It can be a real headache for parents moving abroad: Which particular school, which school system, and which language do we choose for our expat children’s learning environment? Besides all the naturally given circumstances such as country, surrounding language, and work place, the choice of school system is a more complex one.
The choice is ours to make
The difficult aspect in this for parents of young children is that we have to make the school choice on their behalf, often among several options, and typically without previous knowledge of the school systems available. First of all, where and how do we find suitable schools to choose from at all? Second, is the chosen school and school system really the best one for exactly our own expat children? Third, how will our choice of school help or limit our children’s opportunities later in life?
School choice 1: Spanish village pre-school system
The first school abroad that we sent our 3-year-old daughter to, was a local, Spanish village pre-school. All 3 pre-school grades, around a dozen children, were taught together by the one and only “maestra”. For expat children with no knowledge of Spanish what so ever, including our daughter, this was a perfect setting and school system: a limited group of children and only one adult person to familiarize herself with. We found the school through colleagues at Thomas’ new work place. It wasn’t close to our house, but after having visited, we fell completely in love with the teacher and the school’s safe and family-like atmosphere. There were other options, even English-speaking schools closer to where we lived and specifically aimed at expat children. But once the school choice was made, the advantages were clear: rapid adaptation into the local community and exposure to the Spanish language in a safe, native-speaker environment. At pre-school age, academics are not what matter the most.
School choice 2: Chilean Montessori school system
The second school abroad for her to enter, was a Chilean Montessori school. Now, this was not the natural or common choice for most expat children in the capital of Chile. We were often asked why on earth we made that choice of school system? This time around, I found the school via the local phone book at the hotel upon our arrival. Most expat children went to English-speaking schools, but 1. our daughter had no English, 2. the local school system was very conservative and strict for our Danish taste, and 3. we once again fell in love with the school and the staff while visiting the place. We had no previous experience with the Montessori school system, but looking back, we’re very grateful that our children got this chance to develop throughout their early Elementary school years within such a creative, individualized, caring and yet demanding school system. We feel confident that what they learnt here will strengthen and stay with them forever.
Spanish-speaking schools in Spanish-speaking countries.
Our school choice #1 and 2 for our daughter (and later, her brother) were Spanish-speaking schools in Spanish-speaking countries. Although this made it harder for her to switch to an English-speaking school system later on, we didn’t regret the choice we made.
School choice 3 and 4: English-speaking schools in the US and Germany. More about that later … .
What’s your experience with school systems? Do you feel you made the right school choice for your children? Was it a hard one to make?