Within an international school community people are always on the move. Globally mobile families with children may stay in one place for a number of years or may need to move after a couple of years. People working for international businesses and the self employed may find that they have to move as market conditions dictate. And these moves can be sudden. Diplomats, military and NGO employees may have a fixed term posting. Teachers in international schools typically work on renewable contracts of one or two years and have to decide early in the school year if they want to renew them. As families move they need to find a new school for their children. These highly mobile people are sometimes called ‘global nomads’ and their children are sometimes called ‘third culture kids’ or TCKs.
There are many advantages for children as they move from one international school to another, or in and out of a national education system. They get to experience different cultures and may be exposed to an international perspective that may be lacking at ‘home’. They are likely to have friends from many countries, and get to visit amazing places. For many children it is also an opportunity to add another language to their mother tongue, with some children becoming proficient in two or more languages. These children often become resilient and independent as they adapt to new circumstances and make new friends.
But not all children are the same and some may find this flexible lifestyle does not suit them. Some children may find the transition to a new school difficult. Others may find an unfamiliar curriculum and new language demands too much to handle. Some children will have learning challenges, for example dyslexia, and others may have social or emotional differences. The greater the barriers to learning, the greater the challenge. Many international schools may not have the level of support that is available in the national systems of higher income countries. There may also be a stigma attached to learning differences in some countries that is not usual at ‘home’.
It is true that more and more international schools are able to meet a greater range of individual children’s needs and very many children will gain a lot from an international education. Parents need to be aware of their child’s needs and make sure that the school that they choose is able to support all of these needs. This support must continue to be available as the child moves through her schooling.
In a small number of instances an international education may not be the best fit for a child. They may be happier and more successful with the support networks that are available at ‘home’. These networks may include family and friends, as well as educational support. If this is the case parents should not be afraid to put the interests of their child first. Their choice may be between going to a city with a suitable school, or staying at home.
What do you think?