Moving countries and cultures – how do expat children cope?

s the need for companies to be more involved in many areas of the globe it is little wonder that some students find themselves in the position of needing to move schools and this throws up a number of issues that need to be reconciled. Whilst it is normally possible to find a school for children there are a number of areas which will be affected by any change of environment.

The most obvious is friendship, students who live in an International School environment are quick to make friends in most cases but it is vital that the links to previous experiences is maintained. Many students find the first day of school a little daunting, and to have to do this 4 or 5 times during your school career must be nerve wracking.

Another common difficulty can be the language and cultural differences. Some schools may have a different teaching language to that of their mother tongue and students may find it difficult to move from learning in one language to another. This also extends into the community, one of the great frustrations for any of us is not being able to be understood by the local community, wherever we may be in the world. This can lead to isolation from the culture which you are meant to be experiencing, and a cozy expat bubble forming which prevents the student really taking part in life in the country they are in.

The curriculum structure is another area where problems may arise. Schools will often have exam programs that run over two years and so joining in the middle of such a course is very difficult as it puts more pressure on the student to ‘catch up’ on missed work. Whilst many International schools run similar courses there are always going to be areas where the match is not perfect, even with two schools running the same programmes, syllabus. There is also often optional content that each school can decide to teach as part of their syllabus and the choices they make are entirely made by each school.

The need to move students around the globe is something that all International Schools rely on but it is vital that the students get some say at the right times to do this. Moving in the middle of an exam course cannot be recommended and I would urge parents (particularly of senior students) to bear this in mind when making decisions.

Another area which students often quote as a problem is the lack of cultural identity that constant moving brings. Whilst they may be citizens of the world, there is sometimes nowhere that they feel they can call is ‘home’. This can be a big disadvantage for those students who decide to move back to their supposed country of origin for University and find themselves just as confused as they were by any other move. There can also be a lack of close extended family, which prevents advice and assistance from these areas in informing choices.

The constant reliance on parental contracts is also a factor in causing problems, students need to know that they will have a good length of time in a school or they become de-motivated, seeing each school as a temporary ‘thing’ until they are uprooted and have to start again somewhere else. There is also the level of expectation and individual attention in International Schools that can cause concern. Some students find it very difficult to adjust from classes of 30+ students in home countries to the much smaller and more intimate classes of an International School.

Whilst none of these points are insurmountable it is vital that parents realise that starting a new school in a new country is a daunting proposition for any student. Time to acclimatise and as much support as possible from parents will be the most important factors in assisting with the move.