Starting school in a new country has been both harder and easier than we expected it to be.
Yeah, that sentence doesn’t make much sense to me either. What I mean to say is, there were some things that we thought would be easy to transition to that weren’t, and other things that were not nearly the fuss we expected them to be.
A week ago today, Lex started Grade 6 at her new international school in London. Since the school is made up primarily of expats from over 40 countries, the first day of school was reserved for new kids only. There were definite advantages of having that extra day of school before the returning kids arrived on Thursday. For one, she got an extra day to learn her way around the school, but the most important aspect of this “welcome day” was that she got to meet other new kids that she could stick with on the real first day of school if she started feeling scared.
This is Lexie’s fifth school, so she has become somewhat of a pro at adjusting to new environments, but this foreign transition has come with new worries that were never an issue back home, like language barriers among peers and different curriculum and teaching styles from her form tutors.
We chose an international school instead of a British school because the grade levels matched up the closest to what we are used to back in America, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the curriculum is the same. We have discovered that there are a number of things that Lexie is behind in, particularly languages, that we will have to work extra hard on these first few months to get her caught up in. The school is understanding about these sort of things, which helps to some degree, but it has still been stressful for Lexie who is used to excelling at all her school subjects. If these differences seem daunting to her, though, I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be for the kids who have arrived at the school speaking little to no English. While we weren’t expecting quite the gap between subject knowledge that there is, it is nothing that a little hard work can’t fix.
The one thing I had been worried about most prior to school beginning was the difficulty of making friends, particularly at a school where all of the kids come from very different countries and backgrounds. Isn’t that every mom’s biggest fear, though? That you’ll send your son or daughter off to a new school and they’ll sit alone in the lunch room or have no one to talk to during breaks? Those mental images are heart-breaking. Friendships can make or break a school experience, so while I certainly want Lexie to learn new things and make good grades, it’s just as important to me that she form relationships with the kids at her school, too.
Having lived in a foreign country myself at almost the same age, I should have remembered that kids at international schools are some of the most welcoming, friendly kids around. Language issues, cultural differences – these things don’t matter to most kids. If you can smile at each other and run around like lunatics on a playground, you don’t need to share a language. My fears were completely unwarranted – by Friday, she was already begging for a sleepover with two other girls. Now I can stop stress-eating during the day while she’s at school. Phew.
On Thursday, the first actual day of school, as I stood in a group of women who represented countries like Great Britain, Australia, Norway, and Colombia and looked over to find Lexie talking to her new friends from Russia and New York and India, it really hit just how life-altering this move will be for the both of us. Any lingering uncertainties about whether this was the right decision have all but faded away. I could not have given her this back in Tennessee – this international school education, these friendships that will teach her so much about other cultures and make her a more open-minded person. And now that I’m here, I realize how much I needed this, too, and how much I have missed living overseas and the wealth of new, sometimes awkward but always interesting, experiences that comes with it. We are both going to grow so much over these next few years!