The Value of a Global Mindset
I'm an American mother who raised my 3 children in France and China. Disciplining them was hard because of cultural norms, but my kids cherish their upbringing.
Written by Alcynna Lloyd Sep 9, 2023, 4:45 AM EST
Sarah Bajc, 57, and her three children have lived all over the world as she moved often for work. Bajc said that raising children overseas was difficult, especially during rebellious teenage years. Setting boundaries, particularly when they bucked a country's cultural norms, was a big challenge.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Sarah Bajc, 57, about raising her children overseas. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My name is Sarah Bajc and I am 57 years old. I was born and raised in rural Michigan, but have traveled all over the world. I have lived in countries like France, China, Malaysia, and most recently, Panama.
Before moving abroad, I lived in Atlanta for 15 years with my ex-husband and three children. In 2000, we moved to France for a while. At the time, my daughter was in the first grade, while one of my sons was in pre-K and the other was just 2 years old.
In 2007, my family and I relocated to Beijing when I was offered a role with Microsoft. At the time, all of my children were in middle school or high school.
Throughout our travels, my boys were pretty flexible, but it was harder on my daughter. There was a time she hated me for about a year. I don't think being overseas had anything to do with it. Children at a certain age are just difficult and it's very much attached to puberty. My kids are all in their late 20s and early 30s now. Though they chose to settle in the US, they thank me all the time for giving them an international upbringing.
The reality is that they now understand the value of a global mindset.
Living overseas has given my children perspective on who they are and where they fit in the world. I wanted to immerse my family in the culture so that they could build a global mindset. While living overseas as a family, I though it was important to have an open mind as every culture has their own ways of raising children. When we moved to China, my ex-husband and I chose to live in a Chinese community as opposed to living in an expat community — which is not the standard. Part of the decision was financial, but the other was to immerse ourselves in a different culture. My kids attended and graduated from an international school with other expat kids. On school breaks, our family would travel around China and into southeast Asia, visiting countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, and Indonesia.
Because my children had a lot of interactions with locals, they each became fluent in Mandarin. Most foreigners never learn to speak the language, so nobody ever suspected they could. Whenever we would visit the United States, they would speak the language to keep their conversations private.
Being fluent Mandarin speakers gave us a lot of inroads with the local Chinese community and because of that, we made a lot of good friends. It would not have been possible without the language skill.
Disciplinary challenges can arise living abroad.
When raising kids overseas, one of the biggest problems is permissiveness. I think that's because, as an expat, you're taken away from normal support structures. On top of that, most expats are in the middle to upper income levels. So problems that are associated with wealth and class are exacerbated. At 13 years old, one of my sons drank beer at a bar. Nobody stopped him because he was a foreigner. Situations like that can create disciplinary challenges for expat kids, especially if they know they can get away with their behavior.
I consider myself to be a hands-on parent, but there was a time that I had a housekeeper because I had three kids and worked a full-time job. I had to remind the housekeeper not to clean my kids' rooms. It was really important to me that they did that themselves, because I wanted my children to be independent and competent. That way when they went out into the world, they could take care of themselves.
Living abroad created a stronger bond among my children
In 2016, I moved to Panama and have lived in the country for seven years now. I spent the first six years working at an international school teaching economics, but am now retired. I chose the area because it's close to the US, where my family and friends still live. It also has really nice weather, and the country is politically and financially stable.
My new husband and I live on 16 acres of rainforest land, with a private 600-meter beach cove. In 2022, we finished construction on our permanent two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, which cost us about $150,000 to $200,000. In 2023, we opened a small eco resort (called Camaroncito EcoResort & Beach) on our land that has a restaurant, bar, and beachfront cabanas.
The hardest part about living in Panama is being away from my kids. Every year, I go back to the States for an extended trip of three to four weeks to visit them. They also fly down from the US to visit me and we stay in constant contact on WhatsApp.
All three of my kids have continued to travel internationally. I think that's one of my biggest points of pride. I must have done something right if they are such a good unit together. My responsibility as a parent was to prepare my children to be successful in whatever path they wanted to take. If any of them ever choose to live outside of the United States in the future, they're prepared to do that with confidence and comfort.