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Growing up in a foreign country

by SOPHIE MCCARRICK [email protected]

For many residents in the Algarve, “where are you from?” is a question asked on a regular basis.

For adults, this question may not propose any difficulties. However, if you ask this to an expat child or young adult, the response will more than likely be: “do you mean where I was born, or where I live now? Or do you mean where my parents are from, or where my passport is from?”

There are an increasing number of children growing up in the Algarve, accompanying their parents to live in a new society.

Many children and young adults may find defining “where home is” quite complicated and studies by psychologists and sociologists have come up with a term to describe these children – Third Culture Kids (TCK).

Sociologist David Pollock developed this description: “A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of their developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.”

TCKs are said to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, race, and gender, than they do with non-TCKs from their passport country.

After a childhood spent in more than one culture, the children may find characteristics of many cultures within themselves, leading to adjustment in their passport country often taking years.

Due to this, there are difficulties that these residents, from the age of 16 to 20, are faced with. Not wishing to leave the Algarve upon finishing their international education here, yet having limited opportunities available to them if opting to stay.

Unemployment rates continue to rise in the Algarve, reaching 14.7% this quarter, closely followed by Lisbon and Madeira at 13.5%.

The Algarve has the highest unemployment rate in the country, due to the tourist related seasonal work, thus lowering chances for expat young adults to find all year round work here.

This is just one of the major factors working against TCK people.

Support groups such as the UK-based company Connexions, which provides career advice, guidance and support to young adults leaving school, are scarcely available in the Algarve, and advice given throughout the international school community has a tendency to lean towards the path back to education and careers outside of Portugal, primarily in the UK.

A mother of two international school students, Ann Drummey, told the Algarve Resident: “I am very supportive of the international schools here. However, after children complete their A-level years, there is not much help here at all if they wish to stay in Portugal, especially if they do not speak Portuguese.

“My daughter, who is currently taking A-levels at Vale Verde International School, had hoped to take an NVQ course but nothing like that is available in English here in the Algarve.”

The language barrier issue is a major factor, as the level of Portuguese language skills that students have is one of the first things evaluated when guiding students in their path after international schooling.

John Butterworth, head teacher at the International School of the Algarve in Porches told the Algarve Resident: “In terms of wishing to remain in Portugal, if students have high levels of Portuguese, we can assist them with applying to higher education within the country.

“Those wishing to start work are provided with advice from career consultants about attending courses provided by escolas professionais (professional schools) throughout the Algarve, where individuals can learn professions such as hotel management and others in the tourism industry.”

He added: “Students who do not speak the national language, yet wish to stay, are assisted by the International School of the Algarve’s personal support system and knowledge of the local community. Parents who own businesses here are also always very supportive.”

Acting deputy head of São Lourenço International School, Maria Tomé, said: “At our school we have a career counselor, Gwenda Daud, that offers advice and guidance to pupils, whether they wish to further their education in Portugal at University, or if they want to work”.

Speaking from past experience after living in multiple countries and years of education in the international schooling system, I feel the people able to account for this ever growing issue best are those part of the Algarve expat community that come across this issue first hand.

I returned to the UK to further my education but found settling there to be tougher than expected.

Upon arrival back in the Algarve, support systems offering guidance or career options to me were, to say the least, non-existent.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected].