Whether starting elementary school or heading off to college, moving across town, across country, or internationally, being the “new kid” is a roller coaster of emotions for young people.
Though excited to make new friends, and have new experiences, kids can easily become overwhelmed if they are adjusting to a new culture, language, and school system.
Elizabeth Sawyer, CEO of Bennett International Educational Consultancy, explains the importance of visiting a school of interest before enrolling children. “Families may feel that they know a school because their colleagues have talked about it, they’ve been on its website, etc., but every school has a particular feel, and it’s important to get the right fit of feel and culture for one’s child, as well as the right curriculum,” said Elizabeth.
Something as simple as lunch time can be incredibly stressful for kids if you are expecting one type of meal and get handed something completely different.
Take for example a picture of a typical Korean lunch, that includes: kimchi, perilla leaves, sautéed duck, soybean past soup w/ greens and tofu rice.
And then a picture of a typical United States lunch including: almonds, celery and carrot sticks, milk, an apple and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“We always suggest to concerned parents that they explore a school’s resources–guidance counselors, Deans, advisors, etc., to find a little support when needed,” said Elizabeth.
Ian and Gwen Herd were examples of expats who attended schools in another country when their dad accepted an assignment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, relocating their family from upstate New York.
While the move was initially challenging, the two count themselves fortunate to attend an American School in Brazil, where they both felt a sense of comfort surrounded by expat classmates from Europe and South American countries who had already attended several schools. These children brought interesting perspectives on integrating with different cultures and social backgrounds for Ian and Gwen.
“Studying at an American school in Rio de Janeiro was an exciting experience because we were socializing with the local Brazilian students who were often interested in going to college in the U.S., so they were very in tune with American culture but provided their own perspectives on it,” said Ian.
Gwen said she still had a sense of her U.S. roots attending an American school, she had the best of both worlds feeling “at home” while taking in all new cultures and classmates.
And while adapting to a whole new culture can be challenging at times, it was refreshing to be surrounded by so many people that were going through the same things as me and we could all relate to one another in some way. I now feel as though I have connections to people from all over the world, which is something I feel I would not have had if I had not moved to Rio de Janeiro.
The good news is that while it takes time to adjust to a new culture, time zone, school, country, language, and way of life, kids are incredibly resilient and adaptable.
“Most times, their anxieties and initial hurdles are normal and healthy, and kids are reassured by adult faith in their ability to adapt. That said, remember that schools are eager to help students transition, and if a student is having a difficult time, they want to know about it and offer support,” said Elizabeth.
Parents can help their kids with the transition by accessing the resources available through their school, their relocation provider, or online to ensure that their international move is a positive experience and kids are happy, well-adjusted, and successful in their new school.