Do We Really Need to Move to China?

by contributor · 13 comments

Multilingual Family: Moving to China

By Franck & Cristina
Photo Credit: Dustin Brice

“Do we really need to move to China?”

This was our 5-year old Pablo’s question two weeks before we said goodbye to New Jersey to move to Shanghai. How do you answer when your child asks you such a question, right after the last bedtime story? We felt it was a thoughtful question. Do we really NEED to go to another country?

This is not the only question that Pablo asked with his 8-year old sister Elena, as the deadline for our move to Shanghai came closer. Among some of the questions they asked us: “How many weeks are we going to stay there?” (mmmhhhh, at least 156), “If you and mom like it here in New Jersey, why do you want to go?” and “I don’t think we are ever going to come back, do you?”

As parents we thought we had prepped them well about our move to China. It has been a little over two years that we started learning mandarin as a family. Then, suddenly in March of this year, we got an opportunity to work in Shanghai for the next three years. It felt like a dream come true, an opportunity for the whole family to discover a new culture and really learn the language. 

We took a family vacation in April and decided to tell our children that we would move in July to a new country. We set out to tell them after a fun day in the swimming pool, while all of us had a chocolate ice cream, their favorite flavor. Our announcement went like that:

Us: “Who likes adventures?“
Them: “I do!!!”
Us: “Who would like to go on an adventure together?”
Them: “We do!!!”
Us: “Fourteen years ago, when mom and dad came to America, it was a real adventure for us. And now that we are a family of four, would you like to go for a new adventure together?”
Them: “YEAH!!!”
Us: “Guess in which country you think this adventure will take place?”
Pablo: “Canada?”
Elena: “China?”

They laughed a lot and seemed full of joy when we confirmed it was China. We talked about all the things we would do there. But slowly, after a few weeks, the inquisitive questions started to emerge. We thought we had done a good job in telling them about the move. We thought the hard part was over. But as the school year drew closer, as it was time to say goodbye to the ballet class friends, the soccer team friends, the pre-school and second grade friends, the neighborhood friends, we had to answer questions we did not prepare for.

As we write these lines we are a week away from landing in Shanghai. Right now, Elena and Pablo do not have yet questions for us about the life in a new country. But we, as parents, certainly have tons of questions that we ask ourselves: “What are we going to do the first weeks in Shanghai with Elena and Pablo?”, “How easy will it be to make new friends?”, “What will be their reaction when they discover a new school?”, “How do we get them to like a new cuisine?”, “What do we say if they tell us:  “Can we move back home soon?” “.

Each family situation is certainly different, but we feel many families that relocate must have similar feelings prior to leaving. If you went through an international relocation with your children, we would welcome any tips you have for us to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Franck & Cristina are from France and Spain and now live in New Jersey, USA. Cristina grew up in the Basque Country, in Spain. Her best high school memories come from teaching English to young school children. She learned French when she met Franck. Cristina works for a consumer goods company. Franck grew up in Alsace, France, speaking Alsatian (a German dialect) with his parents and friends and learning French in school. He started learning German in elementary school and English in high school. He came to Boston where he was inspired to learn Spanish when he met his wife Cristina. Elena (7) and Pablo (4) are Franck & Cristina’s children. They live in New Jersey with their parents and speak English, Spanish and French. The whole family is learning Chinese. In order to expose Elena and Pablo to their first Mandarin Chinese words, Franck and Cristina created a free iPhone and iPad app, “Princesses Learn Chinese”. Since then, they also released “Princesses Learn French” and “Princesses Learn Spanish.” You can visit their blog at

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Annika / Be Bilingual July 14, 2013 at 11:17 pm

What a great post and what a great adventure you have ahead of you! Looks like you’re very well-equipped already, it’s fantastic that you’ve been studying the language as a family for 2 years already! Best of luck, I look forward to following your new adventure on your blog!


2 Franck July 15, 2013 at 8:32 am

Thank you! Since it is the 1st time we move countries with our kids, we don’t know how things will go.


3 andie July 15, 2013 at 2:56 am

As someone who’s done the international move with kids, I think you’re doing great! They are going to ask those questions and go through homesick days (so will you). It’s all part of the moving-far-away package. But trust me when I say the kids will most likely adjust faster and cope better than the 2 of you and their good days will far outweigh their hard ones. Pick a penpal for your kids. (Just one each. That’s enough to keep up with!) Skype is your best friend. Keep up special traditions you may have had as a family for holidays. You’ve already given them a great boost by starting to study the language. In just a few months, as long as they’re spending time with Chinese children, their Mandarin will SHAME you and they’ll have a lot of fun correcting you in front of your friends. Or maybe that’s just my experience :). They’ll go through mourning for a lot of their relationships, and it’ll be very hard, but it’ll all bring you so much closer as a family. You definitely won’t regret it.


4 Franck July 15, 2013 at 8:35 am

Thank you for the penpal idea. We all have good intentions to keep up with all friends, but writing to someone on a regular basis guarantees that at least some relationships are maintained.


5 Jean July 21, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I am not a parent, just a proud Chinese-Canadian aunt of 7 nieces and nephews of which 3 are half-Chinese. None of them can speak Chinese.

Which is the same situation as your children. They are surrounded by Chinese language speakers…their grandparents…which is important to make them feel at ease…even if they have no clue what is being said.

For the kids, it would be great to do some fun stuff, festivals, etc. I don’t know about their diet /food preferences…..

There is a great mother American blogger of Chinese descent, her blog is Slice of Shanghai. It would be of great value probably to hook up with her for advance. She lives there.


6 Franck July 22, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Hello Jean, thank you very much about the tip of Slice of Shanghai. I will check it out.


7 Jeffrey Nelson July 22, 2013 at 6:54 am

Incredible story! Very impressive language profile and quite the family. Good job raising your kids to be such fantastic world citizens! I’m sure they will adjust well to it all over time.



8 Franck July 22, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Thank you for your kind words. We just landed in Shanghai and are eager to discover the city!


9 Viv July 22, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Wow, your family is indeed embarking on a great adventure. I am ethnically Chinese, never lived in China and I can say I get some culture shock each time I visit the Mainland. You will also have a wonderful chance to explore the regions which are, in some places like Xinjiang or the far eastern provinces, culturally different as night and day. I am also moving my family across continents by year’s end as my job is taking me to Brussels, Belgium for 3 years. My German husband, who’s been a pillar of support since our boy was born 2 years ago, is once again rising up to the challenge and leaving behind his career to start anew in a strange city (they speak French, so it must be, he says!). We will be living for the most part as expats, but having a toddler also means we’ll need to make decisions about his schooling, his local care arrangements. We have no doubt that he will adapt swiftly, so long as he’s got family around him. But we worry about putting him in full-day care or nursery, whether it ought to be French-English or should we try to limit the French since he already is growing up with Chinese, German and English. I think if your goal in living abroad is maximum exposure to a new culture, complete immersion would be great, seeing your kids are already trilingual. The greatest gift of a parent to a child (in my humble opinion) is the gift of experiencing the world.


10 Franck July 22, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Hello Viv, thanks for your note. I guess we share a similar experience. In our case we are trying to learn Chinese, and in yours it is French. We will not be able to do a “full immersion” in Chinese since our kids will continue their main schooling in English. But as a family we will focus on learning Chinese as a second (or additional) language. Each situation is different and I am sure your son will pick up French one way or another. Enjoy the “moules et frites” from Brussels.


11 Martina August 1, 2013 at 11:23 am

Thanks for sharing your story!
We have been in a slightly similar situation recently: moving from Argentina to Czech Republic, my husband’s home country (I am Slovak – just across the border) which makes it a bit easier.
Before the move, my 4 year old went through 3 stages:
1. He was very concerned that his friends would miss him when he does not go to kindergarten any more
2. He was asking about all the logistics of the move: do we take all the toys? Who will live in our appartment? etc.
3. Finally, 3 days after saying goodbye to all his kindergarten friends and after talking a lot, he got to verbalize all the weight of leaving the known and moving to an unknown land (though we had been visitng the grandparents and family every year) and to admit (and cry a bit) that HE as well would miss his friends. (and the day after already refused to go to see them one more time)

It is often difficult for an adult to move so far away, let alone children. I believe strongly, however, that they are much more adaptable than us and that in the medium-term this experience will enrich them more than hurt. Right now, he is counting all his new friends and already beign happy with the situation.

Good luck with adapting to your new life!


12 Franck August 14, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Hello Martina, thanks for sharing your experience! Any tip you have on what you did with your 4-year old son, when you settled during your first few weeks, would be very welcome.


13 Martina August 19, 2013 at 5:08 am

HI Franck,
the crucial part for my son was to find new friends. He counted each kid he was introduced to and considered all of them friends right away, still missinng his argentinian buddies. If your kids go to school (kindergarten, whatever), I would invite kids from school for a playdate at my home – one at a time, that gives them the opportunity to know each other a bit (instead of being lost again in a big group or unknown environment). You can also encourage them to speak to those friends at school before the visit (e.g. to ask them before the visit what they like to snack) to give them motivation for interaction.
Hope this helps a bit! How are you doing with your adaptation? Do the kids like the new country?


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