Preparing for the new term and a new location: education and family focus webinar

The benefits of a bilingual education, securing a school place during lockdown, and how schools, education consultants and destination service providers are working hard and thinking differently to best support relocating families during the Covid crisis were key topics in this reassuring webinar.

Relocate Global’s Education and Family Focus webinar, which broadcast live yesterday, offered a wealth of advice to families in these uncertain times of coronavirus, as well as valuable new perspectives on common challenges.Introducing the interactive conversation to online viewers from all over the world, Fiona Murchie, Relocate Global’s Managing Editor and webinar host, said, “In this age of increased awareness around employee engagement, it’s so important to share the secrets of settling employees and families smoothly and successfully in a new location so they can thrive and adapt to ‘the new normal’.”


Thinking differently about language and education

Assignment success is contingent on all the family settling well into their new way of life. This is why getting the right support and advice is so critical, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Head of EIFA International School London, Françoise Zurbach, joined the panel alongside education and cultural support expert Johanna Mitchell, Director of Lumos Education, and Brenda Levis – President of US destination service provider, NYC Navigator, (Relocate Awards 2020 winner for Best Country/Local Best DSP) to exchange experiences and insights into making education choices and settling families into their new schools and communities.Françoise shared her personal journey and talked about why immersive language acquisition has so many benefits. “To parents, I always say be a little patient when their child is learning a second, or even a third or fourth language this way. How we teach at EIFA is total immersion and there are many benefits to this.“Children do pick it up and I really experienced this as a child when we moved to France. I was 10 years old and I didn’t speak French and starting school in France where all the lessons were in a language I didn’t then understand, so I had to learn. For this I had to be totally immersed in French.” 

Offering the best of both worlds

There are many reasons why non-selective international schools like EIFA, which offer small, supportive class sizes and balance the best of the British and French curricula – including following the British lead for introducing reading early, offering music, art and ballet and combining this with the rigour of the French approach – appeal to today’s internationally-minded families. “The confidence being able to speak two or more languages gives children is so important,” says education and cultural support consultant, Johanna Mitchell. “Often parents are multiple passport holders and speak multiple languages themselves, so they also want their children to have a sense of global mobility and global awareness. It gives their children opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. Bilingualism is critical.”Françoise Zurbach, a longstanding advocate of immersive bilingual education, highlighted the many studies backing the benefits of bilingualism, including how it allows people to express themselves in a more nuanced way, multi-task and enhances cognitive development. “When you speak two languages one is stronger than the other. The most important thing is not being bilingual, but it’s the switch between two languages. “Language above all is a culture,” continues Françoise. “It’s the whole block: the language, the culture, the emotion – how we speak to people changes according to the language. It’s the enrichment both languages bring to the brain.”Brenda Levis has seen how the empathy and greater emotional awareness being bilingual can bring is helping children settle better. “We see a lot of people who were raised internationally and want children to have same experience of growing up in multiple cultures. Their children bring less bullying to a classroom and are much more accepting of different cultures.” 

How Covid-19 has changed the agenda for family and education support

In this context of future-thinking and settling international families, the panel went on to discuss how the global pandemic has both complicated relocation, but also enabled schools and service providers to retain focus on a simple truth: personalised support and attentiveness remain the bedrock of any international move. “Covid has had a big impact on employees and employers, especially relocating families,” said Johanna Mitchell. “We’ve provided a lot of online tuition. Some schools have also been able to provide brilliant online programmes, but not every school has, so we’ve had to step in and ensure children had continuity of education.“Also, some families are in different places in lockdown and the quarantine rule changes have also made life difficult. This has placed a lot of strain on families. We have offered a lot of support educationally and culturally via Zoom. When families come to London, we can support them face to face. It’s really been about allaying those fears.”Brenda Levis also offered some fascinating insights from the situation in the US. Again, these highlight how the personal touch goes a long way at any time, but particularly at the moment, “We’ve had families come in during pandemic whose children weren’t able to start school or join Zoom classes. This has been really difficult for little ones and their parents to make friends in their new communities.“We were really concerned about isolation so made it a point to reach out to everyone who had relocated with us in the past year. We phoned and emailed our clients and they really appreciated that. We were able to answer their questions and invite them to our weekly webinars where folks have an opportunity to connect. We also brought in experts like nutritionists, educational, training and other fun support. We also have a couple of pregnant moms who are trying to navigate pregnancy in a foreign country. We are planning a virtual baby shower and have also connected them here in the States with people from their home country where they can swap notes about how to source baby products from their home country.”“Immigration and visas have also upset a lot of moves,” continued Brenda Levis. “On top of Covid, there is the executive order that is keeping a lot of people out of US until possibly 2021. That really has caused a blow for global mobility professionals and people on the move." 

Adapting to the new normal in schools and family support

Innovating new services to leverage technology, overcome these legislative challenges and maintain high levels of support is something FOCUS, the expat group run by expats in London, is also achieving. Gael Panhelleux, Executive Director of FOCUS, London in conversation with her two guests Mary Burke Tobias, Director of Admissions, Marymount London and Sophie Tailor, Relocation Manager, Sterling Lexicon, talked about how Zoom meetings have enabled their services and support to continue largely uninterrupted.This is especially critical as we move into the busiest time of year for family relocations. “We are ready and know it’s going to be a challenge in the next few months,” said Gael Panhelleux. “It’s a good time to come to the UK at the moment. There are lots of spaces in schools and lettings are pretty easy at this stage compared to a few years ago.” “July and August usually our busiest months,’ said Sophie Tailor of Sterling Lexicon. “We estimate moves will be delayed until September or October. In any case, the earlier you start planning and preparing, the better.”Mary Burke Tobias, Director of Admissions, Marymount London, agreed, observing how the IB’s creative interdisciplinary environment has enabled staff and students to “dig deep and learn new skills on the way”, including offering virtual tours and being flexible where relocations have been put on hold or cross-border movement restricted.

Preparing for the new term – learning lessons from lockdown

With the new term ahead, plans are well underway for the big return. Robert Stitch, Principal of Garden International School, Kuala Lumpur – winner of the Relocate Awards 2020 for School Providing Outstanding Relocation Support – described the school’s transition to a Continuity of Learning approach.It offers the GIS community a learning platform flexible enough to account for most situations families will find themselves in. “We wanted to show that we can offer a seamless shift from a physical learning environment to a virtual or home-learning environment,” says Robert Stitch. “We are building a robust model that will stand us in good stead if we have to go into lockdown and temporarily close the school again.”EIFA and other schools globally are adopting a similar approach. Nevertheless, one question concerning many parents at the moment, relocating or not, is whether they should be encouraging their children to still be studying over the summer and catch up after a Covid-interrupted four months or so.“The one thing I would say is not to do extra work and but give children a break away from school,” says Françoise Zurbach. “Every single subject we offer is available online and we followed the curriculum during lockdown lessons. Our advice now is to take children away from screens. I know it’s not the same for everyone, but this is our situation.” For those who haven’t been able to benefit from such comprehensive online learning support, or who are moving countries and from one curriculum to another, there is support available. “I think it’s very difficult for families who don’t have support like that at EIFA, so we do offer a full online tutoring programme and for those moving across curriculum so they can start the year really well prepared. We shouldn’t have our children studying over the summer at all. But for those families who need to relocate, then we are there to help you prepare for switching systems.”

Top tips for successful school starts and family settling

Wrapping up the friendly expert session, Françoise Zurbach, Johanna Mitchell and Brenda Levis offered their top tips for successfully relocating international families: 
  1. Work with local established businesses so you can receive local personalised support and insight – this fast-changing pandemic is the perfect example of why a DIY relocation or move management tool is not the way to go at this time
  2. Be prepared for last-minute relocations, look at the individual family and what they need and pay very close attention to different education systems and school offerings and ethos
  3. Try not to worry too much if your relocation takes place in September, October or November – schools are very flexible. Families can arrive at any time and will be made very welcome at schools like Marymount, GIS and EIFA.

Visit our Education and Schools section to keep up with the latest news and articles, including the latest exam results. 

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