Chosing a local school for your expat child
I Am A Mom, My Expat Life, Raising Global Citizens And TCK's

Choosing a Local School For Your Expat Child

I found Farrah’s blog through a blogging competition and it is funny and entertaining. Farrah is a fellow expat in the Netherlands and also a mom of three children. In this wonderful post, she basically does me a great favour and writes about a topic that is dear to all parents, and especially to expat parents- choosing the right school for your child, or in Farrah’s case, choosing a local school even though she never would have considered that option. Enjoy! 

Choosing A School When You’re an Expat
When you’re getting ready to move abroad there are so many factors to consider. I realized this while my husband and I were planning our ‘jump’ over the pond over a year ago- and decided that if we focused on one aspect we might not become overwhelmed. Since life centers around our boys (twins almost 3 and oldest 4) it wasn’t too difficult to turn that focus onto their school and road of education.
We learned that there’s such a thing as an ‘international school’ as well as a traditional school and several other types in between. Initially, I was firm in my belief system- an international school must be the way that we should go. We didn’t want to rock the boat too much for our boys with this move, so putting them in an English-speaking school was the very least we could do. It was safe.
We had appointments with international schools and a few traditional schools thrown in for good measure. I assured out relocation agent that I wasn’t open towards a traditional Dutch school (the very idea!) because it would have been too foreign. I just wanted to keep things as normal as possible for them. My own guilt poked through at tearing them from the only home they had ever known, so I had to do whatever I could to make it easier for them.
Then it dawned on me- easier for whom? Them? Or me?
After visiting a few international schools I realized, technically they were all the same. English-speaking, children from diverse parts of the world, and children were not necessarily from the school’s neighborhood. Chances were: my children would be limited to these students as their friends. I wasn’t going to have any real involvement in my community and we most certainly weren’t going to get any kind of authentic Dutch experience. There wasn’t a thing wrong with the international schools- but my gut kept telling me that this wasn’t the right choice. This was sort of taking the safe way out and not letting the guys see what their real potential could be.
The idea of a traditional Dutch school started to grow on me. I liked their sizes and their neighborhood familiarity. Basically, where we chose a home was going to be based on the school since we wanted to be close enough to walk or bike. Our lives were going to center around it- so this was not something to take lightly, and we didn’t.
Eventually we narrowed it down to three. One international school, one traditional Dutch school, and another traditional Dutch Catholic school. Seems pretty easy to eliminate the religion based school since we really aren’t a religious family (nor Catholic), right? Not so. The neighborhood around the Catholic school was fantastic. The ‘grade’ school that my oldest would attend was connected to a Peuterspeelzaal (play group/school) for the twins. As far as I could see- there was NO emphasis put on religion in the structure of the school itself, nor the curriculum.
We ended up choosing the traditional Dutch Catholic school if you can believe it. Of all things we chose not only a Catholic school- but one that is strictly Dutch speaking at that. A far cry from keeping everything as ‘the same’ as possible!
This has been one of the best decisions we have ever made- and one that I am most proud of. We took a chance that our kids would benefit from being immersed in a culture that we knew nothing about and they’re flourishing. My oldest is now speaking about 70% He translates for me. He has friends and playdates with neighbors and classmates. He tells me stories about his classroom and is excited on the mornings when I tell him ‘Today is a long day!’ (meaning two days a week he has half days). Every parent wants their child to be excited about their school.
But you know what? It’s all fine. In fact it’s better than fine because he loves his school and so do his brothers. We took a leap into going with something we originally thought would never work, was never an option- and here it was the best choice overall. The right choice. I hope if you’re someone who is considering a move abroad- you give the other options a chance when it comes to the school for your child. What you might immediately think of an obvious answer might not be so right after all.
Farrah is a US expat living in the Netherlands with her husband, three year old twins and their four year old brother. They just spent their first year adapting to the Dutch culture and loving it! She blogs at The Three Under but you can find her most often on Twitter and Instagram @Momofthreeunder

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  • Reply Farrah September 27, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Thank you for having me Olga! It’s a pleasure to visit here with you today!

    • Reply The European Mama September 27, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Hi Farrah, the pleasure is all mine! Great post, thank you!

  • Reply Elizabeth September 27, 2013 at 9:09 am

    School was definitely a huge, huge deal for us when moving to Germany. As usual, I am here to offer the other end of the childhood spectrum-that of being an expat with older kids! I felt our focus and starting point for a school decision had to be on our rising 9th grader. I knew that once she hit high school, every grade mattered. Going to a German school would have been a great cultural experience, but I knew it would also mean repeating 9th grade the next year as all of her first year would have been spent trying to learn a language she had no experience with or exposure to. So, I felt the international school was our only option for her. As for our rising 4th grader, we applied to the international school but were told there was not a spot for her. Spots came open rarely after the first of the year and, should one come open, she would not be able to start at the international school until the mid-year point in January. Seeing as how we didn’t have any choice, we got comfortable with the idea of her going to a German school. I loved the idea of a neighborhood school she could walk to, having friends in the neighborhood, and becoming part of our community. Unfortunately, she did not see it that way. She probably took our move the hardest-to put it mildly, she was scared to death. The thought of going to a German school where she not only knew no one but could not communicate was a source of great anxiety for her. I started trying to think outside of the box and even considered home schooling until a spot came open at the international school. Um, yeah-that was a no go seeing as how home schooling is illegal in Germany. Looking at the school calendars furthered my own anxiety-almost no breaks together and only three weeks off together in the summer. While I know you are not religious, I can clearly see God’s hand in all of my life…including this school choice. A spot came open at the international school for her two days before we moved. Looking back, the international school was a great choice for my girls. While the inconveniences are many since it is 50 minutes from our house, the education these girls are receiving really is second to none. The only reason I am not excited about moving home next summer is having to leave the international school. The critical thinking skills my children are developing are just not possible in a public school in the US thanks to No Child Left Behind (don’t even get me started!) that has created a culture of teaching to the middle and ignoring high achievers. I really hate that my older daughter cannot finish high school here and that my younger daughter will have to leave just as her potential in school is finally being realized.

    • Reply The European Mama September 27, 2013 at 9:30 am

      Hello, Elizabeth, thank you for stopping by and sharing your experiences! The move must have been hard for you and your children. I see that things worked out for you in the end. Especially because, as you say, homeschooling is illegal in Germany- and that your daughter was so anxious to move! We made a similar choice to yours- send our daughter to an international school because it offer good quality education and there were no fees or waiting lists for us. Also, she could have mother tongue support in at least of our languages- it’s far away from us but they have a school bus service and it takes around 30 mins to get there…

    • Reply Fritter September 28, 2013 at 8:13 am

      I’m so glad that things worked out for your sweet girls Elizabeth. I don’t know what we would have done if the boys were older. I think probably go with an international choice, as yeah- I remember being a 9th grader and if my parents put me in a classroom like that to sink or swim. Oh my. I DO admit I have it a little easier with them being so young (relatively of course!) when it comes to school. Isn’t it a pity that life can be like that for us as adults? I think I’d like to be 4 again, please. Thank you for reading 🙂

  • Reply Mrs. Chasing the Donkey September 27, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Hello! Just wanted to say I heart Farrah and her blog (I’m not a weirdo, I swear). Choices surrounding kids are the hardest, thanks for sharing.

    • Reply The European Mama September 27, 2013 at 11:52 am

      Hello, Mrs. Chasing the Donkey, thank you for your comment! I love Farrah’s blog, too! I agree with you: it was much easier to leave my family and my job in Poland so that I could be with my then boyfriend than it was to choose a school for my children! Besides, I’ve been voting for you in the Circle of moms competition- good luck!

    • Reply Fritter September 28, 2013 at 8:14 am

      Thank you Mrs. Chasing Donkey! You are the best 🙂

  • Reply Expat Sacrifices: When Your Kids Miss Out on Kindergarten Round Up - The Three Under February 19, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    […] Mama: Homeschooling, Choosing traditional over international (a guest post by yours truly), and Olga’s personal school […]

  • Reply Farrah September 7, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Just to give a short update- the boys are now almost 7 and 5! We still love our school- and because of that we ended up extending our contract another few years. In fact, when we were forced to move because our landlords were selling the house, we looked high and low for a rental in this same area. It wasn’t easy- but the school became so important to us- with the teachers and friends that we have made- I can’t imagine being anywhere else. 🙂
    Farrah recently posted…Links and Info on Europe’s Refugee CrisisMy Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking September 8, 2015 at 8:38 am

      Thank you Farrah for this great post. It’s so good to look back and know that you’ve made a good choice!

  • Reply Evelyn September 7, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Great article. One of the best points in it is “easier for whom? Them? Or me?” Always a good question to ask as language is often more intimidating for parents than children. The decision is a different one for different kids, different ages and different circumstances. We would have loved to have my kids in local schools in some of our locations but, knowing that we would be moving every few years we chose international schools. Part of it was language consistency but more importantly it was curriculum. We learned through experience of living in the US where we had no international option, that changing school systems can be hugely difficult – it created gaps that our children had to work very hard to overcome and still show up from time to time many years later. We thought that there would be less difference between the English and American systems but we couldn’t have been more wrong!

    • Reply Olga Mecking September 8, 2015 at 8:37 am

      Evelyn, yes there are many things to consider when choosing a school for your expat child. For Farrah, local school was the best choice. For us, it was an international school. It all depends on the country and which schooling options it offers and the family (and of course, the children themselves). As someone said, the “personality” of the school is more important than the languages and besides, choices aren’t available everywhere.

  • Reply Fan Facts About Schools Around the World | VollNews January 12, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    […] Dutch children go to school on their fourth birthday. This results in some chaos as new kids are added to the class throughout the year during the first year (called groep 1 or kleuterklas). The kids get to play and learn social skills and only start "real school" when they're 6 (groep 3). However, school is not compulsory until the kids are 5 years old. […]

  • Reply Brian November 15, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Good for you for stepping outside your comfort zone and putting your children in a local school. Looks like it really paid off! Thanks for sharing.
    Brian recently posted…From Dr. Williams’ Desk: Help Your Child’s Communication SkillsMy Profile

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