As soon as an expat family with school age kids know where they are going, there have two priorities to focus on - deciding on a school and a finding a new home. Most expats receive relocation assistance which is a blessing as much of the local scene is explained, and you've help along the way.
The first decision one has to make is local school (fee paying or state/free) or international school. A good place to start, if you don't have contacts where you are going is the Council of International Schools website.
For local schools one usually has to live within the catchment area, which, as we found when we arrived in the UK is easier said than done. Doing the school-house-tango is very stressful. The chance of finding the right house with the catchment area of your preferred school is, in real terms, next to impossible.
Independent or fee paying schools don't really mind where you live, so long as you pay the fees on time. However for ease of the children's, and your social life, one prefers living 'close' to school.
If you are in a non-English (or mother tongue country), you may only be one international school in the city/region you are living in. Fingers crossed it's a great school with terrific resources and a good community spirit.
Other times, you have an abundance of choice. Tokyo for example has several expat schools to choose from, as does Singapore, Paris and London, while Yokohama had one IGS, with a second school that accepted expat kids but was predominately Japanese students. Dublin has one.
The other interesting thing to know is that some nationalities have their own schools that follow the home countries curriculum in the mother tongue language. French kids tend to go the French School; German speakers have their global network of schools, and in more recent times, Australia has opened Australian International Schools while American kids go to the American International School.
Some IGS (International Grammar Schools) offer the IB (International Baccalaureate), while others offer the PYP (Primary Years Program) which leads to the MYP (Middle Years Program) and ultimately IB.
Others offer students the opportunity to sit GCSE's, or SAT's at the same time as peers back home.
An increasing number of IGS are achieving accreditation is certain areas, while a non accredited school can be equally good.
It's not as easy as city-area-house-school.
Rather, it works city-school-area-house. Availability!
American friends living in Paris opted to send their child to the local French school and immerse them in French. It was a tough-love decision, as neither parent spoke more than high school French at best; notes came home in French, all the homework was in French, the childs school day was in French. After much 'suffering' their child is fluent in French, tho his mother tongue is English. They are able to play at the park and make new friends, they can join the local cub scout group with out a drama, they can even help Mum with the shopping. After two years, they've moved their child to the International School where they will continue French, but revert to an English speaking environment, while keeping up French tutor at home. What an incredible opportunity and life skill they have provided for him.
The Dutch government has up til recently co funded Dutch education courses, as after school activities, supported by parents in the IGS system. There were several Dutch families at YIS who participated in the after school-school, and their kids were able to keep up with their Dutch peers, in terms of language, grammar, history and festivals. There is much debate going on as the Dutch government is rumoured to be stopping this important funding.
So, once you know what options are available to you in your new city, you can go about applying for places for your kids.
We have two schools in mind for MissM. They are very different. One is the International School of Dublin, and the other an independent school with about 1/3 expat kids. We've paid a non refundable registration fee at both, and will pop up for a visit in a week or so, with MissM to see which one suits her best.
The independent school has a fabulous reputation within the expat community, and we've friends who send/sent their kids there and they are very happy. The attraction for us to the ISD is the global curriculum and continuity as we've been in the UK system for 2 years, we'll be in Ireland for 2 years and then goodness knows where. We feel MissM deserves and needs consistency in her learning experiences as we move around so frequently.
So that's the school bit of the tango.
No point looking for a house til you know where school is. No one wants to be sitting in traffic for hours a day, traversing the city.
So long as you know what type of home you need/want. The checklist is no different to one you might have anywhere in the world:
- number of bedrooms - add 1 for guests
- number of bathrooms - add ensuite for guests
- home office space - entices the employed person to come home!
- living space
- garage - optional
- close to school
- easy to get to work
- close to shops
- close to transport (if you are not having a car)
This all depends on WHERE you are - we live so differently in each country, that your expectations as an Australian or American used to a sprawling 4 bedroom, free standing home with a yard probably won't be met in countries in SE Asia, or in European cities. COnversely, people from China or Japan are in awe of how spoilt we are for space!
The size of your furniture - we sold most of our furniture when we moved from Dublin to go to Japan simply based on perception of how Japanese lived. We ended up in a large, western style apartment and could have brought our things!
So Phase 1 of an International Move might sound easy, pick a school, lease a house but trust me, it's not. However, the kids end up at school, and we always end up with a roof over our heads. As my young cousins would say, first world problems, eh?