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FAQs: International Academics

What do I do if my child doesn’t do as well academically in our new school?

A child may not do as well academically in the short run but may improve in the long run. At the outset, children may not understand directions that are obvious to children who have been in that environment for a longer period of time. Expectations may be unfamiliar and unclear. It is important to keep communication frequent both with your child and the teacher to ensure that problems don’t escalate.

If a child’s academic performance continues to decline, it can be because of differences in teaching styles, which may not match the student’s learning style, or because of emotional difficulties with the adjustment, or simply because they are at a different age and developmental phase, and their performance may well have changed at home as well. It is important for parents to try to work with the child and school to identify the source of the problem and address it from the source.

There are times when performance is on par but the grading system may differ as a result of cultural differences. For a child moving from a country with “grade inflation” to one where teachers grade more realistically, the child may perform similarly but receive lower grades for the same work. If this is the case, parents need to recognize the superficial nature of the performance decline and explain it to the child.

When a family makes a decision to move internationally parents need to begin to redefine education as something broader than schooling. There is no substitute for firsthand experience with people of different cultures, learning languages through total immersion, or the life skills brought about by the actual transition.  Once parents reflect on the true value they are giving their children through an overseas move, the different school experience is an acceptable tradeoff.

What do we do if my child is out of step academically when we repatriate?

There are cultures to which it is extremely difficult to repatriate, and those where it is easier. If you are coming from a culture where repatriation is difficult and you are not very adventurous, it may be wise to try to keep your child in a national school when you move abroad so that s/he can study your home country curriculum.
An alternative is the international baccalaureate program, which can be found at the primary, middle and degree levels in every country worldwide. This degree is accepted and respected by universities globally and, if you know you are on an international career track, your child can continue on with the same curriculum in every country.

If national schools are not available or are full in the area to which you are moving, you may have no choice but to enroll your child in a local school. It generally is possible to speak with the school your child is leaving and the school you anticipate s/he would attend on repatriation to obtain curriculum materials. These can be used to prepare him or her for repatriation either after school, or during summers, particularly during the last half year before returning home.

If you are parents who want your child to embrace the overseas experience without marring it by studying two curricula, it is alright to allow him or her to fully experience the time abroad without worrying about repatriation. When you return home it is possible to look for a school experienced with children who have moved from other countries whose staff will help your child adapt academically and socially.

What do I do if we have to move back earlier than anticipated?

Uncertainty is the unpalatable part of relocating and there are circumstances that may force you to return earlier than anticipated.  Contact your children’s former school to see if they still have places.  Even if there are, however, chances are the children will have been changed by their experiences and the former school may no longer be the best fit. You may want to take this as an opportunity to look at different schools for them to attend upon your return, taking into account the changes that have inevitably affected their needs in a learning environment.