Expat Story of an International Adoptee

For globally mobile families, traditions and rituals provide an important thread of continuity and identity. Even more so if you are a TCK and an international adoptee, shares Anna Svedberg, who was adopted from India by a Swedish family and grew up in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. She also offers some tips for parents with adoptive TCKs. 


“This is my family’s story of how we maintained some sense of normalcy by cooking and celebrating traditional holidays with other Scandinavian families while abroad. This, as well as interacting with friends of various cultures, strengthened my sense of identity and connection to both my birth culture and my passport culture. It also taught me to appreciate and respect local customs and traditions.

Cooking and food bring a richness to childhood memories

My earliest memories are of my mum cooking or baking, with me and my sister helping and tasting the goodies. Food and traditions in general are important in my family. Much later, my mum explained that my parents had decided to share their Swedish culture and traditions with us, especially as we would be growing up overseas.

Whether stationed in a traditional trade city in the desert or in the hustle and bustle of a Southeast Asian megacity, my sister and I had Swedish cinnamon rolls on hand for any given holiday and the traditional Swedish smorgasbord, including the world-famous meatballs and cured salmon, for Christmas and Easter.

And, as my mum loved cooking, she also learnt how to cook local dishes wherever we were stationed, which meant that we acquired an international palate from a very young age. If we missed our hometown from years ago, my mum would cook a meal from there; it was almost like being there.

I have a particular memory of participating in Eid celebrations while we were living in the Middle East. Mothers and children were invited to the homes of local families to partake in the festivities, which included delicious food and exchanges of traditional Eid greetings. My friends and I felt honoured that we were so graciously invited to strangers’ homes. This generosity is something that I will always be grateful for.


Festivals and traditions to celebrate a multicultural identity

My mum instilled Swedish traditions by decking our homes with festival-appropriate decorations, often hand-embroidered or hand-painted.

With these celebrations – and traditional cooking – happening no matter where we were in the world, my sister and I received a solid foundation of continuity in our upbringing. Wherever we lived, we also enjoyed close ties with a network of Scandinavian families, with whom we could celebrate our traditions.

School activities and social gatherings widely acknowledged local festivals and traditions. This meant we learned from a young age to enjoy and respect local culture and customs. As guests in a culture, my parents explained, it was important to observe and respect the local traditions. While living in a Southeast Asian megacity, we celebrated the traditional mid-autumn festival of lighting lanterns at the beach with local families.

But our Indian heritage was important too. Growing up overseas was a blessing as it allowed my family frequent trips to see family friends in India. Along with my mum’s love of cooking Indian food, this enabled me to seamlessly blend my Indian heritage and Swedish identity while living as a TCK in a global context.”


Tips for globally mobile families with international adoptees 

  • From an early age, talk about adoption and what it means.
  • Educate your child on their country of birth and culture from the outset. This helps them to form an understanding of their heritage.
  • Teach your child about their passport country, culture and language. This makes it easier for them to repatriate as an adult, if they wish to.
  • Show a genuine interest in the local culture – respect for all cultures is important in developing empathy.
  • Foster healthy family traditions that your child can hold on to as a common thread through your international moves.
  • Surround your family with close friends, either locally or at a distance, who can act as your family’s inner network, a safe constant in your child’s sometimes turbulent globally mobile life.


By teaching your international adoptee about their birth and passport countries, while encouraging them to immerse themselves in local customs, your child will gain a healthy sense of self and respect for all cultures and walks of life… the mark of a true citizen of the world.


How do you nurture and build your identity within your mobile life? What traditions do you embrace? Share your story below – we love to hear from you!  

Adapted with permission from the original article published here.


About the author:
Anna Svedberg is a Swedish adult Third Culture Kid who has since repatriated. She is a social media volunteer for Families in Global Transition (FIGT) and a staffing consultant for multinational clients. Anna also loves writing children’s stories on themes such as TCKs and international adoption.