How does expat life affect your child’s education?

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The impact of expat life on learning

One of the biggest worries for any parent choosing to move their family overseas is how will this decision affect their children’s ability to achieve academically. All over the world, a good education is paramount to success, but how can we ensure our children get this when the country we are moving to may not uphold the same values as our native nation would?

In some ways, a foreign education can be a blessing to our children, as they will gain breadth and different knowledge which their peers at home will be missing out on. But what about the things they do not gain? Should we be worried that this education is different from that which we know back home, and how will we ensure they can slot back into society if and when they decide to return to their native country?

If you move regularly from country to country, you need to make sure that some sort of continuity of education can happen. Otherwise, your child may learn about the Romans three times, but never know how to work out percentages! If you know you will return to your home country while your child is still of school age, try to work out what stage of their education they are likely to be at, because school admissions can sometimes be tricky during crucial exam years.

The answers to these sorts of questions are neither clear, nor easy, but with a little foresight we can at least weigh up the pros and cons of taking our children abroad, so that we go into our move with informed and open eyes.

The disadvantages

A change in curriculum

Moving to a new school can be tough, as they may have covered material your child has not, putting them on the back foot when it comes to mutual knowledge. Moving to another country can exacerbate this problem, meaning they are exposed to completely alien curricula and topics which never featured in their school back home. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad or unworkable, just that the settling in period will be that much more difficult and potentially somewhat longer.

Depending on the number of years your child has already attended school, this may be more or less of a problem. One way to avoid the potential for repeating, or missing, subjects is to choose a school that runs the International Baccalaureate programme which was created as a solution to this problem.

Social and cultural differences

Making new friends is always tough, but trying to make new friends among people who have been brought up entirely differently, have different interests and potentially speak a different language is exponentially harder for our children to cope with. Over time, these things can become easier, as they get used to your child, and your child gets used to them. But in the short term, don’t expect much learning to be happening, as much of your child’s energy will be focused on social acceptance.

The benefits

New challenges, new skills

Expat children typically face an array of new skills and knowledge to be acquired before they can truly fit in with their new social group. Challenging it may be, but these trials will equip them with the skills and knowledge that will set them apart from other job applicants later on in life. Their breadth of experience and knowledge acquisition will become a highlight of their lives as they mature into well rounded adults later on.

Language and culture

Children soak up new language and cultures like a little dry sponge. They are so much better at adopting the customs and language of the places they visit; you’ll soon find you’re asking them what something means or why someone is behaving in a certain way. Sure, it’s not the three ‘R’s we’ve become accustomed to at home, but surely this is learning at its most natural and greatest, in the way it should always be done?

Changing school is always a stressful time for a child of any age, and when that school change comes with a complete change of lifestyle, peer group, language and other life elements, we should expect the settling in period to be long and probably hard.

Don’t panic that you’ve done the wrong thing by your child… they will settle in and will love you for this challenge, albeit probably some years into the future!

Do you want some help and advice about choosing a school for your child?

My book on choosing the right school for YOUR child overseas

Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad. There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution.

Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.

It’s easy to get very stressed at this point. Don’t panic! I’ve put together this book to help you kick-start your search for the best type of school for your child.

Available on your local Amazon

To get instant access to the key points you need to know right now, check out my abridged version eBook here

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  1. Very interested in this. I live in France with my family & we’ve been here for 9 years. Our girls settled quickly (luckily!) & picked up French without any major issues. I’m a UK trained Primary school teacher & I work for a bilingual association here in our region, deep in the countryside in Poitou Charentes. I find that most UK children who settle here, do so without major problems if the attitude of the parents is positive & open & communication is clear between the school & home. I run literacy classes weekly for children aged between 3 & 15 because it is equally important that they maintain their level of written English. I find that the children enjoy coming to us because they are learning alongside their peers who are also anglophones, they can relax & speak freely without having to stop, think & conjugate a sentence in French & they get to socialize & have fun in their maternal tongue.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your article & found lots of similarities with my own children when we first moved over. Overall, the impact for us has been positive all the way & my kids (now 15 & 12) are proud of the fact that they are bilingual & just take it for granted almost! Having said that, they now would like to experience life back in the UK at some point which we are not so keen on doing 😉

    1. Thank you for your comment’s Alicia. I can certainly relate to your last sentence! Kids are amazing at how they pick up languages, aren’t they? And the earlier they start, the easier they seem to find it. My daughter started learning Japanese at 5 years old and, although we are (sadly) no longer there, she can still recall much of it. This early introduction seems to have given her a natural tendency towards learning languages, at least a good number of phrases – her current ‘haul’ is Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Russian and Afrikaans!

  2. Nice note you shared! There are merits and demerits of this expat life it’s all depend on a person’s behaviour that how he get melt with newly things. Expat life gives us an experience of how to deal with people outside of the safe environment of our parents shelter. It makes the student more eligible achieve their aim. Because outside of home student focused only his/her aim. The drawback of this expat life is that student goes far from their families. Sometimes it gives feeling of loneliness but the student should have courage for fighting such issues. They should handle this issue in a cool way one day they will surely get success in life. Because hard work never waste.

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing your story. How upsetting for you all 🙁 We also didn’t get on well with schools in Germany and have had to make many changes. Now we are elsewhere and have had to change schools yet again! It’s worked out well. I think I would say to anyone else in similar circumstances – never be afraid to change school. An unhappy child is not going to make progress in any part of their life.

      I’m so impressed with your post that I will be sharing it. Good luck for the future!

      1. Does any one know if there‘s a way to avoid kids to repeat the school year when you move from one country in the south hemisphere (school year from January to December) to another one in the north (school year from August/ September to July)? Thank you very much in advance!!

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