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Finding the Right School Overseas: Educating Your Expat Kid

If you are moving abroad with children, finding the right school overseas for them is a priority. Just like picking school options in your home country, you will need to evaluate what is best for your child and identify the schools that work best for your family situation.  Understand that there is no right or wrong answer. The only right choice is one that makes sense for the needs of your kids.

Here are some common options for your third culture kids

International Schools

International schools are educational institutions that provide an education with an academic curriculum that differs from the host country. For example, your family might be living in Egypt and attend an international school that offers a predominantly American-based curriculum. Or your family could be living in Malaysia and your student receives their education in a predominantly French based curriculum. 

The student population might be composed of predominantly foreign national passport holders (i.e. non-citizens of the country), a mix of both foreign and national students, or mostly local students. What makes the school international is the curriculum and not necessarily the student population. It is possible for an international school to have a larger percentage of “local” students than foreign pass holders. That will vary from location to location. 

Families may choose this as an option because the education delivered might best meet the student’s long term needs (such as preparing for university attendance in North America or Europe). They may also choose this option because the style and method of teaching might be the most comfortable for their student. Families may also decide to enroll their children in international schools because it might quite frankly be the best option in their given location.

Many (not all) were created to serve an expat population due to meet the needs of corporate/business, diplomatic or military personnel in a country.  As a result, international schools can be amongst the most expensive option in a country, because in almost all cases, they are private schools. If you are moving abroad and an employer is not subsiding your educational costs, this could be a hefty bill, especially if you have more than one child. 

 QUICK TIP: 

Verify that the schools that you are researching are accredited by a recognized overseas organization such as the Council of International Schools or Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Black professor and her students using laptop during lecture in the classroom.
Image: iStock

Local Schools

If international schools are offering a foreign curriculum, then there are options to enroll your child in a local school. Depending on the host country, you may choose a school that is part of the public or private/independent system. You can anticipate that your child would be receiving the same type of education (within some variances) as students who are local. This might be a great option depending on your host nation and the needs of your student. If the local offerings deliver at a caliber of education that your family is used to or surpasses, it may work. 

Local schools can help your student acculturation to a new environment. Attending a local school will certainly immerse your child into their new community faster. Your child might be exposed to different facets of their host country that might not be as obvious or accessible in other learning environments. They would learn about the history, the culture and traditions of their host country directly. Local school immersion may also assist with the development of local language skills if it differs from your native tongue.  

The cost will depend on whether it’s a public or private school. You will need to conduct comparative research of schools in the area, if it is new to you,  to understand the typical costs associated with attending a local school. 

QUICK TIP(S): 

Visit the Department/Ministry of Education website in the country you are considering to learn more about the school systems and process. 

Connect with parents and families who are familiar with the country/region you are moving to and gather information on understanding the school system. 

Boarding Schools

Boarding schools are residential private schools. In other words, students live and learn in their educational environment.  This is an option for a few reasons. If you are moving for an employment assignment that is not considered a family-safe location, you may have to consider boarding school. You have a child who has specific educational needs and local options are limited.  You might also have a child who does not want to relocate with the family to a new country. 

Boarding school options can exist in different locations. You might consider boarding school choices in the host nation, if the appropriate option exists.  You can send your student to a boarding school in your passport/home country. You might also choose a boarding school in a completely different country from your passport or host nation.  Irrespective of what option you explore, as a family, you will need to determine if your student is ready to live in a different location for part of the year in order to attend school. 

Like international schools, this can be a pricey option depending on where your student will attend school and the subsequent costs associated with boarding beyond school tuition. You have to consider costs such as lodging, travel, and personal needs as well. 

QUICK TIP(S): 

Research and review schools carefully to ensure they can meet the needs of your students.

Learn how a school creates a supportive environment for students coming from overseas.

Teacher reading a book with a class of preschool children
Image: iStock

Homeschooling

Homeschooling is often defined as providing education within the home. But in reality, it is more related to providing education outside a public or private school.

You might choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons. You might want the option to have the flexibility of managing your child’s education, including designing the right academic curriculum.  You may have specific religious or philosophical values you want to incorporate in their children’s education. You may have children who you feel need specialized attention.  Regardless of reason, as a parent you can choose to homeschool your children for part of or all of their elementary and secondary education.

Even within homeschooling there are many different types of options and some expat families may use the including:

Unschooling (or Child-Led Learning): This is a style of education that lets the student’s interests and curiosities lead the learning process. This does not mean there isn’t a direction or parent involvement. Instead of utilizing a defined curriculum, unschoolers are focused on the education that is led by interests, learning styles and personality. 

Worldschooling: This type of learning recognizes that a child can receive an education by interacting with the surrounding world. While the student does not need to be in an international setting in order to participate, travel is often a component to enhance the learner’s educational experience. Worldschoolers can use the locations and cultures they encounter as a means for educational exploration.

Irrespective of the type of homeschooling option your family chooses, it is important to ensure your family is in compliance with local laws. Countries and regions can vary on homeschooling laws so make sure you research carefully so that you are doing things right.

QUICK TIP(S): 

If you are considering any form of homeschooling, there are some great resources online including the The Mom Trotter website.

Connect with homeschooling groups online to learn more about how you can design an appropriate educational program for your student. 

Choosing a school abroad can be overwhelming. But with some research and a network, you can find the right fit for you and your family.

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