It's that time of year again. Our students and families are enjoying their last days of summer while we teachers are frantically lesson planning, cleaning out rooms, and putting up bulletin boards. Every time I see a back-to-school ad online or on television, my blood pressure skyrockets and my shoulders get tense.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. It is just the anticipation of getting back into the swing of things, the meetings, the schedules, the lists of ‘to-do’s’, leave me a bit harried and stressed.
Now imagine that you are a student who is brand new to a school and brand new to the culture of a foreign country. Not only do you have to worry about making friends, you also have to worry about speaking a new language, finding your way around a strange building, fitting in to new social norms….the list could be endless. And if you are a Middle School student, you might even consider this moment a near death experience.
So what can a parent do to help in this transition? Here are a few things to think about:
Take advantage of every opportunity to be in the school before it starts.
If there are athletic clubs to join, get them involved and getting to know kids. If there is a “Welcome” barbeque for new and returning families, go and get connected. Walk around the school with your child to familiarize them with the layout of the building before it is full of students.
Familiarize yourself with the school’s calendar. Some schools like to be creative with the daily schedule. A child needs mommy/daddy back up in this area. Help your child know their timetable and help them be packed for each day’s schedule. The new kid does not want to show up to the wrong class with the wrong binders.
You might need to go shopping. Yes, I know you already did this. But as your child looks around his/her new school, he/she is going to notice that things are a bit different. School supplies might be required that weren’t required at your old school. A different colored pencil set, a new backpack, or a hip new hat or sweatshirt might make your child feel like more of a local rather than an outsider.
Know the Holidays and Traditions of your new country.
This one might be a difficult one. Here you will need to rely on your expat friends who have lived in the area longer. Ask a lot of questions of the locals as well. Be sure you know when you need to be prepared. For example, if you live in Germany your child might need to make a lantern for a Sankt Martinstag parade. You may need to provide treats to your child’s class on his/her birthday. Or you may need to play St. Nikolaus and leave candy in a boot outside your door.
A few years back, a new student of mine left out his boots for St. Nikolaus as his German teacher instructed him. He was pretty upset the next morning when his boots were empty. He felt he had been forgotten. His poor mother probably had no idea of the tradition and was probably equally puzzled by him leaving his boots outside their apartment door.
Listen and try not to react.
This one is tough and I have been guilty myself of over reacting to my child. Moving to a new place is hard. It has its ups and downs. One day they will be in the pit of despair and one day they will be on top of Mount Olympus. As a parent, we need to stay somewhere in the middle. Play it cool when things seem amazing, and help them to not take life too seriously when things don’t seem to be going their way.
Some kids fit in to their new lives instantly; other children will take six months to make in-roads in their new relationships. Encourage your child that getting to know people takes time. And sometimes finding the right someone to share all their secrets with takes even longer.
Luckily International schools have many activities to bond students to each other. Over night trips, activity weeks, team building in homerooms, and week-long class trips, all serve to deepen your child’s relationships with their peers at school.
Keep in touch with your child’s teachers.
Children tend to down play how good things actually are when they have had a bad day. All is fire and catastrophe. And when they have had a good day, they forget to share it with us. Sending an email to your child’s teachers, from time to time, to check up on your child can be reassuring. Hearing from a teacher that your child is fitting in and smiling will help you sleep at night.
Kathleen Ralf currently teaches Humanities and Language A English to 6-11th graders at an international school in Germany. You can learn more and read her original post on her blog.