Parenting Overseas


I’ve had people write about going travelling with kids and people of different nationalities parenting in the UK, but bizarrely never had anyone share the experience of being an expat. Again, relocating is one of those things I’ve always imagined doing as a family, but as yet haven’t managed to go beyond dreaming about.

Here Kate Farr gives us the inside info about life in Hong Kong:

  • If you’d have told me ten years ago that I’d have two kids, born in Shanghai and Hong Kong – and that I’d be eight years into living in Asia, I would never have believed you!

  • When my husband and I first arrived in Hong Kong from London in 2009, we had no idea that we would end up staying for so long, but after a few months we both fell hard for the city and had a fantastic couple of years partying and making some great friends.

  • I’d always assumed that we would probably return to the UK to have kids, but just as we discovered that I was pregnant with our now-six-year-old, my husband was offered a move to Shanghai for work. We decided it sounded like a great adventure, eventually moving to China when I was four months pregnant.

  • At first I was fine – busy setting up our new place, taking Mandarin classes, doing a bit of freelance writing and running all over Shanghai with all that fantastic second trimester energy!

  • It was only after the dust had settled that it dawned on me that I’d essentially just lost my support network overnight, right when I was about to need it most.

  • I’m not a natural-born networker, but I forced myself to answer every expat forum post, attend every coffee morning and join every pregnancy group, and was lucky to find a small group of great women from all over the world that really I clicked with. As it turned out, this was just in the nick of time, as soon I really needed friends to lean on.   

  • My eldest son’s birth – at one of Shanghai’s fanciest private hospitals (thank God for health insurance) – was incredibly traumatic. A failed induction, three failed epidurals, and eventually, after hours of agonising labour without pain relief, a crash C-section under general anaesthetic. At one point, my husband didn’t know if either of us was alive or dead, and to this day, I have no recollection of meeting my son for the first time, several hours after his birth.

  • I felt I’d completely failed to give birth “properly”, and, from the moment we left hospital, I also felt totally overwhelmed. My son wasn’t a great sleeper for a really long time, and I was gradually sucked into what I now know was PND, with a hefty dose of anxiety thrown in.

  • Living in Shanghai compounded this anxiety – daily life in China can be extremely complicated, bureaucratic and stressful – all magnified when you are a new mum. I was lucky to have a tight-knit group of new friends, as well as close friends back home, but even then struggled to admit to anyone that I wasn’t coping well.

  • We eventually made the decision to leave Shanghai, and returned to Hong Kong at the end of 2012. It felt like coming home, and my anxiety eased almost immediately.

  • Nearly four years later, my youngest son’s birth was completely different. I had a planned caesarean in a government hospital, and I’ll be forever grateful to Hong Kong’s excellent public health system for making it such a positive experience.

  • My kids have only known Hong Kong as home. Although they hold British passports, they have actually only ever visited the UK a couple of times and consider it to be a pretty exotic destination!

  • Parenting kids in a different environment and culture to your own is a bit of a weird one. You come to realise that your cultural reference points are totally different, and that their norms and comfort zones vary wildly to yours.

  • For example, we spent a month this summer with my Mum and Dad, who live in France. One day, my eldest son burst into tears. I thought he was missing his friends, but it turns out that he was actually missing his favourite dim sum!

  • The boys also find driving around everywhere to be wildly exciting, as we don’t have a car in Hong Kong, so it’s relatively easy to entertain them when we visit, just by popping to Tesco!

  • A big challenge is that our kids regularly have to face losing close friends to relocation, and it’s one of the hardest things to help them deal with. So many expats stay a couple of years then move on; it’s tough to be the ones who stay.

  • We consider Hong Kong our home, and so wanted our kids to learn Cantonese, the local language. Our eldest attends a local primary school, and our youngest will start at a Cantonese-medium kindergarten in the autumn. It’s not an easy choice for non-Chinese speaking families, but we feel it’s an important part of helping our children connect with their home city.

  • That said, Cantonese-speaking foreigners are something of a rarity in HK, and my son often pretends not to speak any Chinese, as he hates people staring at him and commenting. I hope in time that will change to pride in what is a pretty impressive ability.

  • The most important thing I can suggest to anyone relocating overseas is to get outside the expat bubble and explore. Get a feel for what most people’s everyday life looks like; try to learn a bit about the local culture, try food that you’ve never encountered back home. Embrace the differences.

  • Be open-minded. You’re sure to miss some things from back home (in my case Sainsbury’s, bonfire night and a garden!), but you’ll find other things that are far better in your new location (incredible views, beaches just ten minutes from the city, and the BEST dim sum!).  

  • I’ve met plenty of people who are on a plane back to their home country every couple of months and, unsurprisingly, never really feel settled. Give yourself time to feel at home in your new location. If you’re feeling homesick, there’s always Skype.

  • I actually dislike referring to myself as an expat, which I feel is a loaded term (although I appreciate this is a personal choice). We’re proud immigrants to Hong Kong. 

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  • Reply amybmoreno June 11, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    As part of a mixed couple, who have spent time living in each other’s country, I really enjoyed this. If the op reads this, I’d be interested to know how you’ve found learning Cantonese yourself? (I know you said your older son is fluent). I’ve been told it a a very hard language to learn!

  • Reply Becky Hunter-Kelm June 15, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks so much for this! I’m raising my kids in Istanbul and really identify with most of your post. No garden or car, trips to the UK being s novelty. My kids missed Turkish food when we were back. We also made the challenging choice to put our kids in Turkish speaking pre school. Keep enjoying the adventure xx

    • Reply accidentaltaitai July 7, 2018 at 5:18 am

      Hi Becky!

      Thanks for your lovely comment! How do your kids get on with the Turkish? Kate x

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