expat kids new school

Kids in school uniform along the Malecon by Adam Jones, 2009 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Settling into a new country can be hard, especially for children who have to start a new school abroad. Cultural differences, language, accent, fashion… every detail is a challenge in the eyes of an expat kid. Here are a few tips to prepare your child to go back to school in a new country.

Before school starts

The most important thing is to prepare your child. Walk with them to school a few times so they can check it out, even if it’s closed. It will boost their confidence. Try to get them excited about the new things they will learn and the people they will meet and reassure them: they won’t be the only new kid.

If you were able to move to your new country a while before school starts, encourage your child to make friends in the neighbourhood – it will be a gentler way to practice before school. The same goes for you! Socialising with other parents beforehand will help you know what is expected, and what kids are currently wearing or playing with for instance. Also try to visit the area and the big cities around your home with your child, so that they know a little more about the culture and can talk about that they have seen.

Once they’re at school

Listen to what you child is not telling you: do they look like they want a different backpack because theirs is not cool enough, or do they want to go play with other kids after school? Your kids love you and may not want to hurt your feelings by saying they don’t want to be walked to school anymore. Encourage communication, especially in the first weeks.

In addition, you should know their timetable in advance and make sure they have everything they need. If they went to a PE class but didn’t have their sports kit and had to sit on the bench they will feel left out, not to mention the stress for you hearing them complain all evening!

Have faith in your kids. If you show them how worried you are, they will worry too. If however you show more confidence in their adapting and socialising skills, they will feel empowered and more comfortable to make their own choices. Be there for them, but do not interfere too much.

How to deal with the culture shock

Be aware that your children will have to work hard to learn the local language. Make sure they start learning it well before you move, and sign them up for intensive language classes once you’re in the new country. Not knowing what other kids are talking about is the worst possible scenario, and you ought to make sure your child has every tool in hand to be integrated into the group.

International schools are a safe bet when you move overseas with your children. Of course, they can be quite expensive, but if you can afford the option, your kid will probably feel more comfortable. International schools have a lot of cultural diversity and will prevent culture shock from being too brutal, as everyone will be undergoing the same thing. The language barrier will be lessened and the child will be able to learn the local language at a slower, more adapted pace. Here is a website to help you search for an international school abroad, to help you make your choice.

Talk about the culture of the country, try the food and experience the lifestyle. It is your new home, and your child needs to feel it. If you are excited and take it as an adventure, chances are they will too.

Finally, don’t hesitate to join an expat community, where you and your family can talk about this new environment with other expats!