“Mommy, you know… if all children went to international schools, there would be no more war. Because… I mean…who would actually fight their friends?”
These amazing words came from the mouth of my seven-year old son while living abroad. It was one of those moments my heart nearly burst with pride and simultaneous sadness. We would shortly be moving our children to school back home in homogenous suburbia in the U.S. Will he remember this sentiment?
I love my home. I missed it dearly while I was away. In America, we take so many things for granted, which are exponentially more complicated in other countries. Living abroad fills us with both wonder and personal debacles. From communicating, learning the many different systems and cultural nuances to seemingly simple tasks which took days to resolve: scheduling doctor appointments, finding and understanding the pharmacists and medicines, paying bills correctly, getting home repairs, mail, or simply finding what product in the world can get calcium deposits from the hardest water off glass shower doors! It had taken us an entire day to purchase a washing machine, even though we came to the store with a translated, printed script. (FYI-google translate does some really strange things with words that will give even the most serious-looking German a deep belly laugh.) Following the delivery, we had gotten phone calls every day for a month or so, notifying us they would deliver a washer and dryer, while we tried our best to explain we already had our set. In the end, I was happy that I succeeded in both keeping only one washer and dryer while allowing my children to take on new and interesting perspectives of the world around them. This innocence, I knew, would not last forever, and neither would our quaint, small British private school in one of the safest, cleanest cities in Europe. Every day, I felt like I was walking into Hogwarts. It was adorable.
After nearly three years, we were homebound. It felt like a bumpy landing, despite the happy reunions, familiar places and ease of daily life. My biggest concern was for my children’s transition from their school abroad to their new suburban, public school. Ten months later, my eleven-year-old daughter has some advice on what made her transition between schools easier. Her amazing pre and post words follow.
Leaving school abroad:
1. Set up an email or whatever way you will be contacting friends before you leave.
2. Have a party before you depart. Make last special memories.
3. Say good-bye and give small but meaningful gifts to every person in your life abroad.
4. It was great to be in an international school because I got to meet so many friends coming and going, but at home you might be friends with someone all the way through High School and that is also really neat.
School back “home”:
1. Sit at a bunch of different lunch tables. This is how I chose a group of friends right for me. Do not be shy, or they might think your quietness means you are not really that nice.
2. Keep busy trying different activities that you never have before.
3. Plan meet ups and trips to see old friends whenever you can.
4. Realize that your freedoms will be different. In Munich, we rode the train and bicycles to school with friends and had overnight trips early on. At the same time, I know that there will be things I can do in my home country school that were not possible abroad.
As a parent, I was proud that her amazing brain contained these important points on moving schools. I would also add a few things that as a parent, helped me to help them.
Leverage your children’s old relationships. Friends and family members their age might be available to make their home country feel “normal” again. They can fill them in on the latest trends and happenings they might have missed while gone. It is amazing how much your kids will slip into another culture. (They will root for their host countries sports teams, use different words for things and will develop completely different habits than they would have at home.) For example, my children hardly watched TV abroad. When one of the get-to-know-you packets came home our first day back at American school, one question asked which television show was their favorite. My kids looked at me, dumbfounded. I could not think of one thing we watched regularly. (Sometimes losing part of your culture while living abroad is not a bad thing.)
Realize that it will take time. My kids still occasionally feel sad about their old school, ten months later. We were able to meet up with friends we had lived abroad with on vacation this summer and that was spectacular for everyone.
Talk, talk, talk. Talk about the happy memories and the hard feelings as a family. Keep in touch with your own friends, which sometimes are the parents of your child’s friends because parents need to work through the emotions of it all, too.
Hire a tutor if necessary to bridge academic differences. If any material is repetitious, make things more challenging and fun. One thing I did initially was to focus on scheduling playdates since homework was not taking up too much time. Give them the chance to let out lots of energy and forge new friendships.
Tell your child’s teacher that your he/she is still in the repatriation process. They may even offer helpful insight. One thing that we did not think about too much until repatriating was the volume of U.S. history and geography our kids had missed. They were learning about European countries, kings and queens and the great fire of London while my niece proudly recited her knowledge of U.S. presidents. My son, who is the same age, went on about King Ludwig’s reign and his many castles and how he was a mad king who drowned mysteriously with his psychologist in the sea (this means lake in English). My niece’s eyes popped out and we realized, that there were going to be some gaps to fill. There is nothing to worry about, though. Kids catch on fast.
As parents, we need to not stress, let the whole family laugh, vent and cry about the transition from school abroad to school back home together. Just as we boarded the plane to embark on our journey, we begin another upon landing at home. Enjoy the ride. It will be alright in the end, I promise.
Author: Nitsa Olivadoti
Nitsa Olivadoti chronicles her thoughts and experiences from life abroad on her facebook blog Bridge the Divide, stories which are currently being complied into her upcoming book with the same title. Nitsa is fascinated with the voices of growth and migration and is the author of the Cicada Series: Cicada’s Choice, Cicada’s Consequence and Cicada’s Closure, novels based on her favorite Triangle: her Greek grandmother.