A good educational environment is one of the prime concerns for expats moving abroad, and the choice of school can have a profound impact on children’s development and happiness in later life. Life for expat children, with the regular uprooting and relocation, can be hard on them and their parents as they try to maintain a modicum of stability.
Talking with Marcia De Wolf, Head of Community Relations at St John’s International School, Expat Kids examined some of the points raised by St John’s’ recent poll about growing up as an expat. The questionnaire asked respondents whether they were, or were considering becoming, expats themselves; as well as questions about some of the challenges facing kids growing up in an expatriate environment.
Expat kids become expats?
With the St John’s poll identifying a majority of expat kids (84%) grow up to be expats themselves or plan to live abroad in the future, it seems that the difficulties or challenges of a childhood abroad are minimal or outweighed by the positives.
Mrs De Wolf mentioned that the most common issue was related to the perceived lack of a ‘home’ created by constant postings abroad, which is understandable and perhaps goes some way to explaining the continuation of expat living from childhood to adult life.
International schools play a part
How well an international school prepares children for living their own expat life depends on a variety of social and educational factors. Marcia de Wolf outlined the way the disconnection from their originating country can be eased initially for children by establishing a new kind of extended family with people from the same country.
Beyond this it was an important part of school life that diversity and discussion became part of students’ engagement with cultural estrangement. By encouraging students to lead the debates and to relate to new cultures, international schools should not only ease student integration into the school community, but also impart important skills and create a receptive attitude to new ideas.
Third culture kids
Another interesting area of the poll was the issues surrounding life as a ‘third culture kid’, someone who spends the majority of their childhood outside of their parents’ culture. At St John’s, as Mrs De Wolf explained, the school has both direct support and a commitment to diversity that helps children adapt to life abroad. The school has pastoral staff who are on hand to give appropriate counselling, as well as staff who are familiar with the transient nature of international schooling.
The uncertainty of being abroad may create problems at first, but it can also form a universal common ground for friendships; many of which are maintained by students through school, university, and later life. Whilst high student turnover rates in all grades, not just graduating classes, would normally be seen as destabilising to children’s relationships, this does not seem to be the case. As Mrs De Wolf explained, if the school maintains an atmosphere that fosters attitudes of openness and enhances social skills in children then, students can adapt and thrive.