Expat Education, Expat Family Life, Expat Tips

Expat Education: An Expat’s Guide to Choosing a School Overseas

Considering an overseas move with children? Grab a copy of Expat Education: An Expat’s Guide to Choosing a School Overseas by Carole Hallett Mobbs. Wherever you’re at on your expat journey, this book will help you understand the many education related concerns of moving your child to a foreign country.

Expat Education Choose School Overseas Book

Expat Education — The Kinds of Schools You’ll Find Living Abroad

The author speaks from her personal journey — 12 years parenting in Japan, Germany and South Africa. Her book provides an overview of key education terms and models you’re likely to come across while parenting abroad.

First, you’ll learn the ups and downs of “local schools” from an expat perspective. (Also known as public, national or state schools, depending on what country you’re in.) From there, the author demystifies the many faces of “international schools.” These schools might be bilingual schools. They might be British, American or Canadian Schools. French and German Schools. And many other individual national systems exported to foreign countries. You’ll then learn the different degree options and university entrance exams those institutional paths are tied to. International Baccalaureate, American High School Diploma, GCSE, and much more.

Education and Schooling within the Context of Your Expat Life

Next up, examining these options through critical lenses — your child’s age, grade level, personality style, learning challenges, foreign language proficiency, and many other personal metrics. One of the things I appreciated most? Framing these options within the context of your path as an expat. There’s no one right answer. Your needs and goals may change with time, and where you’re living. Looking at education within this bigger picture enables you to balance the unpredictabilities of your expat life.

Stories shared by patrons of Carole’s website bring life to these different options. They highlight the reality that every family is different. It’s up to you, as expat parents, to do your homework. Even more, these mini interviews balance the author’s first person narrative. Both Carole’s experience and those of many of these other expats couldn’t be more different than my family’s time here in Spain. I appreciated both how and why some of these parents made the decisions that they did. The trade-offs that came with those choices. And what they might do differently if they were to do it all over again. There’s so much we don’t know starting down our expat path. These stories give you the chance to see your family in their situation and maybe learn something from their challenges.

Schools, Education and Expat Life– A Complex Issue Made Personal for You

To be clear, this resource is meant to serve as an introduction and overview of the many factors to consider for your child’s education as an expat. The topic is far too complex for any one book to bestow you with a personalized expat education plan.

Imagine the sheer volume of permutations when you cross each country’s education laws, locally available options, and your child’s and your family’s unique circumstances. Dizzying to think about, right? And yet, within this labyrinth, this guide does a great job distilling those permutations into digestible, practical, personally relevant points of self inquiry. Better yet, the author includes a list of vetted resources to turn to for further investigation.

Another plus for me, looking at your schooling decisions within the greater context of living abroad. Foreign language, your kids social life, special education, and much more. Having now parented two school aged boys in Spain for three years, the connection between their educational environment and psychological adaptation seems obvious. But that wasn’t always so. It’s clear Carole’ recognizes that education decisions embrace more than just academic success.

Finally, this guide to choosing schools overseas also addresses the impact of repatriation on your child’s educational path. Her family’s recent return to their native UK almost seemed like their hardest move yet. I would never have thought returning back to your native country could be so challenging. And yet, being right in the midst of that process as I write, I’m learning that going “home” isn’t as easy as you’d think it would be from a schooling perspective!

Author Carole Hallett Mobbs Helps Expats Choose Schools Overseas

The Right Questions to Ask When Choosing a School

I’ll admit, as ‘expats by choice,’ reading about the realities of what some families must go through when they have little to no say in where they live or when they move left me feeling fairly overwhelmed. Yet from just our comparatively short stint living abroad — in a place completely of our choosing — I can appreciate the food for thought Carole puts in front of you.

It’s clear to me now that before we moved to Spain, when I was madly investigating everything under the sun, I had no idea what questions to ask when it came to interviewing school options abroad. It’s hard to know whether we would have done anything differently. But I can tell you that my family learned the hard way what can happen when your child’s school is not a good fit.

Whether you’re moving overseas for a one year adventure or setting off on a career driven, long term life change, you’ll be on much more solid footing for having read such well curated information from someone who’s really been there.

Expat Education: An Expat’s Guide to Choosing a School Overseas is available in on Amazon in both paperback and kindle.

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Culture Shock, Expat Family Life, Expat Tips

Moving Children Abroad — 5 Factors Affecting How They Cope

Just as with adults, children moving abroad experience a sense of loss and period of adjustment. Loosely termed culture shock, each child or teen’s adaptation process will be unique to them. Understanding the variables that play a role in this transition can help you set your family up for success. Here are five factors affecting your child’s adjustment after moving to a new country.

Family Adventures

1. Age of Children when Moving Abroad

Generally speaking, the older the child at the time of the move, the more challenges they’re likely to experience.

Children under age 4 will have the easiest time adapting to a new language, cultural traditions, foods and weather. Their lives are still largely anchored within the home. In fact, if the child hasn’t transitioned to a school setting yet, the shock will likely be minimal. Further, the social life of a younger child is far less established than that of an older one. Yes, children this age have friends, even “best” friends. But their friendships are anchored more in play rather than the emotional bonds formed between children from age 5 to 11. These kids are also more likely to have daily routines and relationships independent from the family unit. Moving children abroad takes them away from all the friends, activities and achievements they associate with home.

As you might guess, an international move can be a much harder process during adolescence. Teens lives are anchored in their social world. Forming connections to people as well as exploring interests are the means by which they build their emerging sense of identity. Differences in musical tastes, fashion styles and what’s considered “fun” will leave them nostalgic for friends, sports and hobbies left behind.

Teens Moving Abroad Must Find New Peer Groups

2. Personality Style and Personal Strengths

Personality traits such as sociability, emotional sensitivity and level of activity also influence how a child adapts after moving.

Outgoing children with well developed social skills are more likely to make friends in their new cultural setting. However, such children may also suffer more frustration if they do face troubles in this regard. Why? Because it runs counter to their previous success relating to people.

Not surprisingly, shy children are more susceptible to the social withdrawal risks of culture shock. Yet ironically, sometimes moving shy children to a completely new environment allows them thrive. They open up in a way they were never able to do before, and experiencing a level of friendship and belonging they didn’t have previously.

Emotional tendencies also impact how a child manages culture shock. The reality is that some children are just wired to be more resilient. They’ll adapt more easily compared to children who innately don’t cope well with change.

Kids who tend towards positive thinking and who manage emotions well will also fare better than kids who tend towards negative thinking or who struggle with emotions like fear and anger. Even energy levels play a role in a child’s adaptation process. More active kids, generally speaking, integrate new stimuli more rapidly compared to their less active peers, supporting acceptance of the changes in their environment.

3. The Reasons for Moving Abroad

The reasons causing you to move greatly affect children’s receptivity to their new circumstances, regardless of age or other personality traits.

Children from families moving abroad for an improved quality of life — better schools for the kids or job opportunities for the parents — will experience less difficulties than those whose families are moving to escape a dangerous, insecure or stressful situation. Similarly, children from families looking to experience a family adventure abroad will have an easier time of it. In general, the greater the child’s perception of security, stability and reward, the less challenges the child will have.

4. Participation in Decision-Making

Allowing children some input into moving related decisions will support their transition. This will be especially true for adolescents. Having some say in matters that affect them will support their burgeoning autonomy and foster a sense of control and security.

Of course, the parents need to make key decisions that are beyond a child or teen’s understanding. But, where possible, allowing your child to participate in the decision making process will support their receptivity to the changes in their life. Listen to their opinions about homes you’re considering. If they’re old enough, allow them to tour schools with you and take in their feedback. Which one do they think would be better for them? This kind of collaboration might even instill some excitement about their move abroad.

Along these lines, try to preview as much as possible in advance. If you’ve already found a home, show them photos. Virtually walk the streets of your new neighborhood using Google maps. Introduce some of the new foods awaiting them before you arrive. Upping their knowledge of what’s to come will lessen intensity of the changes in store.

5. Family Make Up and Parenting Style

A child from a multicultural family will more readily adapt to cultural differences. Having been exposed to more than one culture within their home environment, these children intuitively understand different cultures do things differently. They also may have traveled more internationally and might already be exposed to more than one language. These circumstances make them more flexible to the changes brought on by an international move.

Parenting style also plays a significant impact on a child’s transition to a new country. Children from families with rigid rule setting that limits a child’s autonomy and expression of feelings will have a more difficult time compared to kids from more families with more flexible family dynamics. The parents are always the leaders, but children in this setting are encouraged to express their needs and desires. They’re also encouraged to explore their autonomy. The safety of their family unit permits them to freely feel and process the insecurities and emotions that arise from their new life situation.

What These Variables Mean for Your Family Move Abroad

In one way or another, these five factors play a role in how easily a child adapts after moving to a foreign country. Yet there are no hard and fast rules that will dictate what happens. Hopefully, understanding these elements will help you support your children’s needs.

Think of your child as a brain that needs trust, a heart that needs love and a soul that needs peace. It’s completely normal, as a parent, to fear witnessing your children struggle. But worrying about moving abroad won’t help. You only need to be there, sharing your own perceptions, normalizing the strangeness by talking about difficult situations openly and without fear.

Remember, confronting these kinds of challenges is part of what makes moving to a foreign country such an opportunity for growth. It opens the door for a child — or person of any age for that matter — to discover strengths, abilities and qualities within themselves they would never have the chance to see or develop. And that is a gift that last a lifetime.

Have you observed any of these factors in play when you moved your family to a foreign country? If you’re still in the planning stages of moving your children abroad, do you have particular concerns about how some of these variables will affect your child? Share your comments with me here.

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Irene Paola Garza del Valle

Irene Paola Garza Del Valle ~ Integrative Psychotherapy ~ Specializing in expats and multicultural couples and families

Born and raised in Mexico, I now live in Seville, Spain. I have counseled people from 11 countries and 5 continents both in person and virtually. Visit me at ~

Expat Education, Expat Family Life

First Day of School in Spain – A Family Expat Story

I thought dropping off my kids for their first day of kindergarten was scary. It was nothing compared to parenting them through their first day as American expats going to school in Spain.

First day of school in Spain

The curriculum at the Colegio San Francisco de Paula in Seville is completely bilingual. Half the core classes are taught in English, the other half in Spanish. Awesome. It would give our kids the Spanish immersion we wanted, yet still maintain some English education during our time here. At the primary level, kids also receive two hours each week in both French and German. Even more foreign language exposure for our younger son, Kaden, entering school in Spain as a fourth grader. Double awesome.

Or so we thought. This recap of our conversation upon picking up our little expat from his first day of school in Spain opened our eyes to the reality we’d created.

Foreign Language Onslaught

Me: So, how’d it go with the Spanish today?

Kaden: I could barely understand a word she was saying.

Me: Ok, well, it was just your first day of school in Spain. And the accent is really different here than the Spanish you hear in the US. It’ll come. What’s your teacher’s name?

Kaden: I couldn’t even get that. I just called her “Maestra” all day.

Me: Sounds like a good strategy. What else happened?

Kaden: We had art class.

Me: You love art class!

Kaden: Yeah, but this art class is taught in French. I’m not sure exactly what happened. I think I’m supposed to buy clay.

Me: Clay?!? That wasn’t on the supply list! I don’t know where to buy clay in Seville! I don’t even know how to say “clay” in Spanish. What kind of clay? I specifically paid the extra money to the school for them to buy all the supplies for us precisely to avoid this kind of situation!!!

Kaden (looking a little frightened now): I don’t know.

[Deep breath. I remind myself I’m supposed to be the calm one in this conversation. I smile and try to act casual.]

Me: Never mind. We’ll figure it out. And then?

Kaden: I think we had German next.

Me: Cool. How was German?

Kaden: Mom! It was German! I don’t. Speak a word. Of German! I’m not even sure what class it was. Music? Maybe?

I dig deep to find that encouraging, it’ll all work out, supportive voice…

Me: Ok. Well, then. Were any of your classes taught in English today?

Kaden: Yeah, the last part of the day was in English. I think.

Me: Great. Bet that was a relief. What’s your English teacher’s name?

Kaden: I have no idea. By the time that happened, I couldn’t even understand what the English teacher was saying.

School in Spain — Challenges and Trade-offs

Those initial weeks had their moments of tension. (Okay… initial months.) And the difficulties didn’t limit themselves linguistic matters. Differences in curriculum, student expectations, procedures governing how to contact our kids teachers… It seemed as if nothing was the same at our school in Spain compared to the States. As if that weren’t enough, the English used is British English, giving even the kids’ native language a foreign element to it.

That conversation opened our eyes to some inherent realities of this expat parenting thing, especially with respect to the boys’ education. Our time here demanded accepting both challenges and trade-offs. What did we need to do to strike a balance between the new competencies our kids would gain living in Spain with the losses we valued in the education they’d get at home?

Expat Education Management

Managing those trade-offs has become like an ongoing ride on a metaphorical teeter-totter. On one side, our big picture vision for living abroad as a family. On the other side, the day to day details of curriculum, content and structure of the academic expectations being asked of them as students in Spain. Pan out, zoom in. Step back to give them the chance to navigate their new experiences. Step in when those challenges cross a threshold harmful to their self confidence and learning.

Giving our kids the opportunity to acquire a second language as a key feature in that bigger picture. We were willing to accept a reasonable amount of content loss in service of that. And we we’re also aware that not only might “reasonable” change over time, but it would be defined differently for our 13 year old compared to our 9 year old. More importantly, we regularly reminded ourselves of an intrinsic belief that an education comprises far more than what a kid is taught in a classroom.

Nonetheless, we learned to keep a close eye on the mechanics of their classroom and overall school environment, and sometimes that means being the squeaky wheel. When it comes to my kids, I’m pretty good at squeaking. Need homework instructions written down for you ’til your Spanish comes up to speed, instead of strictly spoken directions? Need math tutoring in English, even though math class is taught in Spanish? I’m gonna email the school and make sure they get that. (Well, actually, I’m gonna call the school, because they don’t allow parent/teacher communications by email.)

School in Spain — Then and Now

We eventually got leave for Kaden to drop German, though he muddled his way through French for fourth and fifth grade. He peppers me with stories about the differences between British English and American English, which he finds rather humorous. His Spanish overtook my own and he has no problem correcting my mistakes. Rather snidely, I might add. My Sevilliano friends swear that if they didn’t know he was American, they’d assume by listening to him he’d been born and raised here. That initial foreign language onslaught that, at the time, almost sent us into a panic has now become one of those humorous family anecdotes.

In grade 6, multiple language exposure gets left behind as kids choose one language to study more in depth. The options are French, German or Arabic. I took another expat mom’s advice and steered him towards Arabic. Since none of the kids have previously studied Arabic, he could start off on equal footing as his peers. Our conversation when I picked him up at the end of his first day of school this year? A smiling face greeted me with wonder. “Mom! Did you know that in Arabic they read from right to left?”

Setting Priorities as an Expat Parent

What about your family? What are your biggest concerns managing your kids education in a foreign country? Has your vision changed over time?
Got any wild first day of school stories? Share your comments with me here.

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Expat Family Life

Why Move Abroad — Our Family Expat Story

Hi, I’m Jackie Baxa. Welcome to Family Move Abroad — Inspiration and Information to Move Your Family to a Foreign Country.

My husband, Dave, and I had always dreamed of living in a foreign country with our children while they were still children. In August 2016, our sons then ages 9 and 13, we stepped on a plane for a one year move to Sevilla, Spain. (At this writing, we’re still here, but that’s another story.)

Our move abroad adventure begins
Our very first morning after red eye flight to Spain

A year of painstaking research went into bringing that vision to reality.

We had zero personal contacts in Spain. We had no idea what to do to legally reside there. Truth be told, in those initial stages, we weren’t entirely sure Spain was the ideal country for our move abroad adventure. How to hone in on one specific locale among the magically diverse regions there? Not a clue.

Several months of hard core internet searching later, all we could say was that we were going to move for one year to Spain (though we were still considering South or Central America), where we’d live in a city (or small town) by the coast (or inland) where our kids would attend private (or public) school.

Crazy? Maybe. Stubborn? Definitely. But despite the overwhelming effort our dream demanded, we were determined to see it through.

Our sons explore their new hometown of Seville, Spain
Exploring their new hometown of Seville, Spain

Why Move Abroad

I believe that Place has Power. Dwelling within distinct physical and cultural landscapes forces us to push past preconceived notions by the very simple fact that the environment doesn’t function the way we expect it to. All that new environmental stimuli opens our minds to new ways of seeing the world around us, as well as the world within us.

Just as importantly… exploring the world with your kids, as a family, is just plain fun! For the rest of their lives, our kids will remember us, their parents, as the ones to take them on their first trip trip to London, their first climb up the Eiffel Tower, and their first La Liga fútbol match. My husband and I will forever remember our younger one, on the heels of finishing the Percy Jackson books, shouting with joy “my very first Greek ruin” as we scaled our way up the hill to the Acropolis. They have more new foods in their dining repertoire than many adults. They speak a second language. They’ve lived in two completely contrasting cultural as well as physical environments, and through that are already developing a sense of personal preferences in life.

Moving our family to Spain has been been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life. It has definitely not been the easiest. A few things worked out exactly as we’d envisioned. Other things we’d wanted never came to fruition. We had more than our fair share of fiascoes.  

Even the most straightforward relocation scenarios will pile you with paperwork. Decisions to make. Education issues to consider. Emotional upheaval to manage.

Yet I would do it again in a heartbeat. Preferably with guidance. That guidance is the gift I hope to share with you through this blog.

Practical advice. Resource referral. Sharing of knowledge. To Inspire you and support you to move your family to a foreign country with clarity and confidence.