Of the major challenges associated with relocating to another country, choosing a school for your children is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Locating the right school and getting properly enrolled is essential for parents’ peace of mind and the children’s education. In discussing a move with the family and planning your relocation, here are three common challenges and questions surrounding your children’s education, and tips for transitioning smoothly into a new school.
School Calendars are Out of Sync
Families relocating to countries in a different hemisphere will find the school calendars abroad are at odds with the ones they are accustomed to at home. Summer is winter, winter is summer. This poses challenges for families, and as a consequence, children will either have to jump ahead a semester or repeat a semester when they start their new school. This is true on assignment and also when repatriating.
Parents should talk to their child’s teachers and friends, and think about all aspects of the child’s development. Some families enroll children in school and then find they are struggling either academically or socially and regret not holding their child back, even before learning of the relocation. A move to the opposite hemisphere can be an opportunity in these cases to have a child repeat a grade without any stigma. This can be done on the way over and again on the way home, unless the child has matured significantly. For other children, school is not sufficiently challenging. For these children, too, the change of calendar can be a positive opportunity. These children can be advanced a semester and when they repatriate, they can be advanced another half year. If moving a child ahead or behind is not working out, families have had a chance to experiment, with no emotional consequences, and the child can be placed back in his or her prior grade. In the majority of cases, however, the decision is less obvious. In these cases, the two countries’ curricula can be compared to see how they align. Based on similarities or differences in a child’s academic preparation, prerequisites he or she has completed, and other programmatic factors, it is possible to see which grade would be a better fit.
School Application Deadlines
Companies relocate families all throughout the year, and schools in many locations – from Asia Pacific to New York City – have set application timetables. Students who are relocated after application deadlines are over – or even more complex, in the middle of the academic year – are not on the same playing field as the local applicants with whom they are competing for places.
In these situations, an intermediate may be able to play a helpful role. Professional educational consultants should know which schools value the richness of international families enough to bend the rules, or simply have relationships with schools that give them credibility in making a call on behalf of a family. But with or without a professional, parents can phone schools, explain their situation, and request some flexibility because they are in a scenario over which they had no control. It is important that parents show knowledge of and interest in the school, and know why they feel it would be the right match for their child. Parents should continue to follow up on an ongoing basis, keeping in mind that parents who are too pushy are never appreciated, so the trick is to find balance.
If access to the right school really is impossible, interim measures can be just fine. Enrolling a child in a public school for a semester while applying to a private school for the following semester can be an excellent solution. This can be viewed as a transition to allow the child to develop a comfort level in the new location and make local friends. Another alternative is distance learning. Consider a degree-granting, accredited distance-learning school, where children can stay up to speed with academics while they wait for a long-term solution to become available. Some families split up for a limited period of time before the school situation is resolved, and others may choose boarding schools either back home or near the family, in order to increase the number of options and find a school that will accept an off-cycle application.
Moving from country to country often creates a language problem that may rear its head in one of a number of ways. The most obvious is instruction in a language that the student doesn’t know. Students may be moved to a country where there is a language requirement for graduation but be unfamiliar with any of the languages that meet the requirement. Students may have been taking a foreign language in school and may move to a school where different foreign languages are offered and then have to switch mid-year. Or students may move to a country where the international schools are largely populated by local families who speak the local language. At times, parents feel that lack of familiarity with the home language forces the school to “dumb down” the curriculum as, even if it is taught in the child’s native language, the local students can’t keep up with the level of reading and writing that the rest of the children find acceptable.
In any of these cases, it is important for parents to communicate with the school. Children in transition should always be placed in a school where administrators and teachers are flexible. Parents should check whether the school will exempt the student from the language requirement, provide supplemental instruction, or allow the student to fulfill the requirement with a different language. Again, students can study language instruction back home or in concert with their overseas courses, particularly if they have sufficient lead time. This initial conversation on resolving the language issues can help parents assess not only the administration’s flexibility regarding language requirements but also the position the administration will take in any other situation the child may face – from mismatched curricula to social problems.
Have you moved abroad with children? What tips do you have for locating schools and getting your kids enrolled?