Expat Life

Starting School in a New Country

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.

Starting School In A New Country

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.

Starting School In A New Country

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!

Share this post:

  • Igobybes
    December 26, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Thanks for sharing. We are thinking of making the same change in the coming months. Everything you have written has been read to my son(9) and my husband. We also are looking at IB schools vs American. It seems exciting and yet scary. We live at the beach on the west coast. All our family is local to CA. Any special things you have found about your new neighborhood?

  • Diana Bockus
    September 14, 2013 at 7:19 AM

    That’s an amazing and blessed experience that she’s beginning! The connections you both will make, it’s unbelievable the opportunities that may present themselves later on!

  • Autumn @ The Spirited Violet
    September 9, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    My friends who went to international schools always talked about how hard the curriculum is, but how easy college was after the experience. I love that she is having the same experience you had!

  • Ashley | Domestic Fashionista
    September 7, 2013 at 2:07 AM

    What an amazing experience still yet to come! The little we get to see of your sweet girl…the traveling you have taken her on…she seems like one to adapt well. What a fascinating, kind, and independent woman she will become one day!

  • Mrs. Match
    September 6, 2013 at 11:57 PM

    I love that she’s already making new friends. I think this is such an amazing experience you’re giving her!

  • Stacie Stamper
    September 6, 2013 at 6:20 AM

    So glad that she is fitting right in!

  • Tammy Chrzan
    September 6, 2013 at 5:55 AM

    I responded to this yesterday, but then my phone did some crazy stuff… Yes, it was my phone and not user error :)

    Anyway, I’m so pleased that things are going well for Lexie, this is one of the main reasons I want my kids to epxerience school life in England as well is because of the diversity… I know that there is an “American School in London”, I’ve actually considered applying for a teaching job there once I have my Masters, is this the school that your daughter goes to? I will most likely not be living in London, but I leave all options open.

    Anyway, she’s just a doll, and i’m so glad that things are going well for her, that makes mom a lot happier too… step away from that ice cream!

  • Janette Johanson
    September 6, 2013 at 5:40 AM

    What a relief indeed to see how well she adapted and now wants a sleep over! I’m so glad she is so eager to learn more… you are giving her such an incredible journey of life to start with.. from the country home of Tennessee with chickens and farm life to international languages and friends! Beyond cool!

  • Emmymom
    September 6, 2013 at 5:00 AM

    Oh yea!!!! This post made me so so happy for you and Lexie! So glad she is already making friends. Yes, totally my fear too about my kids sitting there alone with no friends, I still sometimes worry about that even though it has been a few years since we moved.

    Makes me kind of jealous for all of the experiences she will be having too.

  • Jenn Bowers
    September 6, 2013 at 1:42 AM

    WOW!!! What an amazing experience for all of you!

  • Daisy
    September 6, 2013 at 1:11 AM

    Glad to hear everything is going so well for her, how exciting to have all these different cultures in one school!

  • stephanie
    September 5, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    I love love love your outlook! That is the exact attitude I try to have albeit not in nearly as an exciting place, I try to remember that every move opens my girls eyes to new experiences/people/cultures (helloooo Mexico while in EP!) and I love the awareness they glean from it all. I am so glad she is loving her new school and stress eating? Only if it was mass amounts of chocolate, cheese and wine :)))

  • Charlotte Hayes
    September 5, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    That’s great she’s starting off on such a good note! A sign of amazing things to come in your new home :)

  • Kerry
    September 5, 2013 at 1:58 PM

    Lexie is going to do great! If she is anything like her open minded, extremely friendly and strong mother :)

    Just think of how much experience she is going to gain by going to a school overseas surrounded by so many different cultures! That is learning in itself, her mind and her eyes will be more open to most things that other kids wouldn’t get to experience. Good luck to her during her first few weeks and I hope she has a wonderful year in 6th Grade xoxo

  • topchelseagirl
    September 5, 2013 at 4:32 AM

    As someone has already said these experiences will enrich her life, so exciting.

  • Caroline
    September 5, 2013 at 4:17 AM

    This was a great read – as someone who hopes to maybe one day live abroad when I have a family (in the faaaaaar future, ha), it’s really interesting to read about situations such as these!

    International schools seem absolutely amazing – my cousins attended one, and I also have several friends who attended int’l schools when they lived abroad, and these kids all seem so cultured and sophisticated!

    Good luck to Lexie, I’m sure she will excel once again!

  • Nicole
    September 5, 2013 at 2:24 AM

    There was no doubt in my mind that she would excel anywhere that you guys went :) So now that she’s in school, what are you doing to pass the days? Hopefully you’re planning some friend dates of your own!

  • Katrin
    September 5, 2013 at 2:21 AM

    That’s awesome she found some new friends that fast! I am so happy to hear about this! I am sure she will have lots of fantastic moments at the new school!

  • Jo
    September 5, 2013 at 2:20 AM

    I can only imagine what a big relief it was that she settled in and made friends so quickly. Her life is going to be so much richer for all these experiences. No doubt she’ll be doing really well in all her subjects in no time.

  • Connie Weiss
    September 5, 2013 at 1:12 AM

    I’m so happy that you guys found a great school for Lexie! Making friends in a familiar environment is hard enough. Now…go find a movie theater!

  • Bonnie Rose
    September 5, 2013 at 12:32 AM

    That is so awesome she gets to go to that kind of a school. If we lived in London I would def look at putting my kids in that type of school. My boys are in the English school here (just went back to school today) and they are def looked at as the ‘americans’ in each of their schools. I think being able to to go to such a multicultural diverse school would be so enriching! I went to mostly DODDS schools overseas on military bases and so I was around a lot of kids from all over the US and a few different countries and it was always easy being the new kid because everyone was the new kid. It was going to a school in the states where thats not the case that made it so difficult. Best of luck to her new school year!

  • Tanya @Other Side of the Road
    September 5, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    I’m sure she will thrive at her new school! The education she will get from having an international group of friends will be priceless!

  • Jen Mc
    September 4, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    I’m glad she’s doing well! She strikes me as the type of kid who has no problems making friends.
    I know what you mean about those images, though.
    Hugs! Wishing Miss L a great school year.

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    September 4, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    So glad she’s off to a good start with friendships! I’m sure the school work will come quickly too!!
    We had a great international school experience in Vienna. It was the same for my kids in that they had friends from all over and made them quickly.

    I hope you get to know some of the moms too that you can pal around with.