Expat schooling: your questions answered

11 July 2017

One of the most bewildering tasks facing an expat family is finding the right school for the children. Not only is there often a linguistic and cultural barrier to overcome, there is also the decision of which school to choose, how the new curriculum will match with the previous one, and the inevitable red tape. While your assignment may be a critical career move for you, you also know that this is a formative experience for your children. Getting the schooling right will make sure it is a positive and enriching stage in their lives.

Our experience of helping expats move and settle overseas has taught us a lot about how schooling works for expats. We have gathered some resources to answer your main questions.

How do I choose the right school?

It is important to establish from the outset what you are looking for in a school. Set out your criteria – for example, the type of school you prefer, and whether you want to or are able to pay for it. Ask yourself how near you need it to be, and what are the most appropriate qualifications you want your children to gain during their time abroad.

Dr. David Willows, the Director of Admissions and Advancement at the International School of Brussels, provides a 26-question check-list that may help. Rachel Yates, writer, speaker, and creator of ExpatLifeLine.com, also offers a realistic guide on how you can ensure your child thrives as a “third-culture kid” during their time abroad.

Another key question is whether you want your children to be schooled in their own language or in the local language. The ExpatInfoDesk offers some solid advice on choosing between expat and local schools. Further advice on the different types of schooling available – including special educational needs – is clearly outlined by Expatchild.com.

There are many more websites like these, although most advice online focuses on specific countries and locations. ExpatArrivals.com, for example, offers good advice (and paid-for reports) for expats moving to the USA. A more general starting point is to read the regional guides in the excellent Guide to International Education and Schools, published by RelocateGlobal.

How do I prepare my children for schooling overseas?

If your children are considering local language tuition, you may consider giving them a head start. Resources such as DuoLingo, PetraLingua, and LiveMocha offer online language learning for your children, while there are also a number of useful apps that make language learning fun.

What about private tutoring?

Tutoring can be either an alternative to mainstream schooling or an easy way to help ease the transition into a new and different educational system. Find out more about the suitability of private tutoring or go directly to organizations, such as Tutors International, that help you to find suitable, local tutors.

What qualifications will my children get – and how useful are they?

For older children, internationally recognised qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) are increasing in popularity. Some maintain that it is the perfect route into university or college education, while others advise against assuming it is right for every student. A useful summary of the pros and cons of the IB can be found here. Alternatives include Edexcel qualifications, another widely recognised educational model, giving children continuity in their education wherever they go in the world.

Getting it right

The right choice of schooling is essential to your children’s happiness and development and to your chances of success on your overseas assignment. Domestic difficulties, including unsettled children, is one of the major reasons for expat failure. Preparation is key – and we hope some of the resources linked here will make your time abroad successful and enjoyable for all the family.  

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