As a child, I remember desperately wanting to attend Chinese pre-school while living as an expat in Taiwan. At one point, my parents took me with them to check out several pre-schools, but none seemed like a “good fit.”
I didn’t understand their rationale at the time; I simply wanted to be like my older brother who rode off to school every. I didn’t understand the importance of choosing a good school. Even now, since I’m not a parent, I can’t say that I quite understand the pressure that expat parents must feel as they make educational choices for their children. As a teacher and educator, I begin to understand the role that education plays in a child’s development, but to be responsible for making a decision that will impact a child’s future exponentially quite honestly terrifies me beyond belief.
Not to mention that, as an expat, parents are posed with completely new and diverse choices for schooling than they likely faced in their host country. How does a new expat parent navigate this maze in order to predict the best future for their child?
I can’t begin to answer this question myself, so over the next few weeks, we’ll explore what expat parents themselves have to say about schooling overseas. Via an informal, voluntary Facebook survey, thirty-seven expat parents offered advice on making the educational choice for their children and shared their insights on types of schools, challenges their children faced, and factors that influenced their decision.
The wealth of information that emerged from this online community was astounding, and reminds expats what a global network we are a part of.
To begin framing the conversation, here is a list of general advice that parents would give to other expat parents while selecting a school for their children:
- “Think about what you wish for your child later on and where you think your child will end up when it comes to higher education. Decide what system suits the child and your vision.”
- “I believe emotional, social support can be as important as academic quality, at least for my children. Also any of those qualities can be faked in marketing materials, so connect in every way you can with parents of children who have been through the school. Learn about the quality of their children’s experience, how problems were handled, student-student and student-teacher relationships, etc.”
- “VISIT! Nothing replaces a good see. Ask questions. How are things like discipline, falling behind, opportunities for bright students, etc. handled? Read reviews but look for pattern rather than one or two bad reviews. Every child is different and the range of expat expectations is diverse. Talk to parents that the school refers you to but also seek out parents on your own”
- “It really depends on what kind of experience they want for their children. If they want them to learn the language, I recommend a local private school that will probably have a bilingual program. And if not, they will learn so much just on the playground alone!”
- “Go with your gut! Remember that kids catch on to new languages so much faster than adults and attending a school in a foreign country/language is an amazing opportunity.”
- “Be honest about your character and personal limitations. Do not let a romantic notion of homeschooling be the reason you make the choice to educate your children at home. The commitment on the part of the parents is huge and the sacrifices, especially for the at-home parent’s financial future, are great as well. These realities must be considered in the decision to homeschool. It’s okay if you decide homeschooling isn’t for you. Choosing to homeschool or not says nothing about who you are as a parent.”
If you are consider an international school…
- “I would always go for an International School. From our experience American/Canadian International schools have a very accepting and warm parent as well faculty body. Your transition becomes so beautiful and you feel like you belong immediately. Besides academics for moving families belonging is a big one.”
- “If you want an international experience, where the prominent language is English, an international school is the way to go! Most international schools use the community language of English, follow traditional school breaks/time frames/activities. For example, they will probably have team sports and play other international schools around the country. They will have clubs, after school activities, teachers from around the world, students from around the world etc.”
- “Talk to parents at the schools your considering. Ask their likes and dislikes in addition to checking on the schools IB test scores.”
- “I would recommend an international school. The education is amazing, plus they are with children from every nationality. The school becomes an outlet for meeting people and forming a community.”
- “If you think you will move regularly try and choose a schooling route that is international in nature and can be easily replicated in next move – children meet like-minded friends and sometimes re – meet them in the future!”
- “International schools are much easier on the parents, and in retrospect that is maybe something we should have considered more at the beginning.”
Thinking about local schools…
- “If this is long term – settle in with your native tongue if available, but switch to the local school system after the first year. Unless your child is not yet in school when you move, then go right into local.”
- “Don’t worry about the name and reputation of the school within the expat community. Find a program and environment where you feel your child will excel. Often a local school can offer a program equal to an International school. There are great benefits to be learned from attending a school with mostly locals and truly learning the culture of your new home.”
- “Go local!”
This is merely a smattering of the recommendations provided by expat parents. Clearly, there is no formula to tell you what school to enroll your child in, but if I’ve learned anything from these parents who have offered their voice, it’s to know your child and make a choice that is a good fit for them. Use your resources, visit the school, ask questions, and good luck!