Zac Lee Rigg: What it's like for U.S. soccer players raising kids in Europe

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Zac Lee Rigg: What it's like for U.S. soccer players raising kids in Europe
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Zac Lee Rigg: What it's like for U.S. soccer players raising kids in Europe

Elyse Dempsey, daughter of Tottenham attacker Clint Dempsey, has flown across the Atlantic Ocean 24 times. She's three.

Athletes are joining traditional subgroups of foreign service personnel, business men or women, and missionaries by raising children abroad. American players looking to compete at the pinnacle of soccer, or who just want a paycheck that'll secure the future of their offspring, move to Europe.  

For summer vacations, as well as mid-season trips to visit relatives, Bethany Dempsey, Clint's wife, has flown back and forth across the Atlantic a dozen times since Elyse was born. Jackson, the youngest, is no stranger to flight himself. "For a three- and a one-year-old, they are really awesome travelers," Bethany told Goal.com.

Clearly players and coaches aren't the only ones racking up frequent-flyer miles.

Kasey Keller enjoyed a far-traveling career that took him zigzagging across Europe and to four World Cups. His kids, of course, trekked along with him. He has twins, Cameron and Cloe, now 15, who were born in England when Kasey kept goal for Leicester City. At two, they moved to Spain (Rayo Vallecano). Then back to England at four (Tottenham), over to Germany at eight (Borussia Monchengladbach) and back to England again two-and-a-half years later (Fulham).

When Kasey joined his hometown club, the Seattle Sounders, in 2009, they were going into sixth grade. "So it was their fifth school in their fourth country," Keller told Goal.com. They have American accents and British passports.

The pair attended British prep schools in England and international or American schools in continental Europe. For sixth grade they started public school.

"It was their first public school, back in the States," Keller said. "Mercer Island isn't exactly as public as public gets, but still it was a little bit different for them. It wasn't a huge adjustment because they spent a fair amount of time – summers and different things – [in the States], but it was a little different."

Marcus Hahnemann had a similar career arc. After a few years in the lower leagues as a goalkeeper with the Sounders, he jumped from the Colorado Rapids in MLS to England. Eight years at Reading made way to a pair of seasons with Wolverhampton and then a short stint at Everton. When no offers came from close by in England, he moved the family, including his two boys, aged 12 and 14, back to Washington and rejoined the Sounders in September.

"You think, 'Let's just get settled at home.' It might not be exactly perfect, the way I wanted it to be, but it's not far from it," Marcus Hahnemann told Goal.com.

The Hahnemann children are going through a similar transition, moving back Stateside, as the Kellers did three years earlier. Except – "They didn't move back. They moved to America," Keller pointed out. "They had never lived in America."

The Hahnemann boys are in a public middle school, and will attend the same high school Marcus graduated from. The transition to a U.S. curriculum isn't always smooth, especially in math.

“It's a difficult thing,” Hahnemann said. "They're kind of ahead, and then they're behind, and then the school system's all different."

Besides schooling and cultural transitions, the lines of identity are blurred for children raised abroad. Dr. Ruth Hill Useem of Michigan State University coined the term 'third-culture kids' to describe them. Instead of sticking strictly to their parents' culture (the first) or entirely appropriating the culture where they were raised (the second), they forge a third – a mixture. Additionally, expatriate communities tend to cluster in foreign countries, further solidifying a unique cultural blend.

When asked where they are from, the Keller twins call themselves English. "And they are," Keller said. Cameron talks of returning to England for university. "They have British passports so they can do what they want,” Keller said. The Hahnemann boys "think of themselves as Americans with funny accents," Hahnemann said.

Both families moved back relatively early, in time for their children to attend high school in the United States.

"At some stage it's always nice, later on, as you get into high school, to be able to kind of finish things off and prepare for going to college," Keller said. "But I think it was wishful thinking that you could get them stabilized at some stage. But they had a great time. I don't think there's any regrets."

Useem says that in 1993, two percent of the American population had lived abroad at some point during childhood. Upon returning, they can experience what she calls "re-entry problems" or "reverse culture shock." Each instance is different, of course, but in extreme cases, third-culture kids can feel like tourists wherever they go, even in their parents' home country – slightly out of synch and ungrounded.

Several factors mitigate such a rough transition, including length of time spent abroad, amount of visits to the parents' homeland, affluence and familial support. Also, any alienation slackens as third-culture kids put in the years necessary to build a life and a home of their own.

"Throughout their lifetimes there are subtle differences between them and the American generation that came into adulthood in the same historical period," Useem wrote in a 1993 article published in NewsLinks. "Not being like their peers is usually of great import (and sometimes extremely painful) in the late teens and twenties, but it is of lessening centrality with increasing age."

At 22, Teal Bunbury comes across as pretty centered in a conversation at a picnic table outside the wind-swept Swope Training Center, in Kansas City, Mo. The Sporting Kansas City forward was born in Canada to an American mother and a professional soccer playing father. Alex Bunbury represented Canada internationally but was born in Guyana. (The Bunburys eat pepperpot, a thick, dark Guyanese soup made with cinnamon, hot peppers and "like oxtail and pigtail and weird things like that" every Christmas.) When Teal was two, the family moved to England so that Alex could play for West Ham. A year later they skipped over to Portugal, where Alex became Maritimo's all-time leading goalscorer.

By age six, Bunbury was studying English, French and Portuguese in a private school, wearing a uniform. He and his friends would turn the parking lot of the apartment building into a soccer field, using stacked shoes as the goal posts. "And we'd all day play," Bunbury told Goal.com. "That's one of my biggest memories is playing."

After six-and-a-half years in Portugal and a short stint with Kansas City, the Bunburys moved to wife Kristi's home state of Minnesota.

Bunbury tells people he's from Minnesota, where his parents still live. "If they want to know more detail, 'Oh, is that where you were born?' or whatever, I'll be like, 'No,'" he said. "I give them the whole [spiel]: 'I was born in Canada, went to England, Portugal and then finally ended up in Minnesota.'"

He recalls his life abroad fondly, and wishes he'd kept up his Portuguese. "I think I'm going to do Rosetta Stone or something like that to try to get the Portuguese back," he said. Now a U.S. international with the possibility of a career in Europe, Bunbury says he "wouldn't have any issues with" raising his own children abroad. The one hardship Bunbury pointed out was the strain it put on his mother, away from her family and friends, to consistently settle new homes and cart three children across the globe.

"I knew it was a nuisance for my mom, traveling with three kids," Bunbury said. "It's crazy. Looking back, my mom is Super Woman. 100 percent. I'm bought and sold that she is Super Woman for sure."

Bethany Dempsey's children might one day say similar things about her. She has a masters degree in educational psychology. She appeared in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition wearing only bodypaint a little over a year after giving birth. And, this summer, while Clint was away on international duty, she moved houses on her own. "He came home to a new house," she told Goal.com.

She's pregnant with a third, due in March.

The oldest, Elyse, goes to an international school for preschool. No one is quite sure what to make of her accent. "English people comment on how American she sounds and American people comment on how English she sounds," Bethany Dempsey said. A recent summer in the States added a southern twang.

After Clint's career finishes they will "definitely" move back to the United States. "We aren't going to live abroad forever, so we are enjoying the adventure," Bethany said. The whole family watched Clint score the game-winner against Manchester United in a 3-2 Spurs win on Sept. 30, "which was pretty cool."

In order for soccer players to do things like score goals in Old Trafford, they need to head to Europe.

It just so happens that prime soccer years coincide with the traditional time to start a family.

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