Oasis Magazine Articles

Rainbow of Tomorrow

By Riju Shrimali

February 01, 2014

It must be heavenly indeed, to just smile at another human being; to smile, just because life has been kind enough to put you two at the same place, at the same time so that you can draw stick-men together, scribble maps of the world yet unborn and worship those alien heroes who adults are too dense to comprehend.

The clock struck 8.40am and it was time for Sylvia to bid goodbye to her 4 year old son Andrea. The family had arrived in Cairo only a week ago and it was Andrea’s first day in school. When Sylvia turned to take a last look at her child before she left him for 5 hours, Shiv who was standing close to Andrea, flashed a warm, wide smile to her. Gradually it became a routine. Every morning Shiv’s angelic smile would welcome Andrea and send off Sylvia. “Shiv’s smile has kept me in Cairo. I was worried because when Andrea was admitted to school, he could neither understand nor speak English. This is our first posting outside our home in Italy”, she said to me.  Andrea and Shiv have been best friends. Now, there is a little bit of Italy in Shiv and little bit of India in Andrea.

I spoke with Mr. Richard White who is currently the head teacher at Maadi British International School. He has been in the field of child development and education for over 25 years. He says that a multicultural environment makes a child more open and adventurous vis-à-vis social relationships. While parents often form their society and friendship only gradually in a new place, children tend to take ownership to seek out their companion or playmate independently. Moreover, children enter into these friendships without the adult mental barriers of language, nationality and religion. They devise their own code of communication. Teachers who have been working with children at Kindergarten stage in international schools concede that most kids choose their playmates across language and skin colour without outside help. 

Mr. White made another heartening observation. He has noticed that friendship among children of diverse nationalities motivates them to acquire a variety of life skills thus making them more well-rounded individuals. Li from South Korea is excellent at mathematics. Elton from Zimbabwe is a talented soccer player. Li comes from a culture where academic performance is valued over any other acquisition. Elton on the other hand has acquired soccer skills almost as an heirloom. However when I spoke to the parents I found that ever since the children became friends, Li has been practicing dribbling till late evening and Elton has not been getting exhausted of math drills. Exposure to different cultures exposes children to many more skills which are cool enough to acquire.

There is a sad patch even in fairy tales. It is end of the final term. Shiv comes back home and commands his mother to pack his bags.

“And do it quick, because we are leaving tomorrow”, he says.

“O.K…but where are we going to?” his mum looks quizzically at him.

“To Italy, of course! Andrea is going for good and I need to join him…” Shiv replies, in a matter-of-fact tone.

Transience of friendship is a given in expatriate life. While the pain cannot be denied, it perhaps makes the children more resilient and accepting of vagaries of life. As adults, we often repeat the cliché that change is the only constant; children however practice it better.  Moreover, thanks to the information age, connectivity is not a challenge. Friends may be separated by geography yet they may not drift apart emotionally. An expatriate culture is likely to enhance our children’s drive to maintain friendships irrespective of distance and make them better in managing long distance relationships than us.

Some families fear that a multicultural environment may confuse a kid about his native culture and tradition. It may give him a sort of identity crisis. Experts suggest that it is important for a child to feel a sense of rootedness. This root could be a stable immediate environment; a school that offers a sense of purpose to future and a family that offers a sense of homecoming. Rootedness is linked with sense of past, present and future. Therefore, it is  recommended that children travel back to their native countries, at regular intervals, so that they have a sense of their past. It is also advised that children know their native language.  Research shows that the more a person is comfortable with his own identity, greater is his openness and tolerance to others.

Over the past few years, societies across the world have been in flux, either economically or politically. As time passes, perhaps we adults would not be able to fathom the changing nature of societies. We have our own stereotypes and world view which are rather crystallized by this age. Hence it is important that our children are robust enough to be able to persevere and take charge when we no longer can. Change management, perseverance, breadth of experience, social confidence, ownership of self are some of the life skills which are likely to be in even higher demand in future. It is good news that friendships that go beyond skin-color, parentage, nationality and language are going to be the ethos of tomorrow. Such friendships will establish a blue print for a future that is far more tolerant and accommodating than today hopes Mr. White and we just say Amen or Ham-du-Allah or Om Shanti or.... maybe Shiv, Andrea, Li or Elton could help me complete this list.

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