In the Netherlands where we live, there are plenty of schools to choose from: religious, Montessori, “traditional” local schools, and international schools. We chose one of the latter. Not all international schools are the same, of course. Some offer a variety of languages and cultural programs while others cater more to a specific nationality, for example French, German and British just to name a few. Some call themselves bilingual or immersion schools. The choice was huge, and after giving the issue a lot of thought, we picked one with a more multicultural curriculum.
Maybe you didn’t know that international schools can be found across the US as well. You can check this great list on Wikipedia, organized by state if you’re interested. There are many reasons why parents would choose this type of school for their children. Here are ours.
1) We want our children to appreciate different languages and cultures. All of us, including our three children, speak multiple languages every day, and we want the children’s school to mirror our family life. We think that speaking many languages is a valuable asset. In an international school, they will also be able to get in touch with children from other cultures and we think that kids everywhere will benefit from such encounters.
2) We want good quality, child-centred education. Obviously, not all international schools are good and not all local schools are bad. However, the school we chose is not only renowned for its high quality education but it is also very child-centred. The teachers check what each individual child is able to do and start from there. The students also have a long recess outside every day unless the weather is bad, and they have a cafeteria that serves warm, nutritious lunches. I think all parents want this for their children, no matter where they are.
3) It made sense financially. Before the school opened, we were torn between choosing a local school and a different international school. The problem is that good quality Dutch schools would have a long waiting list, but since my husband works at an international organization, our children had priority registration at the school we picked. International schools are usually expensive, but luckily, my husband’s employer pays for our children’s education. All of these things came together to help us choose the best option.
4) We want good communication with the school. Seriously, who doesn’t? I think a good relationship with the school is still important. We speak fluent Dutch, but for the most important things like how our children are doing at school, we still prefer English. We wanted to make sure we can understand everything and are able to communicate our needs to the school as well.
5) The school is integrated into the Dutch system. While the school features many languages, it is still integrated into the Dutch system. We don’t want our children to live in an expat bubble; on the contrary, we wish for them to feel at home in the Netherlands. Their school has a Dutch curriculum and celebrates Dutch holidays. Vacation is aligned with vacation time all over the country. That way, our children would get the best of both worlds.
There are trade-offs, of course. For example, instead of just walking to school, we send our daughter on the school bus that takes around 30-45 minutes each way. It is challenging to be involved with the school in any meaningful way other than making sure that she gets there on time, and coming to the parent-teacher conferences once every few months. And I’ve only met the other parents a few times.
So far, our experience has been wonderful and we’re extremely happy with our choice. So happy in fact, that we will send our second daughter to the same school when she’s old enough, and our son will follow suit.
Of course we know that we’re very privileged to afford such a school and that not everyone has this possibility. But there are certainly benefits to an international or bilingual education wherever you live and maybe it will prove just the right decision for you.