Parag Khanna, author of “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization,” shares how to raise multicultural, multilingual, all-American kids.
The first step is the hardest. It took months of preparation for my American family of four to relocate from New York City to London in 2011. Storage, bank accounts, taxes, schools—we had a never-ending list of chores.
But the next step is always easier. Moving from London to Singapore a year later was a snap: buying one-way tickets, renting an apartment online, changing SIM cards. Five years on, we’re not just expats but “perma-pats,” joining the nearly 9 million Americans who live abroad, many chasing opportunity rather than longing for home. We’ve got plans for mini sabbaticals in Berlin, Dubai, and San Francisco. Our goal is to live in a different city every year or two.
It has become impossible to imagine our two kids growing up any other way. My seven-year-old daughter recently announced her chosen career path as “explorer.” Having already notched 60 trips to 30 countries, it’s not clear that she’ll ever live anywhere for long. Our five-year-old son loves being on the move, too: He gets to see different cars and trucks in each city. Together, they are practically the poster children for the Samsonite scooter suitcases they ride as they whiz around airports. Taking trips to Thailand, Laos, and China is the norm for our kids. They’ve become bilingual in Hindi and English at home and learn Mandarin in the classroom. No student graduates from an international school in Singapore speaking fewer than three languages.
This is my plan to keep my kids from getting outsourced or automated. They’ll be multilingual. They’ll have global street smarts. They will prize mobility over sedentary nationality.
But they will still be as American as apple pie. The international culture they’re immersed in is dominated by American English and pop music. In a way, the more they move around, the more the common denominator remains being American—a global American. Or, in this age of cities driving the world forward, my daughter considers herself first and foremost a “New York-ista.”
The world is fraught with political populism and talk of borders going up. Don’t believe it. Today, every country in the world is capitalist. Dozens of countries are modernizing and offering world-class infrastructure and safe and healthy lifestyles. Around the world, globalization is marching forward on the shoulders of pragmatic governments strategizing for seamless connectivity to trade partners and markets—no matter what some politicians might say.
This is the future. I want my kids to be ready for it.