From Dubai to Ghana, a journey through the eyes of children
With our “Santa Fe Around the World” project, we want to give our customers the opportunity to tell us more about their moving experience. Because moving to a new place can be challenging, we wanted to capture our customers’ side of their journey with us. With this series, we will be discovering their expectations, feelings and fears.
Here we present Mariam and Martino’s relocation experience, who moved from Dubai to Ghana with their two children.
What did your child/children think about moving to a new city/country? How did they find it? Were they excited or worried?
Mariam: We have two children; our daughter was 6 years old during our recent move and our son was 3 years old when we moved from Dubai to Ghana. Our daughter had previously done an international move to Dubai from Singapore at the age of two, but she was too young to remember it well. Our move to Ghana was the first move for our son.
They both handled the international move in very different ways; largely due to age but also due to personality. It’s important that expat parents keep that in mind and help each child process an international move accordingly.
Our daughter was both excited and worried. She didn’t want to leave her friends in Dubai; she had been looking forward to transiting to a ‘big school’ with them to start first grade and to wear a school uniform. But she was also excited about moving to Africa; the opportunity to see lots of wildlife, animals and nature. But was there a Legoland in Ghana, she wanted to know?
Our son was a bit too young to fully comprehend the life change, which made it both easy and difficult at the same time. He didn’t protest or say anything, but the first month in Ghana, he missed Dubai tremendously. Each time he looked up and saw an airplane in the sky, he asked “is that plane going to Dubai?” followed by “can I be on it?” As a mother it sometimes broke my heart, but I know young kids are very resilient and adapt rather quickly. A few months later and he says, “I want to live in Ghana forever!”.
To what degree has/have your child/children influenced your decision for moving?
To start off, I’ll share that I grew up as an expat child myself in the 80’s. By the time I was six years old I had lived in three countries as well. So, speaking from my own experience, I know that moving can be great for kids if handled correctly – if you acknowledge both the gains and the losses and don’t gloss over one or the other. I also believe it is possible for children to have a great childhood even if that childhood is a globally mobile one. More than geographical stability, children need love and comfort from their parents.
So our latest decision to move our family from Dubai to Ghana was taken in the context of this approach. I didn’t worry that our kids would adapt, but I did have concerns about the level of medical and health care we would have access to in Ghana, as a developing country. When you have children, these things take precedence, so you need to ensure that they are fully vaccinated, up-to-date on all their medical check-ups. During our go-see trip to Ghana, I specifically made it a point to check out the local health care clinics to get information and an idea of what living here with children would be like.
The other thing I’ll mention is this: I know had we stayed in Dubai longer (we had already lived there for four years), my kids would have had a great childhood there. Dubai is multicultural, diverse and a great place to raise third culture kids. Yet, the constant consumerism in Dubai can be mind-numbing and I felt my kids were living in this “air-conditioned bubble” where 5 star hotels, fancy vacations, and expensive play areas were becoming the norm. I wanted them to experience the real world, and both my husband and I agreed that a childhood in West Africa would be a breath of fresh air. It would shift the focus from materialistic things to enjoying the nature, wildlife and wide-open spaces and instil in our kids a sense of how lucky they were to have so much in a world where so many have so little. This thinking greatly influenced our decision to move with our children. Their grandparents need to fly longer to see them and vice versa, but we are all committed to making that happen.
How is your child/ are your children settling into their new home?
In general, they are both settling in well into our new home. For children, moving countries, cities, schools, and homes is a big change. Young kids sometimes struggle to voice their feelings or emotions but may act out in different ways or regress after reaching certain milestones.
In our household, we encourage them to miss their old home, stay in touch with their old friends, talk about their life in Dubai because it’s healthier to talk about it, than to just brush it under the rug. Children have to be taught that it’s okay to miss a place and your loved ones and that relocating comes with many different emotions.
At the same time, we encourage them to explore Ghana, make new friends and new memories to cherish. 8 months into our new adventure, both of them love living here. Their weekends revolve around playdates and birthday parties (their social calendar is often busier than ours!) and they are enjoying a simpler childhood here. In the evenings, they play outside with our neighbours kids and cycle/scoot around our compound.
If your child/children has/have started in their new school, how are they finding it? If not, what are their main expectations?
Schools are always the biggest factor when relocating with children. Our daughter attends the American school in Accra, which follows an IB program and is geared towards handling kids facing transition, a different curriculum and learning in different languages. She absolutely loves her new school, has settled in well and her only complaint is that there are no school uniforms!
Our son is very happy at his kindergarten too. Being more a creature of habit, he struggled at first when faced with new routines and new faces, but he loves going to school and would go there on the weekend too if he could!
What was the most challenging thing for your child/children (language, food, etc…)?
I think the most challenging thing for our kids was missing their friends, family and food in Dubai. In fact, one of the first things I did was visit some Middle Eastern supermarkets and restaurants because my kids apparently can’t survive without hummus! Luckily, there is a huge Lebanese community in Ghana and so our addiction to Middle Eastern food continues.
The most challenging period was the almost four months we spent in limbo. In moving, travelling, staying in different hotels and temporary accommodation while waiting for our container to arrive. The kids didn’t have much toys or books with them (just the few things we had packed in our suitcases) so the transition period over the summer was the toughest part for them. Once our container arrived, and we could unpack and setup our new home, things got a lot better. We had fewer tantrums and fights and slowly we established new routines.