Whether you're on the cusp of an international move, or recently arrived in a new country, making such a move as a family is complicated! Two new books from local author and Amsterdam Mama Clarissa Gosling offer parents strategies for making the transitions to a new place and a new language easier for you and your children.
Clarissa Gosling is the author of two new books, Moving Abroad with Children and Raising Bilingual Children: When school speaks a different language. The first is a guide for families moving overseas in which Clarissa blends stories of her own move from the UK to the Netherlands with tips and ideas for readers moving internationally. The second book, Raising Bilingual Children, continues the international theme and is for families with children who speak different languages at home and school; Clarissa offers strategies for navigating foreign education systems, drawing on her experience of sending British children to a Dutch school.
Clarissa became an expat five years ago, settling in a village outside of Amsterdam with her husband and two small children. A native of Canterbury in Kent, she studied Physics at Oxford and worked as a librarian until the birth of her second child. She has blogged for ten years on a variety of subjects and written seriously for the last three. She finds the writing life compatible with motherhood, and the expat experience a rich and inspiring source of subject matter.
Tell us your story and how it led to writing your books?
Just over five years ago, while I was pregnant with my second child, my husband was offered a job in the Netherlands researching at the University of Amsterdam, which is one of the best places for him to work within his particular niche. We had already agreed that I would not be working after the baby was born, so that made it much easier to come here. Both our children were born in the UK, and we moved when my son was two and a half years old and my daughter was six months old. The books came out of my experience moving here, and I wrote them to help other people in a similar situation. Most books I’ve found on the topic were very specific to specific locations, and if that wasn’t the country you were moving to, it wasn’t helpful, so in my first book, Moving Abroad with Children, I tried to generalize it. The second book, Raising Bilingual Children, is more about specific situations of schooling children in different languages than your own, with all the hurdles you cross when you live somewhere and the kids go to school in a different language.
What is the best thing about living abroad? What is the hardest?
I love how relaxed it feels here. People are friendly and say hello, it’s a much more relaxed pace of life, especially with children. The Dutch let kids be independent, autonomous, and allow them to make decisions, and I can see my children thriving in that. The hard part is leaving all your support networks behind. Friends, family, are all left behind, and you have to work out the new people in a new language, and that’s hard. It takes time to build, but you get there. It can be difficult to ask for help, but most people are willing to help if they can.
What advice would you give someone moving abroad with their family?
The first thing I would say is to enjoy it. Treat it as an adventure, because that's what it is. Your enthusiasm will be a good example to the rest of the family. Then go out to explore and meet people. It can be lonely, but the best way I've found to overcome that is to be more outgoing than normal, not to close in on yourself. Although it will, more than likely, be hard at the beginning it won't stay that way. You will all learn to navigate your new surroundings and start to feel at home in your new place.
As for deciding on a school, you really need to sit down as a family and discuss what's important to you. The age of your children and how long you are planning to stay in the area are critical here, as well as whether you could afford international school fees if needed.
One thing I would say is not to underestimate the ability of your children, whatever age they are, to adapt and learn a language. While continuing their education in their mother tongue is an easy option, if available, think hard about whether that's actually the best option.
Personally, we moved here for the long-term and felt strongly that we wanted our children to become part of the local community. And so they were enrolled at the local Dutch school. Though if there were older, and facing exams in the near future I'm sure we would have spent longer making that decision. There is no right decision for everyone, so consider all the options and choose what works best for your family.
How did you publish your books and where are they available?
I self-published both titles. I got a cover designer to create the covers, and put the rest together and formatted it myself. I used Draft2Digital to create the file to upload, then I put it directly on Amazon and Kobo (including Bol.com). Draft2Digital is the distributor, and I used them to make the titles available on Apple, Barnes & Noble, Nook and other retailers. The paperbacks are also available through Amazon only.
What advice would you give someone trying to self publish?
Do it. It’s incredibly easy to do, and increasingly self-publishing is being taken more seriously across the industry. But you need to be careful to do it well. You need an editor and a proper cover design, and you need to be cognizant of genre expectations. Marketing and finding your readers can be tough, but you can learn a lot from people who have done it before, and there is a lot of information available. One source is the book How to Become a Successful Indie Author, by Craig Martelle.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a story for a fictional anthology about women overcoming abuse. It’s a bit different for me. I also have future plans for more fiction, mainly young adult fiction.
How can readers connect with you?
I’m on Instagram and Facebook, and I have a blog. Amsterdam writers and especially writers in Het Gooi might be interested in joining my new facebook group Gooise Schrijvers to connect with local writers. I’m always interested in getting involved with other writers and I'm available for readings or discussions.
Credits: Pic of globe and child's hands from Freepik