Helping your expat child’s education when you move overseas
First published: 23rd March 2016
Updated: 24th April 2019
If you’re planning a move overseas with a family, one of your first concerns will undoubtedly be what to do about school and their education.
Some parents choose to home educate their children when they move away, either for personal reasons or because of the often high fees at international schools. Home educating children in a foreign country can be amazing, because it allows you all time together to explore the culture and environment you find yourselves in.
If you choose to send them to school you need to do your homework ahead of the move overseas. Starting a new school is daunting for children at any time, no matter how far from home they are. But in a country where the children may look different, talk differently and have different interests from themselves, it can be even more difficult for them to settle in.
As parents, it’s our job to manage this transition to a new school as best we can, and to give our children every opportunity to excel in their academic life.
Here are some tips to kick start their overseas schooling, and to get them off to a great start in their new home.
Pick the right school
International schools will usually ensure that they are taught in their first language, and because of the fee paying nature, the curriculum is often richer and more appealing than a local school may be.
However, if you’re staying in that country permanently and are keen to encourage interaction with the locals and a more integrated approach to their schooling and travel, this might not be the best solution. In many countries, the local schools may also teach in English, or will certainly take steps to accommodate a non-native speaker, so it’s worth checking these out too.
Pick a school that is close to where you live to ensure your child gets to mix with the local kids outside of the playground too, and that they have the opportunity to build friendships as they go.
Forget their grades
For at least the first term or two, grades are not the goal of going to school. The main aim of this process is to settle them into their new lives, and to make some friendships with other children who live locally.
Language barriers, different curricula and the generally unsettling experience will almost certainly mean that their grades will suffer, but don’t worry about it yet, as there’s plenty of time to catch up.
Check out extracurricular activities
The more your child gets to see of the same faces, the stronger their bond will become and the more confident your child will feel. Find out what after school clubs are available, and get them involved in things like sport, music and drama to develop new friendships and a confident attitude.
There are Girl Guides and Scouting bodies all over the world, so look up where your local group is so that your child can get involved in these wholesome, confidence building clubs. You could also look out for expat meet ups, where your child can enjoy a break from struggling with language and culture, and can just relax with some like-minded kids from a similar background.
Talk to them, every day
Make time to talk to your child on a daily basis about how things are going. Discuss any problems they might have had, and come up with solutions as a team to help them overcome their difficulties. They will undoubtedly be exhausted when they come home from school, so try to give them an hour or two to chill out and talk later, maybe over dinner.
As well as talking to you, your child may find it useful to chat to other expat children. Find out if there is a Facebook group (if they’re old enough) or a WhatsApp chat they can join to talk other kids. World-schooling or Minecraft groups can be a good place to find buddies too, so find out from other parents where their kids hang out online to give your child a ready made support network.
Throw a housewarming party
Once your child has made a few connections at school and in their social lives, invite everyone round for a housewarming party. It will be a great opportunity for your child to cement their blossoming friendships and show off some of their cool toys. It could be a chance for you to make some friends in the local community as well.
Going to a new school is never going to be fun for your kid, so do all you can to make the transition a bit easier. Buy them some new stationery, respect their wishes if they don’t want a kiss goodbye, and put some of our tips into practice to help them settle in a bit quicker.
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.
Get instant access to the key points you need to know right now, from my abridged version eBook here