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How to Choose an International School When Relocating Abroad

Tony Wolak - Aug 30 2018

With the right preparation and planning, finding the ideal international school can be a smooth and efficient process for expats with children.

You’ve just learned that you’re going to be relocated overseas. All the tasks that need to be done to move your family across the globe begin flooding into your head.

Pack up the house. Find an international bank. Help your spouse find a new job. Enroll your children in a new school.

While all of those tasks are important, discovering the right international school is essential. Moving abroad is an enormous transition for children. Adapting to new surroundings, finding a new friend circle, and possibly having to learn a new language – that’s a lot, regardless of age.

But with the appropriate research before and after relocating, expats can easily find the best educational fit for their kids and help them breeze through what’s likely the biggest change they’ve experienced in their short lives.

The American School in England (TASIS), which operates international schools across the globe, shared their advice on how expats can conduct the search for the ideal educational for their children. TASIS’s checklist brings up a collection of important topics that parents should consider when researching international schools.

Related: Special Education Needs 2018

International School Search Before Relocating Abroad

While expats’ children will be enrolling in the school, the entire family will be joining the community. According to TASIS, here are a few things to consider before packing up and heading overseas.

  1. Ask colleagues who have lived there for school recommendations. Trust what they say, but understand that their choices fit their circumstances. You will need more than their opinion to make an informed decision.
  2. Find out about the work commute and transportation options to determine the areas where you may want to live, however it is important that you do not choose a house before the school. A long commute to school every day is in no one’s interest.
  3. Armed with this information, use the Internet to start to research and identify your shortlist of schools.
  4. Collect the basic information about each school to compare what each one offers and how they fit your family’s needs.
  5. Refer to websites and prospectuses, and contact Admissions departments for information about the curriculum offered, accreditation by international organizations, availability of places, etc.
  6. Most schools offer a good education, but to find the elements that set them apart, look at their Social Media channels. There you can discover “the life of the school,” real and authentic content about activities, field trips, concerts, sports fixtures, etc. What happens outside of the classroom can be as important as the learning within.
  7. School reviews can help you determine the reputation of a school, and it is normal to find a mix of opinions. Schooling is a very personal choice, and everyone’s perspective is different. While a series of bad reviews should certainly be a “red flag,” do not be discouraged by the odd negative review.
  8. Current parents are an excellent source of information about any school. Read what they have to say and ask the Admissions department to provide contact details for some of them.

International School Search After Relocating Abroad

While Internet searches, reviews, and phone and email conversations with familiar parties can narrow down the international school search, face-to-face conversations and in-person visits ultimately matter the most.

TASIS recommends visiting a few schools and observing what daily life looks like.

“Choose a regular school day, when the campus is alive with students moving between classes, interacting with the faculty and each other.”

In addition, several attributes should be examined during each tour so expats and their children can compare how individual schools score on each.

  1. The culture. Many international schools reflect a national identity such as American, British, etc. This may be clear from the school’s name and/or curriculum, or it may be less obvious.
  2. Diversity. The opportunity to have an international experience is a gift that will stay with your children forever. Ask about the diversity of the student body to ensure that they will be joining an internationally minded community.
  3. Curriculum. Your anticipated length of stay and factors such as your children’s age and character, previous school experience, language, and so on will influence which curriculum you prefer (e.g., American, British, International Baccalaureate).
  4. Language Support. Find out what assistance the school offers to help international students improve their skills in the language of instruction, so they can cope with the subject content as soon as possible. While parents are right to be concerned about how their children will cope with learning in a different language, it is surprising how quickly most students adjust with the right support.
  5. University destinations. The universities that graduates attend will indicate the academic level of the school.
  6. Facilities. A campus tour is about much more than ensuring that the facilities are appropriate for the learning experience. Whether a school is brand new or boasts historic buildings, as you walk around you may get an immediate “gut feeling” about whether your family will be happy there.
  7. The Admissions team. This department should communicate the essence of the school and make your tour around the campus pleasant and informative. They may introduce you to teachers and the Head of the School, and every person you meet will influence your final decision. With notice, the school may also give your children the chance to experience a few lessons and/or meet students in their grades. Ask for contact information for current parents with children in the same year groups. A conversation with these parents can provide essential information about the school and reassure you about your decision.
  8. The sense of community. You are choosing a school for the whole family. How the parent community integrates with each other and the school is especially important for expat families as they adjust to a new country, culture, and language and make new friends. Some international schools, like TASIS England, offer an amazing parent support network to help make the transition period less stressful. New arrivals are given a buddy family who can assist with advice on many of the practical aspects of relocation. A parent association that proactively supports spouses who do not work and promotes involvement in the school community will have a positive impact on any new expat family’s experience.

Once an assignment requiring relocation has been doled out, the search for an international school should begin for professionals with children. That way, the entire family is set up for success when they settle into their new community – at work, in school, and at home.

To begin your search for international schools, use our Directory to find schools near your new assignment.