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Between packing up one’s belongings and making travel preparations, moving to a foreign country can be equal parts exciting and exhausting.
Amidst all the commotion, some parents may feel overwhelmed by the task of finding a school for their children once they’ve settled into their new home overseas. Fortunately, if parents practice due diligence, transitioning a child’s education abroad can happen smoothly.
“The parent has to be very savvy about interpreting the children for the school and the school for the children,” says Harriet Plyler, editor of The Good Schools Guide International, an online guide to international schools worldwide. “Parents have to help their children through the roadmap, while still getting adjusted themselves.”
— Harriet Plyler, editor of The Good Schools Guide International
When conducting research, Plyler suggests parents rely on key indicators to gauge the academic and financial soundness of international schools.
“International schools are often privately-owned,” she says, “so parents should find out the governance structure behind the school, and the fiscal standing of that structure.” Inquiring about these details will help parents ensure that funding is going toward “the right places,” such as textbooks, enrichment programs and the upkeep of school facilities.
“Parents should ask schools for this information, and a good sign that all is well will be the speed and smile with which any reports are produced,” Plyler says. “If a school is irritable about the question, has nothing in writing or refuses to release an accreditation report, financial report or other indications of transparency, that should send up a bright red flag.”
In addition, Plyler advises parents to focus their searches on international schools that comply with three benchmarks: accreditation by a recognized agency; a good range of standardized test scores; and if a child is at the high-school level, high matriculation to colleges and universities. “These clues will tell you if the school is being run well,” Plyler says, “and if money is being properly allocated to serve the best interest of the students.”
Once parents have narrowed their search down to a few international schools, it’s important that they contact administrators to get a feel for the curriculum.
“Seventh grade in the home country might not be seventh grade in the host country,” says Dr. Susan Bartell, a New York-based parenting psychologist and author of the Top 50 Questions Kids Ask series. “The workload and types of classes offered could be completely different.”
In fact, Bartell speaks from personal experience. Having moved from South Africa at the age of 13 to attend school in New York, she confirms that the adjustment would have been less taxing had she known what to expect in advance.
“Parents need to speak with administrators to get the proper academic and social support,” she says. “It’s hard to imagine what the curriculum will be until you’ve spoken to someone — you don’t want to go in blind.” Parents can also ask the school to put their child in touch with other kids from the school, so they know someone when they arrive on the first day.
During the last stage of the process, parents should consider visiting potential international schools with their child to examine the facilities, observe the social culture and look into their resources for learning a foreign language.
“Parents should pay close attention when touring the halls,” Plyler says. “For instance, is the headmaster tuned in to the needs of his students? Are the students and teachers lively? How do they deal with a child who is lonely and homesick?”
Furthermore, Plyler recommends that parents take note of the “language of the playground” during the visit, particularly if they’re moving to a country where the local language is unfamiliar.
“Your child might encounter a mix of languages,” she says. “For instance, if the child is attending an English school in the Middle East, the other children might speak to one another in a native language like Farsi on the playground. That might sound like a marvelous immersion opportunity to you, but remember that could be a very lonely experience for a child.”
To that end, parents may want to centralize their searches to schools that work to integrate students — such as setting up correspondence between pen pals and international students to help ease the social transition. They may also consider schools that offer rudimentary courses for learning a foreign language, or embassy-sponsored schools where children will be more familiar with the spoken language.
While cost shouldn’t be the primary consideration, it’s nevertheless a very important factor when selecting a school. “School costs have to be considered before applying to any school, and may determine whether a family can afford to send children to school in the new posting, leave children behind in boarding school, negotiate a better package with the company or turn down the posting,” Plyler says.
Parents would also be well-advised to take exchange rates into account when looking at foreign tuition fees. Using a free online currency converter can help with this task.
By taking a thorough and cautious approach to the research process, parents can succeed in finding an international school that best fits the academic and developmental needs of their child. And once parents have found the perfect school, they can minimize the costs of sending money overseas to secure their child’s place by using a trusted online foreign exchange service. An online foreign exchange service can offer lower costs than banks, and may provide guidance and helpful resources that decrease the cost of sending money overseas on an ongoing basis.
“There’s no question that international schooling is an incredible adventure,” Plyler says. “But you do have to know your child and allow them to be a part of the decision-making process in order to give them the best experience.”
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