‘You are going to Chile to live with your Aunt’ 

The words were like a wave washing over me suddenly, leaving me drenched, confused and gasping for oxygen. Did I hear that correctly? I’m leaving Jamaica, my school and my friends…to go where?   

The decision had been made. My brother and I were heading to Santiago, Chile to live with our aunt. Boarding the flights from Kingston to Miami to Panama for our final connecting flight I was filled with trepidation. Our lives up until then had been relatively stable. Living with our grandparents, everything we needed was in a tight radius. I could walk to school, church, the supermarket, the post office, the pharmacy and my bestie’s house within fifteen minutes. In a matter of weeks and everything went topsy turvy and I was saying goodbyes. 

High school photo before leaving Jamaica

Flying from Jamaica to what felt like the end of the earth was a huge change in my life and my adolescent brain hadn’t planned forward. So, I planned in simple stages – I’ll finish high school in Chile and then I’ll go right back home to Jamaica and stay there forever. Little did I imagine how many more times in my life I would move, how much change I would embrace and how I would be changed as a result.  

When I look back on that experience, I think about what would have been useful to make this transition work better for me. So, if you are moving with a teenager – here are a few suggestions. I’ll bear in mind that times have changed, and that technology has made many things easier to manage. 

  1. Tell your teen why you are moving. It could be for job opportunities or perhaps because of a family situation. Whatever it is, tell them why and that their needs are being considered.  
  1. Give them lots of notice, if possible. When we moved from Florida in the USA to London in the U.K., we gave our children a full eight months’ notice (they were 8 and 11 at the time). When we made plans to leave the UK for Canada, we gave them a full year’s notice. This helped them immensely and made the moving process extremely smooth, especially for our 14-year-old who needed time to adjust to the fact that she was leaving her friends and her life in London.  
  1. Make them part of the conversation. With both moves we made our children part of the discussion. What did they think? How did they feel? What were their fears if any? We talked it through and checked in on them often. Gradually over time, we shifted the conversation towards what we needed to do for the future. 
  1. Share information about the new location – the good, the bad, the ugly, so that they are prepared. We talked about the weather in the UK, and in Canada, for that matter. But we also talked about being able to meet their cousins who lived in Europe or going snowboarding. Show them pictures of the neighbourhood where you plan to live.  
  1. Include them when you start looking at schools and ask them what’s important to them. When they are in primary/elementary it doesn’t matter that much but especially for teens, it helps to know something about the high schools you have shortlisted. In today’s world, they can take virtual tours and do skype or zoom interviews.  
  1. Research carefully and discuss the programmes that various high schools offer e.g., IB, A’ levels, GCSE, AP etc. I remember thinking that I was going to miss out on A’ levels because I didn’t know then that the International Baccalureate is an excellent programme that is recognised globally. I’ll write more on schooling in another post! 
  1. Use bargaining chips that make the move sweeter along with being functional. Perhaps a new wardrobe? Or a phone upgrade (to make staying in touch with friends easier)? A chance to visit or do something that they have dreamt of. My children were thrilled to each get their own rooms and a phone as they would be going to school on their own. For my son, he was able to watch an English Premier League game live. 
  1. Plan for a soft landing! With both moves we opted not to interrupt their school year, which, from experience, I can tell you feels traumatic. We also moved during the summer and created an itinerary of things to do and people to meet during the first few weeks so they could start settling in and feeling more at home.  
  1. Keeping in touch with friends is essential. I met Nwaka in Chile and stayed in touch when I moved. I faithfully mailed her handwritten letters regularly. She told me her then boyfriend would laugh when she pulled out my long letters from fat envelopes and ask, “is that an installment in her autobiography?”  Now, it’s much easier thankfully! My kids are connected on Snapchat, Instagram, Whatsapp, TikTok and Fortnite. Encourage your kids to keep in touch with friends and be understanding if they want to stay up late or get up super early to connect because of a time difference.   

This list isn’t exhaustive. There is always more to consider, as each family and each teen is different. The one thing you should avoid is making promises, you don’t know when or what the future holds with each move.

And the one thing you should do is be patient, teenagers are moody humans. Be gentle but work constantly and consistently on keeping your teen geared towards embracing change. Take the time to connect with them often. The truth is that for all the wonder of the new location, it’s what’s happening at home that really makes the move work for them. 

Hope there was something useful in this for you. Keep visiting. I’ll continue to share more.  

Thank you for stopping by. Please share your comments below and visit again soon. Don’t forget to subscribe and share. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2020. All Rights Reserved.

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