The new school year is approaching fast and for many it’s a time of mixed feelings: sadness that lazy summer days are coming to an end, relief that the days will once again resume normal structure, frenzy over back-to-school shopping, stress over paperwork and perhaps disbelief that your child is already going to kindergarten/middle school/high school… If you are in a new country getting yourself and your kids ready for the school year, there are likely more and bigger questions on your mind as well, ranging from figuring out which school to attend to language concerns to educational compatibility and how to make new friends.
The biggest question of all when preparing for school in a new country is often what type of school to choose: local or international? To some extent this is an economic matter, as a private international school will be fee based. It is also a matter of what kind of experience you want your child to have. A local school will be a more immersive experience whereas an international school will cater to a global community that is in general more fluid. It is a decision that requires some thought and planning and factors in future expat assignments for example.
A friend of mine whose family are ‘serial expats’ (for lack of a better word) always send their children to international schools as they know they’ll be moving to a different country every few years. This way their children have gotten a sense of academic coherence and structure in spite of changing not just schools, but countries, every couple of years.
A big stressor for many has to do with paperwork and whether you are new to a school or not, there is typically many pieces of information to be collected and provided: vaccination papers, academic records, class selection for older children, athletic clearance for sports participation, emergency contact information to list just a few. My own strategy is pretty simple: to take care of each piece as soon as it comes up, put it to the side for a later date and I am likely to forget. I know others who save everything for a specific date and take care of it all at once, and yet others who wait till the last minute and somehow still make it work.
Luckily these days, most school districts have websites where details and due dates are posted along with printable forms and instructions. Oftentimes, you can submit most, if not all, information online. Also keep in mind that school administration offices typically open well before school starts, allowing for hands-on help if needed.
Harder to prepare for, and perhaps more nerve-racking, is how learning in a foreign language will impact your child’s school experience. Will he/she fall behind, what kind of extra help can be expected, how will classmates react? Reading about what to expect and learning some strategies for how you can help is a good start. If you know someone who has experienced the same situation, find out how they prepared. Talk to your school about what extra help your child may be entitled to. Also, be prepared to be involved and active in supplying help and support, not just at home with homework, but possibly at school as well.
We all want our children to have good friends and feel at ease in their social lives. For families moving to a new country the question of making friends is often one of the biggest concerns. It is a natural worry and one that can’t be easily put to rest, though perhaps sometimes the worry is more in the heads of the parents than the children themselves. And while there is no one-fix-all-solution to making friends, there is always a point to being prepared and open to ideas. A good book to read on the topic is “Helping Expat Kids Thrive: Advice on Schooling, Making Friends & Fitting in Abroad” by Elizabeth Ballard.
Here are some additional resources:
What to think about when choosing schools
How to help your child settle in at school
How to help your child make friends
Other useful sources: Globiana Schooling, Expat child
By: Felicia Shermis