Being an Expat and Educating Your Children Abroad
"Honey! They want me to run the Berlin office. It's a great promotion. They want us there in two months." After congratulating your wife on her thrilling new assignment, reality sets in as you wonder what you will do about your children's education. Will they be able to attend a school with classes taught in English? Will the curriculum follow American standards or foreign ones?
Relax. Your wife's overseas assignment has many perks, one of which is that her employer will pay for your children's educational expenses at a private school while you are abroad. Your children will be taught in English to international standards. Of course, if you prefer to have them attend schools where they will be taught in a foreign language, that will be an option. Most expats keep things simple and have their children attend international schools with classes mostly in English. Let's explore what's involved in educating your children overseas.
You can find international schools in just about every major city outside the United States. International schools are schools which offer instruction in English, as well as the usual kind of college preparatory curriculum you would expect to find in an American high school, public or private. International schools offer Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate programs. This video offers us a glimpse of what the Berlin Brandenburg International School offers.
In many major cities which have a lot of Americans, you will even find so-called American schools. These schools will make your children will feel as though they never left home. Whether you choose an international school with students from all over the world, as well as a few local children, or decide that sticking with an American school is best, is a decision which you will have to make based on what you feel is best for your children.
I know that the next question you will have will be something along the lines of "How do I know if a particular school is up to my standards?" Your Human Resources department will offer some guidance here as they typically will not put schools on their list unless they have received positive comments from other parents who have sent their children there. Your next step is to arrange a Skype call with the prospective school's admissions staff. Ask questions about matters which concern you. Evaluate the school's answers.
There are several sites which you can use to research schools. For example, using a hypothetical transfer to Berlin, a search of the Council on International Schools' site lists three schools in Berlin. I mention this simply so that you can see that schools are available for children of expats.. Your company's HR department will have all the facts and information ready for you to help you find the best school for you in your new city. They have handled expat employees before, so they know what they are doing.
What about moving the children in the middle of an academic year? It's not easy, to be sure, but it's done all the time. Moreover, most international schools abroad are accustomed to accepting expat students after the school year has started. This assumes that your children are not juniors or seniors. If they are, then you have another option. Consider putting them in boarding school if possible. In other words, you might want to leave them back here in the States. Avoid changing high schools whenever you can. Here is a look at the American School of Paris.
On the other hand, if you can position the move as a great, once in a lifetime adventure, you might be able to convince your teenager that the move will be worth accepting. He might just enjoy the opportunity to live in a different country, the chance to visit other countries in the area and all that sort of thing. Europe, for example, has enough nooks and crannies to explore to keep him busy for years. If he skis, can you imagine the fun he will have skiing in the Alps? Will he miss his friends? Sure. But he will have the opportunity to make even more friends overseas.
If you have primary school aged children, the move will probably be a bit easier than with older children. There are plenty of excellent Montessori and Waldorf schools overseas. Your local Human Resources department will have a list of schools which have passed muster. All you will have to do is to choose the style of teaching which meets your needs and requirements.
Transportation and Security
As you begin to think things through, you will probably wonder about security issues in a major metropolitan area in a foreign country. Hijackings and terrorist attacks are unfortunately commonplace in some foreign cities. With your child's safety in mind, the school will have a reliable transportation service which it can recommend to you. Once again, your local Human Resources department will have transportation and security under control. Be alert. Be aware. Teach your children to do likewise. This brief video offers a look at Eton School in the Santa Fe neighborhood of Mexico City.
Living abroad with school-aged children is indeed an adventure. But if you do your homework and understand what you are getting into, both pluses and negatives, it will be a terrific experience. My late wife was posted overseas as general manager of a bank in The Bahamas. Back then I remember not even knowing where the Bahamas was. We had an amazing time. Our youngest daughter went to a private school there and did well. We went through all the same issues which I have listed above. Safety and educational standards were at the top of our list too. As things turned out, we needn't have worried.
Most overseas postings have a fixed term. With that in mind, I recommend developing a list of potential schools for your children well before you know the return date. Speak with the admissions staff via Skype and explain what your plans are. By doing that, you will be a familiar client when the time comes to submit a formal application. Always remember that schools don't like surprises any more than you do. The more familiar you and your children are to a school, the better your chances will be.
Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl