Why Growing Up Abroad Is The Experience Of A Lifetime: An Expats Tale
We interviewed Thomas in his home in the Besiktas district of Istanbul. Thomas moved here six years ago with his wife and two young children.
"Turkey's been really good to us," Thomas says. "My career has gone in a new direction and my wife has found teaching work here. But the biggest plus has been the impact on our children. We are so impressed with the educational opportunities available to our two kids - they have just gone from strength to strength. They both attend private schools - which we could never afford in the UK - and are learning all kinds of skills, from core subjects to extracurricular activities like horse riding and chess. They have lots of friends from all over the world, which has expanded their horizons immeasurably. At 13 and 15 they can both talk knowledgeably about all kinds of subjects. I am proud of them, as you can tell!
Thomas's own upbringing wasn't quite so stable. We persuade him to tell the tale of his remarkable childhood.
"I definitely didn't have what you would call a 'normal' upbringing. I learned numbers in Malaysia, counting the geckos on my ceiling. While my peers back home were learning parts of speech I was discovering (first hand, unfortunately) the effects of malaria.
“Growing up overseas wasn't always easy, especially as we moved quite a lot. My father's military career took him all over the world. When I was about six we moved to Malaysia. We were based on an army barracks but my younger brother and I often went on trips with Dad when he got time off, up rivers in Borneo to stay in long houses and on long jungle treks where we would collect roots and even grubs to cook over the fire. It was an incredible experience. He's a real outdoorsman, my dad. I have definitely inherited some of his adventurous spirit.
“When I was 11 we moved to Indonesia. I remember my mum was reluctant to go, she'd settled in Malaysia and made good friends there. The posting to Indonesia was a more rural one, too, and she was worried about that. But my dad was sure we could handle it and said it would be a new adventure. Not six months after arrival I contracted malaria. I don't remember much as I was very sick, but my parents still recall the experience vividly.
“We were on holiday in the middle of nowhere when I fell ill. I had a bad fever and became delirious. There were no medical facilities to speak of. My dad drove us for three hours in his jeep to a larger town for help, but when we got there the only medical facility was closed and the doctor was nowhere to be found. By then I was slipping in and out of consciousness. My dad knew that if my temperature didn’t fall - and soon - I would die.
“My parents took me to every guesthouse in town but no one would take us in, no matter how much money my dad offered them - they said I would die and they didn't want me to die in their home. As I'm a parent myself now I can only imagine how frantic my mother and father were by this point.
“Eventually, in despair they found a room in the town's tiny brothel. My mother put me in the bath and filled it with cold water, while Dad and my brother went out to find ice to bring my temperature down. Dad said they bought every bag of ice in town between them. After a night which my mum said was the longest of her life, my temperature came down and I was well enough to make the long trip to Jakarta, where I finally got the medical help I needed.
“After that, Dad didn't take too much persuading. He transferred to Germany - no malarial insects, no jungle and no adventurous excursions. My dad never said anything but I know he missed the excitement of living and working in South East Asia. We boys certainly did - until we got a bit older and discovered girls, which I thought were far more interesting and mysterious than any jungle!
“I never stopped wanting to travel, even after having a family of my own. So when the chance came to move to Istanbul I persuaded my British wife (who has never lived abroad) to give it two years. Thankfully, she agreed and six years later, here we are. Istanbul has been an exciting and a great place for our children to grow up. Turkey's incredibly family friendly and we have made some wonderful friends in the city. We're looking forward to exploring more of the country on our holidays. I'm older and more sensible now though - we won't be going to any malarial zones!”