Back to School: International Education

When I started this blog back in April, one of my intentions was to point out what I was learning about the differences between  being moved to a foreign country as a child as opposed to moving your family to a foreign country as an adult.  Based on my experience thus far, doing it as a child is winning hands down. For one thing, I was blissfully unaware that there was even such a thing as a visa until I was well into adulthood, and I can tell you that dealing with them is no fun, no matter what country you happen to be in.  Mr. Logical and I look back on our childhoods and have no memories of any stresses or strains involved in adapting to new countries and cultures.  We just did it.  Of course, as children, we were blithely unaware of the amount of logistical fallout that the adults involved were contending with as they packed up to head to the next country, so that's probably why our bouts of fond reminiscing do not always result in the same level of enthusiasm from our parents.

 My regular readers have already listened to me whine my way through most of the moving process, but one area I have failed to mention is education.  More specifically, Son #2s school. (Son #1, having honorably acquitted himself of high school in the US in June, is planning on spending the next 6 months to a year   lounging around Seoul in internet cafes with his camera and looking hip experiencing the rich tapestry of life in Asia and taking some online courses before returning to the US to attend University.)

So.  Son #2s school.   As Mr. Logical and I both did as children, he will be attending an ' international' school, which is a short way of saying, "School for children who speak (some) English and whose parents expect them to be prepared appropriately for a return to life and higher education, (probably) in their  English-speaking country of origin."  Most of these children are citizens of English-speaking countries, but not all, and not all of them speak English as a first language.  The classes, of course, are conducted in English, but there is special instruction for those children whose English may not yet be up to speed for the classroom. Part of the beauty of an international school is that your child gets exposed to children of many other cultures, and, as a result, becomes (one hopes) more sophisticated, open-minded, tolerant, and accepting;  it also gives one the opportunity to break down barriers, dispel cultural stereotypes, and achieve insights that one would not have gained Back Home. (At least that is what I am expecting him to state on all of his University entrance essays;  in reality, as far as I can tell, the main insights he has gained include the dexterous use of chopsticks - even for eating rice - and a hearty appreciation for 'Korea's Got Talent.'  But I digress.)

 This particular school is divided into a British Division and International Division (I am assuming 'International'  is a succinct way of saying, "Everyone Else, Mostly Americans and Canadians".) Now, as an educator myself, I can appreciate the enormous undertaking it must be for any school to take hundreds of children from educational systems all over the world and begin to figure out how to:  a)  place them so that they are neither bored nor overwhelmed; b) address the myriad issues that accompany not only moving to a new school, but also to a new culture;  and c) all the while prepare them to (at some point) successfully re-enter their own country's educational system.  As you would expect,  the school requires quite a bit of input in the way of records, test scores, and the like.  However, even I was amazed by the amount of information I was required to provide in this case.  We had to send  Son #2's report cards for the last 3 years; recent standardized test scores; two recently graded papers from his mathematics class; a writing sample; two confidential teacher evaluation forms, an evaluation from his counselor, and a calculation of his grade point average and class ranking, in addition to providing all the other usual applications, forms, and shot records that are always required.  I can also tell you that he does not have tuberculosis and his hematocrit count is acceptable, in case you were wondering.

I am not going to lie;  as I slogged wearily through the application process, I gave much more than passing consideration to the idea of home education, but my natural inclination towards sloth eventually won out, and our reams of paper were duly faxed and emailed and pdf'd across the world.  (As a side note, I have no idea how all this was accomplished before the advent of modern technology.  Maybe you just arrived at the school office and hoped that what you'd brought would be enough.)  Anyway, at the end of the day, Son #2 was accepted to the school, and, last Monday, we were summoned to meet with his counselor and discuss his schedule in preparation for the first day of classes, some two weeks hence.

Mr. Logical drove us to the school (no thanks to the GPS, which calmly and competently navigated us directly to a private university several blocks away from our intended destination) through traffic which made me wish for a quick death deeply thankful that bus service was provided for the students. We were all very impressed with the campus (it's rare that anything looks as good in real life as it does on the internet, but in this case, it did), which consisted of the original mid-century building combined with some charming traditional Korean architecture as well as modern glass and steel.  Son #2's counselor was friendly, engaging, competent, and encouraging as she outlined the basics of the school, its high academic standards, and its policies.  As you would expect from a highly motivated student with a deep commitment to learning, the facts that made the most impression on Son #2 were that a) students may bring laptops to school and b) there is a cafe' on campus for the high school students to use.

 However, the real excitement occurred when we sat down to talk with the counselor about his schedule.  As it turns out, despite the fact that the school is technically divided into British and International divisions, the high school students are not (as I had imagined) taught in completely separate classes.  That meant that, Son #2, in addition to taking his electives (sport, drama, art, music) with his British classmates, also would be taking some of his academic (iGCSE) courses with them, which would still meet the requirements of the US school system for graduation and prepare him to do well on the SATs.  Now, I should point out here that the majority of Son #2's perceptions about the United Kingdom (despite having a Canadian grandmother who grew up collecting photographs of the Royal Family and who has never been quite resigned to the fact that Canada is no longer a British colony) are based almost solely on his being an ardent devotee of the Harry Potter series.  In some ways, this has been broadening, because he now knows about things like 'trainers' and what 'snogging' means, and -as I mentioned previously - it is just this sort of cultural insight that will enrich him in untold ways.  However - and no offense to JK Rowling, I think she's a genius - I do think that, in Son #2's mind, the concept of 'British' and 'Harry Potter' have become inextricably linked.  So when the counselor explained that he would be together in classes with students from the British division, I swear he expected her to pull out a Sorting Hat then and there.

Needless to say, this did not happen.

He is taking it all in stride, though, and was relieved to know that he wouldn't have to wear a uniform (the British division students do) or an academic robe (no one does, thank God) and obviously, there are no three-headed dogs or cave trolls or dark and brooding potions masters to cast a pall over his days, which is clearly a good thing.  He's also aware that things may be different than they were back in Texas and Arizona, that it may take a while to get used to some of the differences he will run across, and that the learning curve may be steep in the beginning.  All told, that's a heavy load to place on a pair of 14-year-old shoulders, especially when they (the shoulders) have not grown up moving internationally.

The good thing about all of this is that, while it's all a bit new and strange and overwhelming, he's excited and enthusiastic about it all.  In fact, if I dare say it, I think he's really looking forward to starting school this year.

Even if his classmates are all  Muggles.


Wilma said…
Sounds interesting. I don't get the HP references but that's okay. I got the gist of it. LOL I'm sure he'll do fine.
MsCaroline said…
Sorry Wilma, I'm a huge HP fan myself and have read and re-read all the books, so I forget that everyone else might not be as up on it. ; ) Bottom line is: he's looking forward to it.
I love reading about school situations in other places. Love the references to HP. I could use a couple of flying owls!
Wilma said…
I have never read any of them. I have been exposed to enough of it through movie trailers to sort of get the gist of who/what you're referring to though. LOL
MsCaroline said…
SW: Based on some of your previous descriptions, sounds to me like you could also use some Dementors and a hippogriff or two. I am selfishly looking forward to reading about your adventures during the school year, even if they will probably drive you to despair. I can't wait until you retire and write a book.

Wilma: You're a good sport. I guess our society has been so saturated with Pottermania it's almost become part of the culture, even if you haven't read the books or seen the movies. Of course, it's probably also really annoying, too....
Wilma said…
It's no big deal. It just wears really thin after awhile. And it is rather irritating when your 3rd grade son is subjected to one of the books and movies at school and you're not informed about it. He also has told me many times recently that he's extremely glad that this is the last movie and he hopes they aren't lying because he's sick and tired of seeing the trailers for it. LOL Of course, I felt the same way when I was presented with The Hobbit and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when I was in 5th grade. Not my genre. LOL
Karen said…
Loved this post! Can picture Sutton looking hip at internet cafes. I can almost see Cullen waiting for the Sorting Hat to appear! I have read most of the HP series, unlike Wilma, and enjoyed them for the most part. Like Wilma, it is not really my genre, but I was captivated by the boarding school element. I always was drawn into the boarding school/orphanage element in childhood stories...starting with Madeline and moving on up. I'm sure I would have hated it as a child but at the time it seemed romantic and very interesting! So much more fun than boring old family life! Or so I thought. I have friends who taught in an international school in Vienna a couple of years ago. They found the curriculum there much more rigorous than the local middle school/high school curriculum here. How did that work out for you as a child? Harder here or harder there as a general rule?
MsCaroline said…
Karen, I am with you on the orphanage/boarding school thing, although Jane Eyre scared the daylights out of me. I also never read much magical/fantasy stuff, either, but in my (ahem)later years I have been reading more, starting with the HP series and moving on to Lord of the Rings/Hobbit which I never read as a kid. I am guessing that the parents need to be out of the way for true adventures to really happen - Disney is a master at that formula!
As far as international schools go, I started school in one and didn't know anything else until we came back to the US when I was 10, so I couldn't compare it. I don't remember having any problems, though. The school district Cullen has been in for the past 6 years is very good and very competitive (I think I mentioned that Sutton graduated number 79 out of a class of 581 - and he had a 4.2 GPA so think of how many kids had higher ones!) - lots of highly educated professionals with extremely high expectations for their children, so I don't think he will have any trouble fitting in. Many of his classmates were Asian-Americans so he is used to the high importance they place on academic excellence. Maybe some of it will rub off on him...
Wilma said…
Okay, maybe I'm missing something here but I thought 4.0 was the highest. How does one get higher than that?
MsCaroline said…
Wilma, it's because of AP courses. Because of their difficulty level, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are weighted more heavily. AP students are theoretically doing college-level work - they get college credit if they pass the exam with a high enough score - so the idea is that a student doing, say, AP World History and getting an 'A' will get more points for it. Basically, if you get a 'B' in an AP class, you get the same grade points as an A in a 'regular' class.
Wilma said…
Oh. Sounds a bit confusing to me. I went to a school where they expected the boys to have their names on their shirts and the girls to be married to said boys with their names on their shirts. LOL
Karen said…
Just found out about the AP thing myself, Wilma...since the high schooler in this house does not do AP courses. Not due to a lack of smarts but due to a lack of motivation. I was talking to another parent who mentioned his son's 4.0+ grade point average. It's funny how you don't know these things and then are exposed to them 2ce in one week!
Carolyne...just haven't been able to talk myself into Lord of the Rings. Maybe some day!
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