Every afternoon, Jasmine Wang ’21 checks her phone on her way home, eagerly awaiting her father’s usual phone call, when she updates him about her day at school.
Because her father lives in Hong Kong for business purposes, Wang has lived in the U.S. with only her mother and brother since she was a young child. Nevertheless, Wang knows that her father supports her from thousands of miles away, she said.
“Of course, from time to time, I’ve thought about what it would be like to have both parents [living with me], but it doesn’t make me sad, it just makes me contemplative
,” Wang said. “Even though my dad is not physically [in the U.S.], I can find comfort in knowing that he’s always [here for me] if I need him, and he’s always down to support and talk to me.”
There is an increase of Asian families that have a parent living abroad.
According to Reuters, Asian parents often send their children abroad with their mothers, due to dissatisfaction with the rigid educational structure their countries. Other families live abroad in order to nurture their children’s English skills, which are crucial in Asian society. Many families also believe that learning English will open up a variety of future opportunities.
According to the Korea Educational Development Institute, more than 18,600 Korean families lived separately in 2011, compared to 4,600 in 2001. These families are considered “goose families” in Korea or “astronaut families” in China, because the fathers usually remain in Asia and constantly fly between countries.
Students discuss how they value their time when their family is together.
Wang said she finds joy when her entire family is together.
“Because [my dad] isn’t here that much, it makes the time our family is able to spend all together all the more special,” Wang said. “I get to spend time with him during school holidays, for example, so that’s a bonus.”
Nancy Zhang ’21, whose father also lives and works in Hong Kong, has lived with just her mother since she was four years old.
“We really value the time when we’re together,” Zhang said. “Probably three or four times a year we are all together, [but] when I was younger it was even less. We go on family dinners and other family activities.”
Students’ relationships with their parents may be affected by separation.
General Practitioner Mark Braunstein said the environment children grow up in during their first few years shapes their perceptions regarding family separation.
“The most important thing during one’s childhood is what happens before age five, and going even further, the child’s environment before age two,” Braunstein said. “If [the child] knows [the parents] are there, it gives them an inner sense of stability and reassurance that they are being taken care of.”
Students’ relationships with their parents can also change if they are separated, Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research teacher and counselor Michelle Bracken said.
“I think we learn about relationships from our parents,” Bracken said. “Even though teenagers don’t always like their parents, there is still something that we are learning from them, so when the parent isn’t there, it does have an effect on the relationship with the parent.”
The experience of having a parent abroad can differ, depending on each family’s particular situation, Bracken said.
“Some students think that having a parent abroad does not greatly affect their emotional or mental well-being,” Bracken said. “To compensate for the loss, students have different ways to approach the situation. Every situation is unique. When you’re in middle school and in high school, you start to recognize that people have different situations than yours.”
Students discuss how they cope with the absence of a parent.
Ben Kim ’21 said he maintains close contact with his father, who is often in Korea working in the newspaper industry.
“I call my dad every week, so it’s not that bad,” Kim said. “I guess it would be nice to have my dad watching me at [events like] fencing tournaments, but I’m used to it.”
Zhang’s family dynamic fostered her independence at a very young age, she said.
“I have more freedom, but I’m more responsible for myself, my grades and my health,” Zhang said. “I’m able to plan my trips [individually], like flying [in an airplane] by myself at a young age, for example. Sometimes when kids leave high school [for] college, they are dependent on their parents, and this could be a huge issue, but this won’t be for me.”
Although there are downsides, students say that they have learned a lot from the experience of having a parent abroad.
Similarly, Grace Shin ’21 grew up with a father who frequently traveled to Seoul and eventually moved to Korea when she was 13 years old.
“I think I’ve definitely become more independent because I have to take more responsibilities at home, stuff my dad would normally do, like locking the door at night or taking out the trash or cleaning the kitchen, I’ll help do that,” Shin said. “I’ve been living like this for a while, so this has been my normal routine.”
Despite the advantages of gaining maturity, a child
living apart from a parent could potentially lead to a lack of communication between the two, Bracken said.
“If you have a parent who is gone for most of the time and you see them for two months in the summer, they aren’t going to know about the whole 10 months of your life,” Bracken said. “As a teenager, you change a lot during that time. So that person will not understand when you start talking about some things. They won’t understand because they haven’t been present and they haven’t been there. How that affects you, there’s no formula.”
Although Zhang is not able to see her parents often, she said that she is comforted by the fact that she knows they both love her, regardless of how far away they live.
“I don’t think it’s terrible to always have parents overseas,” Zhang said. “Although it sounds bad, as long as both of your parents care about you, you feel loved and they’re there when you need them, then it’s okay.”