It’s nearly Christmas, and as we get ready to welcome the festive season, it’s a time when we reflect on Christmases past. For many of us, we recall time spent with loved ones; special family traditions and of course the endless school concerts, assemblies and Nativity plays that had a significant role to play in our childhoods. 

For most parents educated in their home countries, holiday celebrations and activities were reinforced at school. The school then, was essentially a vehicle that passed on the values, beliefs (and sometimes religion) of the broader society and culture onto the children.   

As an expatriate living in a foreign country, the experience that your child is likely to have with holidays, traditions and culture are likely be quite different to your experiences, especially if you were raised in your home country.  

Whilst schools back home are able to reinforce specific holidays and traditions, private schools in Dubai are very limited here to how much emphasis they can place upon individual religious holidays and celebrations within their school curriculum.  Of course this makes sense, given that we live in an Islamic country and considering that the UAE already offers residents religious freedom, which they are free to explore on their own. All schools in Dubai place importance on, and are responsible for, giving opportunities to celebrate and learn about the local culture, language and traditions of the UAE.  However, parents should also understand just by nature of living as an expatriate abroad, that they will need to connect their child to their own culture(s) and traditions more actively. 

Living in a multicultural hub like Dubai means that schools become natural places where many cultures mix and meet.  Children get access to peers from a range of cultural and religious backgrounds and this offers them first-hand knowledge about diversity. They learn about Diwali and Ramadan from their friends and this natural education has many benefits. In this way, children’s perspectives become much more ‘global’ than ‘local’. 

In the 1950s, a sociologist called Ruth Useem, came up with the term, ‘third culture kids’ (or TCKs) which referred to children who lived outside the culture of their parents, within a new culture or country. Over time, many of these children would develop a completely ‘new’ culture or ‘third culture’ of their own through their unique experiences. In this way, TCKs have cultural experiences that are quite different to their parents. This can make it difficult for children to personally relate to, or connect to, their parents’ culture(s). Over the longer term, this can often cause the feeling in older adolescents that they ‘don’t belong’ or can make it difficult for them to easily adjust back into their home countries.

It’s important for expat parents to know that they have to take a more active role in keeping their cultures alive for their children who are living abroad. This means they can seek out communities that share similar cultural festivals and celebrations, they can attend external school events and parents can even help their children host small cultural gatherings (e.g. Guy Fawkes, Halloween parties, etc.) for their friends. This allows children to learn and share more about their own culture.

Since Dubai has such a large expatriate community, it offers families a wide variety of options for cultural activities and celebrations. Whilst schools can’t always offer in-school activities, parents can certainly look for events or activities that might be organized by groups and committees outside school hours. Attending these events can be a great way to build community and reinforce your own culture to your child. 

This month, there are many organized ‘winter’ activities and ‘fayres’ across different schools so be sure to check your child’s school calendar or even visit some of the other events going on in and around Dubai for ‘winter’ and Christmas.  

By Francesca McGeary

Francesca McGeary and her colleague, Alison Schofield are educational consultants from IngeniousEd, in Dubai. Together they run a website for parents about schooling and education issues:

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Schools in Dubai – Getting the right fit for your child 

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