The cultural advantages of an international school education

The international schools market has experienced a dramatic growth boom in recent years, in fact the sector ended the 2010/11 academic year with the highest number of schools ever in existence and the greatest number of students ever attending. The increase in choice will clearly be great news for relocating parents making schooling decisions during an international move, but will an international school be right for their child?

The international schools market has experienced a dramatic growth boom in recent years, in fact the sector ended the 2010/11 academic year with the highest number of schools ever in existence and the greatest number of students ever attending. The increase in choice will clearly be great news for relocating parents making schooling decisions during an international move, but will an international school be right for their child? 

Karin Purcell, Development Director at Marymount International School London, explores the cultural advantages of an international education

“All schools should be international” says Zaima Rahman, aged 16, who moved to the UK three years ago from Bangladesh.  “Or, it should at least be compulsory for all students to attend aninternational school”.
 For most parents and teenagers this is a surprising statement. Teenagers are, after all, known to be desperate to “fit in”, desperate not to be “different”, desperate to “belong”. Perceived wisdom states that teenagers have an overwhelming need to be part of a strong peer group with which they can identify. The expectation is that this peer group needs to have a similar culture, language and outlook to their own. Parents too, wish their children to experience a sense of belonging and expect that this would not be possible in an international environment. 

It is therefore all the more startling that the experience of so many parents, teenagers and teachers in the international school environment testify to the opposite being the case. So many, who have taken the route of international schooling attest to being delighted and surprised by the benefits they have experienced.  In conversation with Zaima and her friends this very quickly becomes apparent. 

Funmibi Ogunlesi, aged 15, came to the UK from Nigeria three years ago. She openly admits that she was nervous about being the odd one out. Now her view is that the international environment is by necessity open and accepting precisely because of the differences. “No-one can avoid interaction with people who are different. Because others accept me it makes me proud about my own traditions and my own nation. But I am also interested in others and their tradition. I know that their customs are different to mine but they are just as valid.”

Abriana Davies, aged 15, agrees. She moved to London with her parents from the United States three years ago and after initial nervousness settled in quickly at school. She points out that in an international environment it becomes necessary to set aside stereotypes: “I have discovered so many new and surprising things about other cultures. We have just celebrated International Day at school and we all share each other’s cultures, customs, music, dance, food and much, much more.”

The international aspect adds a very vibrant dimension to the teaching environment. “On International Day the classroom was buzzing with excitement. I felt the immediate need to engage with the pupils on a completely different level. We openly discussed the meaning of identity, both cultural and national, and touched on subjects normal lessons don’t allow.” says Dr Amy Rowe, history teacher at Marymount International School.

Parents too, testify to unexpected advantages the international environment brings to their children’s education. A British parent explains that “I was delighted to hear that my daughter was studying the Second World War with two Japanese, one Russian, two Germans and one American student in the class. I believe that this gives an added benefit and depth to the subject matter absent from a totally homogenous, mono-national environment.”The final word goes to Zaima, Funmibi and Abriana who all agree that “the international school environment prepares us for life”. They all have the maturity to know that the world is increasingly complex and that they will be entering a highly competitive multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-national workplace. They know that they have been familiarized with this world simply by being in an international school. They feel comfortable and confident in their ability to understand and cope with the demands of a multi-cultural environment. They are prepared and have nothing to fear.Comprehensive coverage of education issues including Boarding and International schools and understanding Performance Tables in the Spring issue of Re:locate out end March

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