Settling in to a new school: A parent’s view

Andi Ondhia, a parent at ACS Hillingdon and a member of Parent Teacher Organisation’s Welcome Team, explores how an international school community is ideally placed to support new families through the relocation process.

children, international school
Relocating, whether it’s your first experience or your third, fourth or fifth, can be a daunting prospect with worries about how your family will settle in to their new surroundings, their new town, school or workplace.                        When my own family moved to Hillingdon, UK from Toronto, Canada I worried that my children would not know anyone their own age, whether they would be able to continue with their passions and perhaps, slightly less importantly, would I cope with driving on the other side of the road!But this is where an international school is ideally placed to ensure a smooth transition. Their expert pastoral care teams and counsellors have specialist expertise and many, like ACS Hillingdon, an international school on the outskirts of London, have developed unique programmes, just like the Welcome Team, to help families adjust to their new environments.

Meet the Welcome Team

The Welcome Team or Transitions Team, as it is sometimes known, is a group of existing parents and teachers who are on standby to help new families settle in to the school and local community. Within 24 hours of the Welcome Team being notified of a new family’s arrival, a team member will email a special ‘Welcome Letter’ with details about the school’s latest events, contact details and a special ‘Welcome Booklet’ – an invaluable local directory of services and information.  And it’s not just new families that receive this special treatment but also returning students and families who might have come back to the school community after a year or two studying or living somewhere else. International schools will often host a rolling admissions programme, which allows students to start school at any time of the year, so the Welcome Team also hosts a number of events for new families right across the academic calendar rather than having a burst of focused activity during September as other more traditional schools might. This year we’ve already hosted the ‘Welcome Bagel Breakfast’ where new families can meet current parents, staff and the Head of School.  We’ll also be holding a ‘Pot Luck Lunch’ later this term, which is especially popular as it allows all the families to celebrate and share their individual nationalities and cultures by bringing a favourite dish for others to try.  It’s also not just international families that benefit from the Welcome Team. British families might be more familiar with the surrounding milieu, but if they’ve moved from a different part of the country or between schools they still might feel isolated in their new home.  Social events like the welcome breakfast and other PTO organised activities like book club, cooking club and day trips can provide a vital lifeline helping families get to know their new neighbours and make new friends, whether British or International.The Welcome Team also plays an active supporting role for families relocating away from school, which can be a challenging time. Students and parents alike have invested emotional and physical energy in to their time at ACS Hillingdon and moving away can be upsetting. An important part of celebrating their time at ACS and moving forward with happy memories is the leaver’s High Tea, which the Transitions Team hosts at the end of the year. It’s a dedicated time for families to reflect on their time at ACS and prepare for moving away. 

Buddying up

The Welcome Team also organises the ‘buddy system’. We try to pair up each new arrival with an existing family with children of the same nationality and if possible near the same age. These buddies are available as soon as the new family receives their welcome letter and can provide a valuable link for families relocating to a new area.For many it’s knowing that others have experienced the same problems as you and have helpful answers to common concerns, like who is the best internet provider?; where do I buy a football kit?; how long does it take to reach central London?; where can I find a reliable babysitter?These all seem like simple questions, but only add to the worry of relocating; a buddy can be on hand with advice and for many families, their buddies remain good friends throughout their time at ACS and beyond.  For students their buddy is an instant friend, able to guide them through first few weeks of school life, often helping them make more friends and ally fears about starting a new school.

Celebrating international cultures

Many international schools are also well placed to help celebrate the multi-cultural heritage of their school communities. The Parent Teacher Organisation at ACS Hillingdon has a special Multi-cultural Team, which organises events throughout the year with the school children. This give parents the opportunity to share their culture with their children and their friends.  We encourage all our parents to join in with the Parent Teacher Organisation as it can be an excellent way to make friends in the local area.I was recently approached by a Spanish couple who attended our Welcome Breakfast, the wife, a native Spanish speaker, had relocated with her husband to UK and due to the language barrier was feeling terrifically lonely.  We buddied up our new member with another Spanish mum who was able to make sure she was involved in our activities – our new recruit is now a member of the Multi-cultural Team and was instrumental in the organisation of her country’s stall at the annual International Food Fair.

Supporting relocation

A Cartus Global Relocation Survey found that the second most common reason for relocations to fail is ‘the inability of the family to adjust’. International school communities are ideally placed to help new families settle in to their new surroundings as often both existing staff, teachers and parents have all experienced relocation and can identify with new families’ excitement and concerns about living in a new area or country. By joining in with PTO groups, social events and with support of Welcome Teams like that at ACS Hillingdon, new families can hit the ground running and start enjoying their fresh surroundings as quickly as possible.  
Guide to International Education & Schools
Relocate Global’s new annual Guide to International Education and Schools, 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. 

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