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How Will Time Abroad Affect Your Child's Schooling?

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 12 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Career Break Abroad Children Child

The decision to take a career break or sabbatical abroad is not an easy one, especially when children are involved. For parents, working abroad for a few years may be the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. But for children, leaving friends behind to attend school in a country where everything is unfamiliar can be a frightening experience – and can also affect their future learning and create a long lasting impact on their continuing education.

Finding the Right School

Finding a school where your children will feel most at home, where they can best achieve their academic as well as personal potential, is key. But while the majority of parents are familiar with schools in their home country, most aren't aware of the schooling options that exist overseas.

In most cases, the choice is either to go with the state system, which may mean learning a new language as well as different styles of learning, or to seek out a school that is especially designed for expatriate children. But whatever road you choose to take, the path is never straightforward.

Doing What's Best for Your Child

To make sure you're doing all you can to get your child in the right school for them, ask yourself a few questions first:

  • How long will you be abroad? If you are only planning a career break for one academic year only, the effect on your child's education could be minimal, especially if they are young.
  • What languages does your child speak – or is willing to learn? If you intend to be away on sabbatical for several years, immersing your child in a new language could have long-term benefits.
  • Are your children in the middle of/soon to take exams (GCSEs, A-levels, SATs), which would make continuing with the British schooling system, or its closest equivalent, imperative for their future education?
  • What is your academic budget? For many of us, state schools are the only option. Depending on where you travel, finding one where English is a core part of the curriculum could be crucial.
  • Does your child have any special educational needs? If so, don't assume a mainstream school abroad will cater to his or her specific disability. Do your homework.
  • Once you've answered the above checklist, start preparing well in advance. You may think that it's impossible to make any concrete decisions before you arrive in the new country. But being aware of what's ahead can help you avoid pitfalls along the way.

Speak to Your Child's Current Headteacher

Find out from your child's present school about important exams h/she would be taking while you are away or when you get back, and what you can do to prepare for them. If s/he will be moving on to a secondary school or sixth-form college when you return, you'll need to learn how to prepare for entrance exams while you're away, if applicable, and whether they can be taken abroad. Also, ensure there will still be a school place for your children when you return.

Talk to Other Parents Abroad

Learning from other parents in similar situations can hugely helpful. Find out if other British families will be living in your area, either through your job, the British Embassy, expatriate clubs, the Internet, newsletters or newspapers. They may even be able to recommend schools that could suit your family.

Get Your Child Ready for a New Adventure

Going to a new school will obviously have an impact on your child academically, but don't underestimate how much the change will affect him or her psychologically as well. Leaving old friends behind and having to adjust to a new school can be traumatic.

Hopefully, by helping your child to adjust well in advance, you can minimise the uncertainty and help them acclimate to their new surroundings. Let your children know that you understand their concerns and aren't taking them lightly. If possible, visit their new school before the academic year commences and find out about special interest clubs or after-school activities you think they might enjoy. Helping them feel comfortable will set the groundwork for a successful academic experience.

Starting a new school abroad can be a positive, life-changing experience for your children. They will learn and gain as much knowledge and as many new skills by living in a different culture as they will by attending a new school. By planning ahead, you can ensure that your career break will be as beneficial to your children as it will be for you.

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