Posted by Louisa Heath on September 1st, 2016.
Sending your child back to school – or seeing them enter education for the first time – is often stressful enough without adding in the extra worries that can come from joining a foreign school in unfamiliar surroundings.
However, while it can seem like a daunting situation to overcome, the benefits that can stem from studying in a foreign school could well last your child long into the future. You may even find that they adapt far more easily than you initially expect.
At the end of the day a lot of how well your child integrates in a foreign school comes down to preparation and peace of mind, so we’ve put together some advice to try and help you get your child off to the best start possible when embarking on their foreign school adventure.
One of the most important things to remember is that moving to a foreign country is a big step, and there needs to be time for that transition to sink in before your child has to be ready to focus on lessons. Wherever possible, move with as much time ahead of the school start date as possible, as this will give your child an opportunity to adjust to their new home surroundings first. If they’ve already started to feel more settled that should give them a better starting position for that first day in their new school, rather than having an overwhelming amount of new situations to deal with.
Obviously it isn’t always possible to time your move around the local school schedule, so if this isn’t an option there are other ways to minimise the sense of dislocation that your child will experience on their first day. For starters, if the school you’ve chosen has a website be sure to check it out well ahead of time and go through it with your child to get their thoughts.
Better yet, if you have a chance to visit the school before your child’s first day then by all means try to take it. Knowing what the building looks like, and at least a little of the layout, should give your child a useful bit of extra confidence. Something as simple as knowing where the toilets are without having to ask, or being able to find their own way to their homeroom can make the unfamiliar place just a little less daunting. Having one less thing to worry about on that first morning will make things a lot easier, on both them and you.
While knowing a little of the school building itself can be useful, it would be even more valuable to know someone at the school ahead of time. Whether this is the head teacher, their form tutor or another student, having a slightly more familiar face to turn to can ease some of those first day jitters.
It can also help your child settle in easier if they join some manner of after-school or social group. As much as possible, you should try to encourage them to interact with their peers because having a good friendship group at school will make the whole experience more pleasant for them.
When starting at a foreign school, strong support outside of school hours is essential. Even if you’re nervous about leaving your child in such unfamiliar surroundings, it’s important not to let that influence their outlook. While you may not want them to get overexcited, you also don’t want to put too much pressure on them.
As everything else is changing it’s important to make sure that your child understands that you are always there to talk to and that they shouldn’t be afraid to tell you if they’re finding things hard. Some kids will try to keep the burden to themselves, so endeavour to find the right balance between reassurance and giving them any space they need. One extreme can be just as bad as the other so let your child and their reactions lead your approach.
That said, don’t expect too much from them, at least not at first. Any adjustment is likely to have an impact on their mind-set and school work, no matter how much extra effort they put in. So if their results take a bit of a temporary hit, don’t worry too much. Kids can catch up with their classmates over time, especially if you’re there to offer extra support. However, this sort of thing can be unsettling for the particularly conscientious students who are used to getting the top marks. If your child finds that they’re struggling with the work encourage them to give it time, in the short-term a few lower marks are nothing to be worried about.
Before they start their foreign school make sure you have the right things to send with them, as there’s little worse than being the one person in class who doesn’t have the required textbook or stationery. In all things aim for a balance, don’t make it a bigger deal than it needs to be. Just focus on the preparation, while being sure to let your child understand the benefits of this new adventure they’re about to start.
If you’re sending your child to an international school the language barrier is unlikely to be a particular obstacle, but it may be an issue if you decide that a local establishment and immersion experience is the way to go. However, even if it’s an English speaking school, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be local lingo and slang that could make things confusing in the playground. So even if you think you’ve saved some trouble with your child not having to learn a second language on top of everything else, be sure to try and familiarise yourselves with at least some of the national dialect that might otherwise cause a slip up.
Regardless of the language spoken in the classroom there are going to be some cultural differences that may take your child some time to get used to. For example, In some countries it is considered rude to ask questions of the teacher, where others encourage active participation and are likely to call on children they consider too quiet. While it can be easy to believe that the way you’re used to is best or the ‘right’ way it’s important for you, and your child, to keep an open mind about the way their new school does things.
One good way of adjusting to the new culture can be to watch local TV shows or films, particularly if you are moving to a country where English isn’t the primary language. Visual media can offer a bit of a sense of the way things work, although obviously it will usually be somewhat exaggerated for dramatic or comedic effect. That being said, this can still be an invaluable source of insight into the local mentality, and it can make for an enjoyable learning experience too.
It’s generally a good idea to check the local curriculum, or that of the individual school in question if it’s an international one, well in advance of your child’s arrival. Much like having the right stationery on the first day is important, it’s also critical to know just what they will be studying during their time at their new school. Curriculums and timetables can vary a lot depending on where you are in the world, even amongst English speaking nations. Understanding the equivalence to the system your child is used to can be a useful step, and save on some confusion if they get a number rather than a letter on their report.
Bear in mind that just being in school overseas, and living there in general, is in itself a massive learning experience. Studying at a foreign school can offer great benefits on both a professional and personal level, helping to develop a multi-cultural understanding that could give your child a useful leg up in the future. At the end of the day it should be an exciting opportunity for your child, and while it can be nerve-wracking at first it can be highly rewarding with a little patience and persistence.
In the end there is no universally right way to go about preparing your child for starting at a foreign school, but we hope that we’ve given you a good place to begin here.
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