One of the biggest challenges of a successful overseas move is ensuring that your child’s educational needs are met. While families spend a tremendous amount of time and energy researching neighborhoods, transportation, religious facilities etc., often the importance of school placement is overlooked. The available school options vary greatly from place to place. It is crucial that parents understand the choices and their implication on their child’s future. Failing to recognize this vital area can place the child in a compromised position, and leave the parent feeling responsible.
Since your child’s emotional and academic needs are paramount, parents must invest the effort to get this right!
Living abroad can offer students an amazing experience, and countless future dividends, if planned correctly. Parents need to spend time to educate themselves in order to make the best decisions for their child. Careful planning can ensure that the overseas experience is positive, and provides substantial benefits for the child’s academic future. This success depends on a number of factors including the individual child, the overseas location, and the potential educational choices. The final decision may have to be based on the length of the stay, academic ability, available schooling options, and costs.
Moving a young child is typically easier than relocating a teenager. Generally speaking, younger children adapt more easily. Very young children are more likely to quickly learn the local language. Teenagers in particular find it difficult to leave their social circles at such a pivotal time. In addition, relocating a high school student can have an impact on their future college plans. Therefore, it is critical that parents of high school students carefully assess their child’s educational needs. If the overseas assignment is limited, and the student will be returning to their home school, the overseas placement must allow for a seamless transition. It is always preferable to move a student into a new situation at the beginning of a school year. While this is not always possible, it is the least disruptive for the child. This allows the child to start the year at the same time as most other new students. Moving to the same school as a sibling also lessens the stress level, as the child does not feel completely alone. Anything that you can do to reduce the anxiety of the relocation will make your child’s transition easier. Much of your child’s attitude about the new venture will be a reflection of your feelings.
When families have sufficient notice of their impending move, it allows them to prepare their children, and build an excitement in the family about their host country. This is a great time for learning about the local culture and surroundings. It is also an opportunity to allow children to take language classes to begin to develop a comfort level. Whenever possible, it is advisable for families to travel to the host country prior to the relocation. This allows children to visualize their new surroundings, and find things to anticipate. It is also a perfect time to visit schools, assess neighborhoods, and learn about the culture by talking to the locals and other expatriates.
Be sure to contact the schools to arrange the visits when planning your trip to make certain that they are in session, and can accommodate you. By visiting the schools, you can learn firsthand which options may best meet your child’s needs. Once you have narrowed down your choices, it is advisable to ask each school if your child can spend a day as a visitor. This allows the opportunity to see if the school is an appropriate setting, and for your child to connect with other students prior to the move. You should encourage your child to trade e-mail addresses so that they can communicate with other students prior to their arrival. This makes the first day of school much less awkward, and relieves much of the stress of being the “new kid.”
Some schools will provide a student guide for the visitation day. This allows your child to attend classes with the host, eat lunch with other students, and learn more about the school. It also gives you an idea of the academic rigor of the school, and if it is a good match for your child. A student who is happy in their new school will adjust much easier to the new location.
It is also advisable that parents ask the school to have other families contact them. Some international schools provide parent ambassador programs. This allows parents to have contact with other families that provide information relating to the school, and the experience in the host country. It is best if the contacting family is of your culture since the perspective of life in the host country is usually similar. This is a great venue for making new friends, and participating in school and local life. If possible, it is important to become involved in your child’s school once you relocate. Schools usually welcome parent volunteers in a variety of capacities. This is also a wonderful opportunity to witness the school firsthand to ensure that it is meeting your child’s needs.
If your company or organization is sending you on an overseas assignment, it is best to integrate your child’s school choices into your negotiations. If at all possible, ask your employer to provide a scout trip for you and your family. This allows you time to orient yourselves to the new location. It is difficult to accomplish this from a distance, and makes the transition period much easier. It is also recommended that you ask your employer to provide an educational consultant for your children. This can save valuable time in researching and selecting the most appropriate options for schooling. These individuals are familiar with the standards, curriculum and availability of schooling in the area. Most importantly, try to negotiate your child’s educational costs into your overseas assignment. International schools can be costly, and may be the best option in your location. You don’t want your child to have an inappropriate educational placement as a result of the financial strain that a private international school would present. Factoring these costs into your overseas package in advance allows the family to make decisions in the best interest of their children.
Boarding schools are often an option for families moving overseas. They tend to have very high academic standards, and can be found to fit the curriculum of the home country. The difficulty is that the child lives away from their family, and is not constantly reinforced with their values. If the new location presents a danger or has poor schooling options, then boarding school may present an alternative. The decision to place a child in boarding school really depends on the overseas post, age of the child, and their need for family nurturing.
Similarly, some students choose not travel overseas with the family. Instead, they live with relatives or friends in order to stay on track with their educational goals. This is sometimes preferable for students who are close to completing their high school education. However, they are separated from their families and lack their input. Since teenage years can be challenging, it is often difficult for parents to be at a distance. This alternative is most suitable for older children for whom the move would present considerable turmoil.
Depending on the host country, local schools can present a good option. However, all schools are not created equal. In some countries, the public education system is outstanding. In other locations, it can be years behind your home country. If you are traveling to a country that does not speak your language, attending school in a foreign tongue can be daunting. This of course depends again on the age of the child. Young children grasp new languages very quickly, and attending a local school in the new country can be an opportunity to master a foreign language. Older students find it more difficult, and such a transition can affect their high school academic record and future plans. Students who attend local schools have the opportunity to absorb the local culture. This is advantageous so long as the cultural values are consistent with those of the family. Returning to the home country may pose difficulties if the academic standards of the host country are not consistent with the home country. Unfortunately, sometimes children of certain nationalities are rejected by the host culture because of their country of origin. Families need to make certain that a bias does not exist that would make their child the object of ridicule.
Finally, international schools with various curriculums exist and are growing in most parts of the world. These schools often look like small United Nations. They attract local students as well as those from all corners of the globe. The populations of these schools can be somewhat transient since they appeal to families on limited assignments. These institutions provide teachers from various countries, making the atmosphere truly international. They come in all sizes from very tiny schools to large sprawling campuses. These schools have generally very high academic standards and advanced programs. The downside is that they also tend to be economically unbalanced, as most of their students come from affluent families. This is a result of the high cost of attendance at these schools. English is the language of instruction in international schools. If you are English speaking, and your child does not speak the local language, this can provide the most comfortable solution. If this is the best alternative for your child, be certain to try to negotiate it into your overseas package, as costs can be prohibitive. Many large companies offer these benefits to their employees.
Your child’s successful school placement can determine how well the family adjusts to their new environment. If the child is inappropriately placed, it can present difficulties for the entire family. Communication with your child is critical. Be sure to listen to their needs and fears. If you approach this as a family, you can find the best solution for everyone. You must do your homework, narrow the choices, and then allow the child with guidance to have some input in the final decision.
Career opportunities are important. However, your children’s future is also important. In most cases, both parent’s career goals and child’s educational needs can be met. However, in rare circumstances, the timing of the move impacts the child’s educational goals. In these cases, it is best to try to find an alternate location where options are superior, or even wait until the child is in college. For this reason, research and planning is critical to your entire family’s success abroad. For your international experience to be rewarding, everyone in the family must be considered. Your child’s future educational placement must be a top priority.
About The Author
Georgina Fox is a U.S. College Admissions consultant specializing in working with expatriate and international students. For more advice on educating children abroad visit www.collegeconsultinginternational.com