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Experiencing privileged and mobile childhoods

Date: December 04, 2020

By: Sophie Cranston

When we think of privileged migration, our understanding of what privilege is, and how privilege is defined, is often framed in relation to adults. Primob argues that “Transnational mobility by migrants who are relatively privileged by citizenship, class, ‘race’ and investment capacity is on the increase.” If privileged forms of mobility are on the increase, we can question what this means for how we can understand (privileged) migrant childhoods.  

In current accounts of global mobility among young people, mobility tends to be framed as exceptional. The experience of living abroad is often theorised as the gaining of an experience that others do not have, an experience to be leveraged as capital. The question of privilege therefore focuses on who has access to these experiences? However, we also need to question: how do young people experience forms of global mobility deemed to be privileged?

A picture containing photo, table, room, person
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The image above is a cartoon designed to the title “what I think global citizenship is?” by Madison,* a 15-year old from North American attending an international school in the United Kingdom. Her cartoon shows a “girl growing up in different environments and how she is being exposed to different creatures and settings in each one.” The image below is a cartoon designed by Kris*, a 17-year-old from Europe. Like Madison, Kris uses a solitary figure to show a character developing and changing between locations. Kris describes his cartoon as: “I’m moving countries … I was happy at first and running, but then I have facial hair and im standing and my dog is angry at me for being sad.” Both of these cartoons show the cartoon designer—they are depicting aspects of their globally mobile childhoods. 

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Madison and Kris’ cartoons show two contrasting experiences of young people’s global mobilities. In Madison’s cartoon, she shows the way in which the character adapts to different environments, which are devoid of people, through carrying what Madison highlights as the correct bag for each situation, for example, a backpack in the jungle and a briefcase in the city She is exposed to different environments, but does not offer comment on them. Kris, however, embodies loss in his cartoon. His character is sad, the change in clothes, hairstyles and facial hair between the frames shows how the character is changing between locations. 

These cartoons tell us about the ways in which mobility and cultural difference are felt and experienced over time by young people in international schools. Madison’s cartoon shows that for many young people in international schools, global mobility is not an experience that differentiates them. The lack of comment about mobility suggests that this is seen as normal part of their lifecourse. Kris, on the other hand, presents ideas of grief through his cartoon. This resonates with research on privileged childhoods in relation to Third Culture Kids which suggests that globally mobile young people experience loss of worlds and identities through migrations. 

International schools are arguably a space of privileged migration. In many contexts, the children who attend these schools are the children of parents who are both able to migrate and to afford the school fees. The ability to migrate as part of a family unit is a form of privilege, visa regimes in some locations make it challenging for some migrants to bring their dependents. The ability to pay the often high school fees is also a form of privilege, sometimes included as part of a company relocation package. Access to international schools is therefore a form of privilege. However, young people feeling this mobility as grief highlights how we should question how privilege forms of mobility are embodied and felt amongst different family members. Readings of global mobility as normal could be read as an elite form of cosmopolitanism. Or as means by which to challenge the exceptionalism framed within migration, that migrations are the defining aspect in the identities of the globally mobile. All of this highlights a need for us to interrogate how privilege is not only possessed, but manifest, felt and exposed by the entire family through migration. 

* Both names are pseudonyms 

More information

Cranston, S. Figures of the global: Mobility journeys of international school pupils. Popul Space Place. 2020; 26:e2305. https://doi.org/10.1002/psp.2305

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