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Choosing the Best Expatriate Schools for Mobile Families

Consider these tips for choosing the best school for your children as you move internationally for an assignment.

You’ve just accepted an international dream assignment. The opportunity is ideal for your career, and in a location that intrigues you. Now your focus is on helping your children make a successful transition to a new school.

Increasingly, global mobile workers are making international moves as a family. A successful assignment depends in part on choosing the best fit in overseas schools. Here is a primer on choosing the right school for your students.

Immersion Schools or Assimilation?

Many locations offer multiple school options, so you first need to decide: am I more interested in my child immersing into the local culture and community, or in being surrounded by others from global expat families? If option A is your preference, you may want your child to attend a local school where students are from the area, speak the language and are involved in neighborhood activities. If your child is more likely to thrive surrounded by others also living the remote mobile lifestyle, you might instead prefer an international school.

“International schools ease the transition for expats compared to local public schools because they are usually English speaking. Making friends can also be easier because your child will be surrounded by fellow international students from places like France, the United States and other places all over the world,” said International Citizens in a recent blog. That said, some even offer immersion programs to help students quickly learn the local language and extracurricular programs to learn the local culture.

Alternatively, says journalist and experienced expat student Aneil Fatania, “Local schools have the potential to provide a platform on which children can quickly become fluent in the local language. Chances are that children who attend local schools will also learn and understand the customs and culture of the local country much quicker; something which is important, especially if you intend to stay in a country long-term.” They can be a good source of new friend connections for parents, too.

School Evaluation Options

Understanding what environment your child is most likely to thrive in is only one factor in your decision. The quality and cost of the education you can expect is another. In some countries, France for example, local schools offer high quality education on par with that of international schools. And, bonus, it’s at no cost to you. But don’t count on the quality of local public education systems to be consistent across all countries or regions.

If you are considering local schools, do your research and talk to other expats in the area. Ask the school to provide you with a copy of the curriculum syllabus for your child’s grade level. Look for a curriculum similar to that of your child’s previous school. “This will make for a smoother transition to a new school as the student does not have to come to terms with a completely new syllabus,” notes Colin Bell, CEO of the Council on British International Schools.

International schools tend to be more expensive than local schools. If you are considering one, check their accreditations. Both the Council of International Schools and the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies provide information. Should your child need to transfer schools, or want to apply to college, those accreditations are critical.

And don’t overlook special needs and interests your student may have. If your high schooler wants to study medicine or engineering, be sure the high school you choose offers higher level math and science courses that will be required for college. Ask about sports, arts and other extracurricular programs if those are important to your child. And if your child has special needs, be sure you understand what support services the school will provide.

Questions to Ask When Evaluating Schools

Education consultant Elaine Stallard suggests asking these questions when evaluating schools:

  • How do you help children settle into your school?
  • What curriculum do you follow?
  • What is the background of your teachers?
  • How large are classes?
  • How have students performed on recent exams?
  • What extracurricular activities do you offer?

Taking an overseas assignment with school-age children means choosing the right school for them. Do your homework. Consider your child’s needs, personality and learning style. And, once you have made a decision, get involved in the school yourself! Global work assignments are a learning experience for the entire family.

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