Supporting families through relocation: Advice from leading international schools

Relocate Global’s International Education Forum, 19 February gathered together experts from leading international schools to discuss how to tackle the unique challenges facing families in global transition.

Parents helping kids with schoolwork
The emotional and psychological effects of an international relocation on an entire family can sometimes be overlooked when considering taking on a new international assignment. Finding the right school for their child in their new location will of course be at the top of the list of priorities for any family, but not all schools are created equal when it comes to family support. Tapping into invaluable resources such as well-developed pastoral care programmes, language support for new students and parent support groups can make the difference between a successful relocation and a failed assignment.Relocate Global brought together education experts and school leaders, as well as HR and relocation professionals, at London’s Institute of Directors for the International Education Forum, to tackle some of the unique issues that internationally relocating families face when selecting a new school for their child.Taking a look at some of the unexpected challenges facing overseas families making a move to the UK, Nellie Bailey, Associate Director of Admissions at TASIS, The American School in England describes the challenge as the, “loss of the everyday norm.”“Lots of schools have “buddy programmes” but we have a programme called the Parents’ Information and Resource Committee (PIRCS) at TASIS aimed at the whole family, not just the child,” says Ms Bailey. “They are there when parents are having that hard day, a tough time. We want the parents to feel as though they have a connection, from understanding what pieces of uniform to buy to helping with where to get your haircut. We give families information before they arrive about doctors and dentists and the towns in the area.  These are really important things as they bring back the norm.”Lillian Stauber, is a typical expat, born in Taiwan and raised in Canada and the United States, she has moved seven times in 23 years. Ms Stauber has lived in London for just two years but is already a volunteer member of the TASIS Parents’ Information Resource Committee.Before all of this Ms Stauber had a successful career in marketing and pharmaceutical sales. “Now my career is moving my family,” she explains to delegates at the forum. “Because I’ve moved a lot, I know the importance of settling families and settling children. We all know that if Mum’s not happy, then no-one’s happy. Sometimes the life of the non-working spouse is so much harder than that of the working spouse. The working spouse has their job; the non-working spouse is left at home. I did feel isolated. That’s why I feel TASIS has a really unique programme. It’s made up of parents like myself who have struggled through the relocation process and are now able to help other parents. It helps them to realise that what they’re going through is normal, that they’re not going crazy!”  Like Ms Stauber, Susan Stewart, Head of Languages, at the International School of London, (ISL), Surrey has seen the effects of successive international moves on relocating families. Demonstrating just how complex and challenging family situations can be, Ms Stewart described the journey of one globally mobile family before they found a place at ISL.“When I asked them about their life story, it transpired that the oldest was born in the Netherlands. Following a move to Malaysia, they relocated to Brazil where the third child was born. And just as their container had arrived on a move back to the Netherlands, they received a call asking if they could move back to the UK. It was at this point the family joined us after a panicked phone call: ‘We’re moving to the UK next week – do you have a space for us?’.”“So, think of these three children. Their mother speaks to them in Spanish and their father speaks to them in Dutch. They have lived for many years in Brazil, so they have Portuguese too. Plus, they had attended an international school, so the two oldest children speak English but the youngest did not.”When a family with this mix of cultural references and language needs arrives at ISL says Ms Stewart, the most essential first step is to understand the needs of each individual child. “Because every single child is carrying the traits of their passage through time.”At ISL a staggering seventeen languages are taught from the early years right up to the IB Diploma level at age 17-18. “Why do we do this?” asks Ms Stewart. “Why on earth do we think it’s so important to teach all these languages? Well, the research backs it up and then we see it on the ground; that children who are taught simultaneously in two languages have an enhanced linguistic and educational development. We know that the stronger a child’s mother tongue language is the better the successful further languages.”For first time expats, Ms Stewart believes that half of the battle is dealing directly with the anxieties of the parents and reassuring them that their children’s lack of English language skills is, “not a big deal. Time and time again we see children who were not speaking English last year and now they are.” Susan Stewart is just one of the many expert contributors to Guide to International Education and Schools, launched at the forum last month. The Guide provides a wealth of advice to anyone searching for a new school in an international setting, and offers insights into what it takes to make the right school choice. To order copies, download an order form, complete it using your keyboard, and email, fax or post it to us. 

Guide to International Education & Schools

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