The first day at any new school, even in your own neighborhood, can be exciting and scary for kids – and for parents – so the first day at a new school in a totally new country, can be quite overwhelming for both: but it needn’t be.
It can also be a very exciting growing and learning experience. It all depends on how well parents and children are prepared, and how open-minded they are to change and new challenges.
Let’s first consider all the things that may be different:
- Language – Never mind foreign languages: even the same language e. g. English, in a different accent, with different terms and expressions can be a huge challenge. Just think of Americans going to Australia, or Brits coming to the US.
- School uniforms – or absence thereof. British kids going to a school in the US may not be required to wear formal uniforms, something that they have been used to all their school lives. And for kids who have never had to wear uniforms, having to conform in dress, could be a very strange experience.
- Addressing the teachers: some countries are very formal – “Sir”, “Ma’am” while others are much less so. In Israel for example, the kids address teachers by their first names!
- Cultural differences, such as popular sports, new foods, varying curriculum, local customs – the list goes on
- Friends: perhaps the most important aspect of all. Your kids have left their friends and “allies” behind. They have to work hard at finding new ones. Parents have to work equally as hard in easing this process for them.
When relocating abroad, many parents choose an International School for their kids. This normalizes the learning experience to an international standard, and if the parents are diplomats or business people who move around the world a lot, the school experience will be fairly similar wherever they go. However, some parents may decide to enroll their kids in a local school, because they feel that the educational experience (both academic and personal) will be worthwhile. Either way, there will be challenges.
So, to help children – and even yourselves as the parents – cope with the exciting encounters ahead, here are a few basic tips that might ease things a bit:
- First of all, talk about it. Talk to your children about what they can expect, what might be worrying them, what they’re afraid of, and what they can look forward to. And after the first day, ask them what they enjoyed most, what they didn’t like; the names of any new friends they made, and how things differed from their previous school.
- Many schools that have intakes of kids from different parts of the world will organize a pre-opening orientation day for students and parents. Find out if the school in which you are intending to enroll your children has such a day, and if not, suggest one. This will help your children get to know the layout of the school, how it works, meet other new kids (and for you to meet new parents).
- Once you’ve moved into your new home, host a picnic, pool party, or barbeque for your kids’ new classmates and their parents to come and enjoy. It is a great way for both your children and you to meet, mingle and connect with others in the area.
- Some schools schedule events and celebrations geared toward international families. This is a nice way to excite children and enable them to meet and interact with other kids. Language barriers and cultural differences fall away once they smile at each other and run around like lunatics on a playground.
- A great way to help your kids integrate is to sign them up for a sports team or other group activities: photography club, dramatic society, or nature clubs, for example. All these things will get children interacting, bonding, and making new friends with common interests.
- On weekends, take your kids on local fact-finding expeditions. Study up on the history of the town, city or region in which you are living; work out a quiz, a treasure hunt, a search for information …and then invite a couple of the other new kids from school – and their parents – to join you.
- Even before your big international move, you can expose your children to the culinary delights of the new country where you will be living by preparing customary meals and local desserts. Lots of yummy fun and a great learning experience, as well.
- Consider setting up an online group or social media page for your kids and their new classmates, so they can connect, communicate, and get to know each other. This could even be done prior to arriving in the new country – but, of course, make sure social networking sites are supervised!
- Suggest a “family tree” project to the teachers to do in class. This is a great “get to know you” project that allows your children’s classmates to learn about where your kids came from, and it also let’s everyone see if anyone else’s family originated in a different country. This common ground could be a great bonding point for your children and the other classmates.
- As a parent, get involved in school activities yourself: volunteer for the Parents Committee, as a sports team coach, a car pool driver, a fundraiser organizer, etc. Parents being involved helps the entire family bond with the staff and other students. Plus, you would be setting a great example for your children!
Most of all, be open minded, be excited about the new things you and your kids will learn; the new people you will all meet; the mind-broadening experiences they will have, and then…just relax. Both you and they will be better, more enriched people with a wider world view that can only be to your mutual benefit.