The question of schooling and education is often at the forefront of parent’s minds as they prepare to live overseas. It can be challenging to drown out the multitude of strong opinions, and from what I have observed, there are many, many strong opinions.
If you are moving overseas and contemplating your schooling options, here are a few things to keep in mind that you may have yet to consider.
1. There are many potentially good options. It is true that not every option is good in every location, however, there is often more than one educational choice to consider. As one who has experienced nearly every overseas schooling option, I can attest to the pros and cons of each. Most importantly, I can tell you that there is often more than one good option! A colleague of mine told a story of a mom who said with immense relief, “You mean, I don’t have to homeschool!? I thought that is just what missionary families do!” Unfortunately, this is the mindset of so many parents: they feel there is only one good and right option and thus feel either heavily burdened with choosing the “right” one or feel like they don’t truly have a choice. In actuality, there is more than one “right” choice.
The article, “The Balancing Act of MK Education” written by Amy Medina, a missionary mom, school teacher, and elementary principle for an international school, explores the types of potential education options and some pros and cons each. Carefully explore the available options in your new area. Talk to parents who have used a variety of schooling methods and see what they have found has worked well and what hasn’t. You can’t truly make an informed decision until you know all of the options.
2. Think ahead. Whether your child is in Kindergarten or the 8th grade, it is important to consider what you would like them to have the opportunity to do for education (and ultimately for their career) down the road. They may not choose to go that route, but leaving the options open is wise. Some countries are very strict about the elementary and high school requirements essential to be accepted into a university in that country. In David Pollock and Ruth Van Rekken’s book, Third Culture Kids, a story is told of a Norwegian boy who grew up overseas. When he and his parents were contemplating university options, they discovered that Norway required a test to be taken in the 8th grade that would be used to determine college eligibility. Because he hadn’t returned to Norway to take that test in the 8th grade, he was not allowed to attend university in Norway and had to choose another country, completely foreign to him, for his education. Consequently, his degree, obtained in a country other than Norway, would not be recognized in Norway which meant he could never have a career that required a degree in his passport country.
Your child may not choose to attend university and if they do, they may not choose to do so in their passport country, but it is important that they have the option to, should they decided that they want to go that route. Research the requirements that your passport country has for university admission and then be sure that your education choice will allow your TCK to meet those requirements. If the Norwegian boy’s parents had simply known he needed that test in the 8th grade, they could have made arrangements for that to happen and that would ultimately have opened up the door for him to study and work in his passport country.
3. Consider WHY your child is going to school. TCK Education Consultant, Barbara Tooley said, “It may seem obvious why you are sending your child to school, but it is not such simple answer when you are living overseas.” We tend to think of the purpose of school as purely academic education, but it is also for social, cultural, and language education. If you are moving overseas with young children, you may consider sending them to a local school for the sole purpose culture and language learning. This is one of the best ways for children to fully integrate into culture and allows them to develop an academic proficiency of the language (the highest level of fluency). If you choose this option, you will likely need to supplement at home with the education requirements of your passport country to ensure that they keep up to par with their grade level as well as maintaining academic language fluency in their first language. Older children who move overseas may need to focus more on academic requirements and thus attending an international school, boarding school, or homeschooling may be the best option. Cultural and language integration may then need to be done outside of school.
Another “why” to consider is actually more of a “who”. Who do you want your children to befriend? Is your family seeking to integrate completely into the new country and thus, befriending the local neighbor kids is important? Or, is your family seeking to be more involved in the existing expat community and thus, attending an international school and befriending other international students is a more appropriate goal? Because so much time is spent at school, that is likely where your TCKs will develop the closest friendships. Who do you want those friends to be?
4. Remember that each child is unique. Not all children are “cut from the same cloth” so it is important to consider your child’s unique needs when looking at schooling options. Research how discipline is handled in the country you are moving to. How will it align with your child’s unique personality and needs and your family’s value system? If you are considering boarding school, think deliberately about how this experience might feel for you child. Some children are naturally independent and thrive in boarding school situations, others will have a more negative experience being apart from their parents. You may need to consider different schooling options for each of your children based on their unique needs. My brother and I differ greatly in many areas, so my parents strategically chose our schooling options based on our personal needs. Because of this, we attended different schools for the majority of our school-age years. I am incredibly thankful that they allowed us to attend the schools that were going to be best for us personally.
5. Let your TCKs take part in the decision making. This is not always possible, but often, there is a way to allow your children’s input when deciding what type of school they will attend. This is one area (of many) that I am very thankful to my parents for: they allowed for my input in the schooling decisions. When we first moved overseas, we looked at all of the options, one of which being an international school. I looked at pictures online, looked at the subjects that would be taught and extra curricular classes offered, and ultimately decided to go there for our first year overseas. Unfortunately, it was not as I had imagined it would be and I had a very difficult year there. I asked if I could be homeschooled the following year and after talking extensively about the pros and cons, my parents agreed. Each time there was a schooling decision to be made (typically because of a relocation), my parents asked for my opinion and took my desires seriously. If they knew that my desired schooling option was not going to be a good choice, they walked me through that decision and helped me to see why one option was better than another. This allowed me to take ownership of the decision, which helped through challenging school years, and also allowed me to look forward to, and thus enjoy, many of my schooling options more than if they would have been “forced” upon me.
Tackling the education decision can be tricky, but thinking through these things can help narrow down your options. As Amy’s article says, “There’s never going to be a perfect situation, so trusting God is important.” Absolutely give thoughtful consideration to your decision, but remember that ultimately God is working in your child’s life and this includes their schooling. I was homeschooled, attended a public school, a charter school, a Christian school, and spent a year in an international school. Each experience had valuable implications on my life and each had their pros and cons. No option was perfect, but they all had unique benefits that shaped my education academically, socially, culturally, and linguistically. As you think about what schooling will look like for your TCKs, remember to think ahead, consider the “why”, remember that your child is unique, and allow them to be a part of the decision when possible.