Cross-Cultural Joy

By the time little Skyla is ready to start kindergarten she’ll speak three languages as well as having her adoring family wrapped around her little finger talofa world. 

Skyla is the first child of Jacob and Lisa Yandall, and the cherished first grandchild of Samoan and Korean immigrants. You could say this super cute 15-month-old is spoilt for choice when it comes to a rich cultural heritage. 

And, of course, having the honour of being first grandchild in the family she’s just a tad spoilt anyway.

But even her name is testament to the cross-cultural issues that Jacob and Lisa negotiate on a daily basis.

Lisa’s Korean parents can’t say Rs and Jacob’s Samoan parents struggle with Ts, Bs, Ps and Ds, so all those letters had to be avoided when it came to naming little Skyla.

“It had to be something our parents could pronounce properly, rather than them just making up their own names,” says Lisa.

But Lisa’s used to crossing cultural boundaries. She arrived from South Korea at the age of 10 with her parents in search of a better life. There were no other Koreans in Lisa’s class so it was a case of sink or swim.

By the time she reached high school she was fluent in English but found herself in no man’s land, as she was too Kiwi for the newly arrived Korean students but not Kiwi enough for New Zealand-born students.

“I ended up fitting in more with the Kiwis. I was more aware of what was acceptable culturally with Kiwis. [For example] I thought it was rude to speak in Korean, like the other Koreans did, around Kiwis.”

Lisa, 28, met Jacob at a nightclub in 2004, and in true Kiwi style, they were both fairly intoxicated.

“But I was very lucky — Lisa put her number in my phone,” chuckles Jacob.

They married five years ago and since 2010 have been living in palatial style at Lisa’s parents’ gorgeous semi-rural home in south-east Auckland. 

Issue 22Family2

Language comes first
Of course, living with Korean grandparents who speak little English means pint-sized Skyla understands Korean already.

On the other side, Jacob’s parents speak Samoan to her so she has a good understanding of Samoan as well.

Knowing the family lingo on both sides is important to the couple. Lisa even made a special request for the Samoan teacher to speak Samoan to Skyla at preschool.

And with a second child on the way — Jacob and Lisa are expecting a son in September — it will require extra vigilance to keep up familiarity with all three languages.

But while it’s not easy negotiating the language barriers, the cultural differences are in a realm of their own.  

Culture clash
Issue 22Family3Lisa’s parents arrived in New Zealand with nothing and worked seven days a week for years. Now with their own Japanese restaurant, they still work six days a week, often until 9pm.

“Their mentality is to work hard and they expect us to work hard,” says Lisa, a primary school teacher, “But I like to keep my sanity. The way I was brought up, though, I’m more careful with money. Then I met Jacob and it was, buy this, buy that. We were both at such different extremes!” says Lisa.

She enjoys being part of Jacob’s large family even though money is frequently an issue.

“Jacob’s family tend to spend. They want to give, give, give,” says Lisa.

Koreans are “more stingy”, she says, and the problems arise when Jacob is asked to contribute for birthdays, weddings, funerals, trips overseas… with 10 uncles and aunts on his mother’s side and 12 on his father’s, the requests never stop.

“It doesn’t have to be for immediate family,” says Jacob, “Sometimes we don’t even know the person it’s for.”

“With my culture it’s more a matter of parents providing for the children and they don’t expect anything from us until they retire,” Lisa says.

And it’s a drain on family finances that Lisa was unprepared for but what can she do about it? “I just have a bit of a whine and then get on with it,” says the ever-practical Lisa.

With the pair crossing such a wide cultural divide it’s no wonder issues crop up. We’re pretty much explaining to each other what our parents are up to the whole time,” laughs Jacob.

The next hot topic is debating a name for the new arrival that will get the seal of approval from all sides.

For more information on raising a child to speak more than one language click here

Photography: Sam Mothersole (



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