what it’s like to be an expat kid

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] grew up as an expat kid. By the time I was born, my family were living in Brunei, a small country in Borneo, where my Dad had taken on a contract with the country’s new airline. My school was a melting pot of Australian, American, Kiwi, and British kids plus pretty much every nationality under the sun; it gave real meaning to the term International School. One of the reasons I loved reading a Cup of Jo’s Motherhood Around the World series was the insight and details into other children growing up in a different culture, like I did. I still find the whole concept of third culture living fascinating to this day.

Here’s a list of some of the things that were completely the norm for me growing up in Asia.

-No shoes in the house! Every house you went to, shoes were taken off at the door. I spent a huge chunk of my life walking around barefoot. I still have a love/hate relationships with socks. Mostly hate.

-Since most of my teachers were Australian, I grew up on Australian children’s stories. Morning assemblies would start with us singing something like Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree and I was terrified of a monster called the Bunyip in a story called Dot & The Kangaroo. In fact, my dad would terrify us kids into coming home before dark or else the Bunyip would come get us. My absolute favourite book was called Wombat Stew.

-It’s not a real meal unless rice is involved.

-In fact, eating is like some kind of national sport all over Asia. It wasn’t unusual to have a snack before and after main meals; little and often seems to be the rule. Also, rice, rice, rice.

-Sports Days would start with the Hakka. Always. I loved reliving it all during the Rugby World Cup last year, although admittedly, it is cooler watching the All Blacks do it than a bunch of scrawny teenage boys.

-Talking of sports, all physical education was mixed boy and girl. Football, netball, rugby, baseball; whatever the sport we were learning to play, we were ALL learning to play it.

– My school didn’t have a uniform. It wasn’t until I went to a much preppier senior school at 16 that I had to wear one. I loathed it.

– It wasn’t unusual to spend half term or weekends taking trips to neighbouring countries like Malaysia or Bali; much like you would take quick European breaks now.

-My Duke of Edinburgh Award was in a rainforest

-Actually, thinking about it now, a lot of school trips took place in a rainforest.

– It wasn’t unusual to have wild monkeys invade your garden. They’d raid our fruit trees and hang out on the roof.

-Having tiny lizards crawl on the walls is no big deal. In fact, I kind of miss it.

-The local BOMBA, or Fire Department, were also the resident snake wranglers. With their big boots, a sack and a pincher tool, they’d bag it up and take it away.

-So. Much. Swimming. You’d swim at school, after school, on weekends, at the pool or at the beach. It wasn’t unusual to turn up to school in board shorts. Does this explain my overuse of ‘dude’?

I loved growing up abroad. I didn’t know any other way of life. Reflecting back on it, I can see how it’s shaped who I am today; my laidback but have a go attitude. And it’s not just me, I’m still friends with many of the people I went to school with and we all share this personality trait. Strange, right?

Spot the bob haired uniform dodger below….


Author: Angela Shek

just a clueless mama in East London

12 thoughts on “what it’s like to be an expat kid”

  1. Love this! I’m Asian, so I’m naturally obsessed with rice. Haha! And also … how amazing re: ALL the rainforest references?!?! I can’t even imagine. You grew up in a place that a lot of us can only dream to visit!


  2. At the time (and especially at that age!) it was just another regular school ‘thing’- I can’t believe how much I took it for granted! And, oooooh rice. Honestly, I am never fully satisfied with my meal unless it’s rice!


  3. Aw Angela this sounds brilliant! I grew up abroad too, we moved to Luxembourg when I was 3 – infinitely drearier, wetter and colder than your childhood but it was still a wonderful experience. I’m so grateful to my parents for moving, I quite like having a different cultural background to the people I know over here! We didn’t have uniform either, and gym was always mixed – so were classes, I have friends who were split by gender even in secondary school!
    Your half term trips sound dreamy too, and I think I would have loved rainforest class trips instead of hiking around our woods haha! xx


  4. I agree, I am SO grateful to my parents for moving! However, I would have LOVED to hike around the woods back then! (and still do now!) Luxembourg looks beautiful, you lucky thing!

    I didn’t realised it was anything unusual until I came to the UK to visit relatives- and I’d be so confused as to why boys and girls were always split or that having sandwiches for ‘tea’ was actually dinner (because…no rice?)


  5. This sounds like such a great childhood to be honest! And oh my god, I actually remember Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree from school! Loved that little song I did.

    Rainforest school trips sound freakin’ amazing.

    Meg | A Little Twist Of…


  6. This definitely sounds like a fun childhood, even if you had to move around a lot. I grew up in one spot until highschool but we moved to the other side of town. So glad you shared this post! 🙂
    x Kenzie


  7. This is so lovely. Wish I’d had the chance to grow up in Malaysia (it would have happened if not for the economic crash in the mid-90s!) – I love the little glimpses into SE Asian childhood like the lizards on the wall, the rainforest DofE (so much more exciting than doing Bronze in the Chelmsford fields…), and the fact that snake wrangling is a national service! xx and P.S., now I have Kookaburra stuck in my head!

    Tamsin / A Certain Adventure


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