Parents can make the most of international school experience

Many of us will remember back to that frightening day when we nervously walked into our new school and met a forest of faces and buildings, both of which seemed huge and daunting. There would be so many things to learn and so much to take in, in such a short period of time. How could we cope?

But for many of us ‘mature adults’, these experiences were few in number as an older generation tended to be more firmly and solidly home based and much less transient than the younger generation of this new global society.

Today’s younger generation find themselves following their parents in a very global context, often moving to not only more than one new school, but to more than one new country and the new school that goes with it.

As an International career educator and Director of schools in multiple countries, my own daughters saw their schooling start in California, move to Greek-speaking Cyprus, then to the Muslim society of Abu Dhabi, to a year in a foreign country to them, the United Kingdom and then their final four years in German-speaking Switzerland.

Did this do them any harm? Not in the slightest is my unequivocal response, for they gained so much richness from these moves.

Firstly, they were exposed to multiple cultures with a wide range of people and languages. They learned quickly that for many people acquiring was second nature and that in the international arena, being able to speak and desiring to acquire new languages was just a natural part of successfully settling into a culture.

They learned a sense of history and of religion, of multiple nationalities studying in a rich and (sometimes) tolerant society. But critically, given the transient nature of international schools, student turnover is frequently high, and therefore, acceptance and quick orientation of new students is second nature. Existing students do not feel threatened by the new student, as it is something with which they have grown up.

In addition, students are exposed to different teaching styles, with teachers often emanating from wholly different education systems and indeed countries. Their life experiences are contagious and further enrich the students’ view of the world.

The above situation is certainly true of my own current school. We are a small school with an enrolment of perhaps 350, (in August of 2014). But, over 60 of those will be new students; twelve new teachers will start work, and there will be the sense for all of these ‘new kids on the block’ of not being alone in a new environment as so many others will be in the same boat. With over 30 different nationalities represented, there is a sufficient richness in diversity to allow some pretty exciting things to occur. And they do.

So how do we as parents optimize the chances of a successful school experience? I believe the parent should recognise the school as a vibrant community of which they are a valued part. They should involve themselves in school activities and be active in taking something from the rich microcosm of the school community of which they are such important members.

Parents should also approach the whole experience as a new but exciting and positive one. Whatever the age of the child, each student should feel quickly welcomed and supported for, with parents taking an active interest in the experiences the student is enjoying, the whole family benefits.

One other action that the parents should consider is talking to the school with some regularity. Schools are vibrant and ever changing places and parents should remain involved in the social and academic changes through which their child journeys.

The International experience is a rich and varied opportunity for your child to learn some important lessons, which will make them more valuable members of their future global community. Do not waste the experience nor undervalue its potential benefits for you and your child.

Peter J. McMurray is Head of Bangkok Schools, St Andrews International School, Thailand. www.standrews-schools.com