, because then you feel as if you’re talking to a friend about your pregnancy, not just some random stranger.  I have no experience with the prenatal care in Taiwan but the majority of people go to hospitals; I am not even sure whether we have the same midwife system as here in the Netherlands. However, from what I understand there would be more medical intervention in the Taiwanese system.

5. How do you find information regarding your pregnancy

Elly: As I said, the Dutch system takes a ‘hands off’ approach to pregnancy, at least that’s my impression, so I wouldn’t say that the information is that readily available,. But then that’s probably because your doctor or midwife doesn’t want to influence your choice. This can be a bit confusing or even worrying, but I always just ask my midwife to explain things , however small it may be. There are some English courses available for birth preparation, breastfeeding, etc. I found them through my midwife. I’m not sure if there is any website that compiles a list of courses available for international families/expats*.

6. What do you, as a mum and a mum-to-be, struggle with the most?

Elly: I don’t really feel as if my life has drastically changed since I found out I am pregnant. I have always been careful with my diet, so even in that aspect I also haven’t made many changes. I do, however, miss my family in Taiwan and the Taiwanese food, especially the freshly made tofu and the great variety of leafy vegetables. I think when you’re pregnant, you want get those close to you involved in every stage you go through. That’s much more difficult now. At least, thanks to modern technology I am able to send photos of the scans and keep my parents and siblings up to date about my pregnancy.

Ilona: As I mentioned earlier, I find it difficult to deal with the Dutch language. What also surprises me a lot is bad customer service. It often seems to me that the people serving me act like they are doing me the biggest favour. . I know that, culturally speaking, Dutch people are very direct but often I find customer service rude. To me this is very unusual. If someone treats you nicely, there is a better chance that you will come back again. I think that should be the main issue.

* Elly now knows that there is indeed a website that provides information on pregnancy and childbirth preparation courses for international families. This is one of many wonderful services provided by ACCESS.