What makes a great international school?

The number of international schools has increased four-fold in the past 20 years. This means plenty of choice for globally mobile families. But what should you look for?

International-School-Vietnam-editorial
This was the question posed at the webinar ‘What to Look for in a Truly International School’, which took place during Relocate Global’s month-long Great International Education and Schools Fair in November.Watch the webinar
One region with the fastest growth in international schools is South-East Asia. Vietnam is no exception thanks to a change in government policy to encourage both local and international students to benefit from a multilingual and multicultural education.  It was therefore a great pleasure and a timely moment for Relocate Global to welcome from the International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) Kim Green, Head of School, Kim Blackett, President of the Parent Teacher Organisation and Emmy Koch, President of the Student Executive Team, to talk about what it is like to experience a truly international education and what parents should seek in a school. Among the topics the panel discussed are: 
  • Exposure to culture and diversity
  • Service learning
  • Becoming ‘future-fit’
  • Understanding the importance of community.

Equipping parents for making the right choices

The international schools sector's exponential growth offers parents a bewildering array of education options. Yet as many relocating families find, despite the apparent choice, it remains hard to find the right blend of curriculum, ethos, location and language.The International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) was established 27 years ago to serve the expat community. Explaining both the purpose of the webinar and ISHCMC’s involvement in Relocate Global’s Great International Education and Schools Fair, Kim Green said she wanted to help support relocating families make this critical decision on which so much hangs.“When we relocate and live in an international environment we are often in a position where we need to make decisions for our families out of a context we understand,” says Kim Green. “It is really important as parents and community members working with families relocating to empower them with the right questions to ask and find the best fit for their child.“All families and children are very different and the concept of fit is different for each,” continues Kim Green. “The aim of this webinar is to offer parents a toolkit of questions as you go through your own relocation journey or are supporting others through it.”

A truly international school?

As many parents quickly discover through their research, not every international school is “international” in the way others are. Throughout November’s webinars, panellists and guests have discussed the important concept of developing global citizenship and international mindedness in children and young people. ISHCMC is among those schools that regards itself as truly international. Host Fiona Murchie asked Kim Green what that means and what experience that offers. “This is great question because as we move into the future the number of international schools in each city is growing,” says Kim Green. “We define ISHCMC as being truly international because we fit a number of domains. “To me truly international is related to curriculum – so is the curriculum international in nature, flexible, transparent and fosters skills and concepts that enable children to potentially transfer from the school location to a home-based or another international school?“Also, is the school fostering and valuing multilingualism and the diverse language community that exists? Is the school embracing and embodying intercultural understanding and open mindedness, which leads us to what we call international mindedness and the awakening of thinking that is beyond our cultural norms? That is, looking through different lenses from different perspectives and trying to understand context.”

Strength in diversity

“For us here at ISHCMC, it’s also about national diversity: do we have a wide range of nationalities and cultures that enable our students to have the opportunity to transcend and understand different cultures in an authentic way?” continues Kim Green. “Also, I believe that a truly international school is one that is going to empower our young people to transition into international post-secondary study. Are we as a school giving our students the toolkit they need so university doorways can open up in any country in the world? What is that framework – is it grounded in an international framework and globally recognised?“Finally, I believe one of the important elements of an international school is that it is globally connected and has access to the global context to drive understandings. It is a school that uses the global context to be very adaptive, to be innovative and very forward thinking.”

True internationalism into action

A vitally important way to assess these elements, as parents have also heard in webinars this month, is to visit individual schools, soak up the atmosphere, ask questions and see the school in action. Fiona Murchie was able to see ISHCMC last November while in the region. She picked up what makes true international schools so inspiring. “The school blew me away with its energy and excitement. This is such a special place,” she said. “We are looking at internationalism through different domains,” responded Kim Green. “Having a truly international context is quite unique and special and quite rare in the international sector.”Students like Emmy Koch, who is part of a globally mobile family and attended schools all around the world from the age of 6, is also aware of how ISHCMC's international mindedness makes it stand apart. “ISHCMC is quite unique in that its international mindedness is reflected in all aspects of the school,” she explains. “For example, our school really focuses on creating well-rounded individuals as well as on education. ISHCMC goes further in the sense that it encourages you to develop your personality beyond the realms of the school and in the community, for your future and where you want to go."

Developing the whole person

Speaking to the importance of education beyond an academic curriculum, also much discussed at the Great International Education and Schools Fair, Emmy Koch continues: “ISHCMC really has given me the opportunity to develop myself in different ways. I was never really involved in extra-curricular activities at my other schools. When I joined ISHIMC, I joined sports teams. It’s the whole thing.“Coming here and doing that has given me lots of friends. I was able to gain an appreciation of what the school spirit is and therefore have been able to develop myself beyond the academics” says Emmy, who is now President of the Student Executive Team.ISHCMC’s holistic approach to international education throughout each aspect of school and its community life, including the importance of teamwork with people of multiple different backgrounds and experiences "really embodies what it means to be an international school,” says Emmy.

A diverse learning community of parents, teachers and students

As Kim Green mentioned in her introduction, parents and students are faced with having to make decisions out of their home context. These can be anxious times, but good international schools offer an environment and community that can support these milestones.For Emmy, being part of a sports team helped her find her feet and build the confidence to thrive in the new location. “What helped me was joining sports teams and putting my self out there. I’ve tried to join and take all the opportunities in terms of engaging with the school spirit.“If it’s the first time you’ve moved school, it can be overwhelming to join all these people with all these different opinions. But you can open yourself and embrace all the opportunities. Most of us are in the same boat and away from what we’re familiar with. That creates a sense of community and helps us relate to each other.”For parents too, truly international schools regard the whole-school community as foundational to success. “One of powerful pieces I’d be looking at is what the school is doing to create community,” says Kim Green.Referring to the excellent and valuable work Kim Blackett and her team are doing for parent outreach and offering opportunities for parents to engage with the school community, Kim Green said, “community doesn’t just happen by osmosis." As President of the Parent Teacher Organisation, Kim Blackett is looking at supporting parents joining the school from their perspective. “As a parent in this new location you want to be able to have access to staff,” says Kim Blackett, outlining the aspects parents often look for. “When you are at a school in a place you know, that is a given. But when you come to one that is far apart from what you are used to, you want to know that your child can grow.”“What we all say is that community is vital when you don’t have a lot of things that are familiar to you. Our community becomes familiar for the family coming in.“Community sits right at the heart of what we are as a school,” concludes Kim Green. “As we make that transition, we want to know we belong and have connections. When you relocate, you are often away from family for a long period of time so we need to create connections on location.”
Christine Byrne, the former Head of Admissions, International School Ho Chi Minh City, shares her experiences of supporting families on a group move and confirms that going the extra mile for families makes all the difference to a smooth transition and successful relocation.

Meet the speakers

Find out more about all of the speakers and panelists who participated in the autumn 2020 Great International Education & Schools Fair.

 

The next Great International Education & Schools' Fair is coming in spring 2021

<< Return to the Great Education & Schools' Fair homepage


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