Why I love international schools

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When in Bavaria, here we are helping set up the school welcome picnic.

We just got the confirmation that we will be staying here in Munich for another year! This is great news. After only two years in England and then two in Australia the thought of picking up and moving again this summer was not something we were excited to do. We really enjoy living in Munich and even more importantly we love the school. This is our first international school and our first experience with the International Baccalaureate both at the high school and primary school level. Going into the school there were benefits, it is private so the class sizes are smaller and the resources available to kids have been wonderful. There is also the obvious benefit of it being in English so we weren’t thrown in to yet another local school system with the added complication of not being able to speak the language. Now that we are over half way through our second school year I can say that I appreciate the international school so much more than I ever anticipated I would.

There have been so many little experiences that will suddenly pop up and Jamie and I will realize that it is because of the school. This last week we were in Italy for ski week (totally a real thing here in Munich) and both little kids were in lessons. I was a bit concerned because while their instructors could speak English I was worried that none of the other kids would and our kids would be left out. Luckily Ella had a friend from school in her class but unfortunately Kellen did not. After his lesson I asked him if any of the other kids spoke English, he said there was one little boy who was German and only had a little English so Kellen was speaking with him in a mix of English and German. I was glad to hear he had a buddy in the class but then he said, “Mom we can still communicate even if they don’t speak English.” This was one of those little moments that you realize they are learning skills and an openness from going to school with kids from all over the world with varying levels of English proficiency that I couldn’t have imagined at 7 years old. Later in the week we were having lunch with Patrick and we happen to sit at a table that had a couple sitting on one end. Turns out they are also expats, having lived all over the world for the last 15 years. Soon they were talking to Patrick about specific assignments in his classes last year as their daughter is in year 11 at an IB school in Brussels and their older sons completed IB schools in Bangkok. That this friendly mom was asking Patrick about his director’s notebook for drama and comparing notes about the work her daughter is doing was amazing to me. The IB truly has a consistent international curriculum and it is incredibly comforting to know that a move from one school to another is no longer a complete change but the kids will have the familiarity of understanding how the units of inquiry work and learner profiles. The teachers may change and the teaching style may be different but at least everyone is working within the same framework and we aren’t starting from scratch every time.

Then there are the unexpected benefits that I have personally found at an international school. A friend had told us after moving to Singapore that it was a totally different stepping into an expat community vs a local community. I had my fingers crossed as we moved that the whole process of meeting people and making friends wouldn’t be as long as it was in Australia. It turns out that when almost all the parents at school are expats we are all in the same boat. Even the families who are local tend to have spent time abroad so understand the different stages of an expat experience. I was helping at a welcome breakfast for new families after the Christmas break and was speaking with a mother who had only been in Munich for 3 days. She was from India and our backgrounds are totally different, but that morning I completely understood and had experienced the feeling of being overwhelmed in a new city and how important basic information was like where to buy school supplies. That is the difference at an international school vs a local school. When you are the only one who knows so little of the area that you aren’t even sure where to go for school supplies it can be incredibly isolating. I now find myself in a group of friends that trade tips like playing cards. Who has found a good pediatrician, hairdresser, best prices on food, clothes, meat, etc. We are all figuring it out and it is so nice to feel like there are people you can commiserate with who really get the experience and are right there with you.  On the other hand, it also means that people leave as well so the community is ever changing and that can be bittersweet.

I’m torn because we have been so lucky with the teachers the kids have had these two years and the way the school incorporates the units of inquiry into every aspect of their teaching, I feel like I never want to leave. At the same time now having experienced an IB school I feel like we could do this (almost) anywhere. As long as we can attend an IB school we will be part of a community we understand. Hopefully those aren’t famous last words and we may just be very lucky to be where we are today. Either way I am very happy that we have one more full school year here with friends before we have to figure out our next step all over again.

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