Lockers emptied. Check. End of Year School Camp survived. Check. Presentation Day endured. Check. Report cards received. Check. All this can mean just one thing – Summer Holidays have arrived! As those in the Northern hemisphere are preparing to bunker down for the Winter ahead, we in the Southern hemisphere have packed away the boots, scarves and jackets and are ready to don the sunglasses and sandals and embrace the warm season ahead. To celebrate the end of another school year and our first year back in our passport country, we are travelling north in search of sun, surf and sand for our Family Vacation. Every family has their own traditions and ideas of what constitutes a Family Vacation.
For many Monoculture kids, their family vacation traditions often begin when they are little. Families from Mothers’ Group, the neighbourhood pre-school, faith-based groups or sporting teams decide to go on a holiday together. If it works, they rebook the same location, at the same time for next year then press repeat. The kids are entertained by other kids and parents enjoy relaxing with other adults. As the kids grow, they look forward to hanging out with those same friends at that same location each year…as do the parents. Traditions are established, activities are revisited and friendships are developed and solidified around the experiences and memories of The Annual Family Vacation.
For Expatriate kids, however, a Family Vacation is often just that – a vacation where the family all holiday together…alone. When a family moves abroad, they leave behind their support network and long established friendships. In most cases, the family unit becomes the primary support network and one of the major benefits is the creation of a tight knit group who experience everything together – including holidays. For Expatriate kids, they actually look forward to hanging out with their family, experiencing diverse cultures and creating new memories in a variety of locations. In our case, we had a “no repeats” rule. There were so many amazing places to discover and immerse ourselves within that we made the choice not to revisit the same location twice. We did establish some traditions – eating meals together, taking ridiculous selfies and buying a small souvenir from each location. Relationships were solidified too, between children, children & parents and parents.
What happens though, when the two worlds of the Monoculture and the Expatriate culture collide? On Spring Break recently, my husband and I observed groups of kids together surfing, swimming, kicking balls, laying on towels, wandering the boardwalk, just as we did as kids. Bringing back happy childhood memories, we determined that our holiday location was safe enough to let our teenage sons roam free. Handing over a key to our accommodation, we announced the ‘Freedom Statement’ with much excitement. The reaction – absolutely nothing. No cheers, no racing from the table to begin exploring, no wry smiles – nothing! Having become so used to holidaying as a family, our Expatriate kids were quite happy to be with us, whether that meant exploring, surfing, bush walking, reading a book on the beach, eating, drinking – even shopping!
Other expat friends of ours told of their family’s experience. Early in their Family Vacation, the eldest son discovered that a number of his school friends (who had holidayed together in that location for years) were also in town. He was quickly caught up in the pack and spent the majority of the holiday hanging out with his mates. His parents thought this was fabulous as it showed he was cementing friendships. His sibling, however, was unimpressed. She thought they were going on a “Family Vacation” so with the absence of her brother during meals and activities, this did not count as a Family Vacation in her eyes. Having lived abroad for the majority of her life, she was accustomed to the family holidaying as a family unit – alone.
I am not sure which way our Family Vacation will go this year. In scenes possibly reminiscent of the Griswolds, we are hitching up the camper trailer loaded with surfboards, bikes, fishing rods, skateboards, the beach cricket set and rugby ball and heading five hours up the highway. Our campsite is located on the beach (why is it that campgrounds always have the best locations?), a stones throw away from barefoot bowls, a nine-hole golf course and a tidal creek, perfect for lazing in when the waves get too much. I wonder though, will I be enjoying a relaxing Family Vacation – making a dent in my Summer Reading List as the boys find friends with whom to hang and enjoy their first Australian Summer in 6 years or will my presence be required to participate in all the activities for which we have equipment thus not getting near my Summer Reading List but having lots of laughs?
Either way, Family Vacations provide the opportunity to establish traditions, develop and solidify relationships and create wonderful memories.