So, Apparently Overseas Schools Are a Thing

I shared my recent post about educating my kids overseas with a Foreign Service Facebook group because I thought it might be good information for some newbies to have. I was slightly stunned at the reaction: dozens of impassioned comments about schools on the group, and nearly 700 views of the original post in three days. Yikes.

This tells me that I am not alone as the parent of kid who is a little different. Well, of course I am not. When you look at the adult Foreign Service community, why on earth wouldn’t you expect the children to be equally interesting?

I’m going to excerpt some of the comments here because I think they say a great deal about the frustration experienced by parents in our community, especially those whose children have special needs of one kind or another.

Let me emphasize that I am not in the business of trashing Community Liaison Office coordinators (CLOs). We all know some great CLOs who are extremely knowledgeable and go above and beyond. However, it is a simple fact that CLOs do vary from post to post. And when it comes to providing information about schools, they vary a LOT. Many of them clearly do not “know all the options and provide parents with the information” as one poster described their responsibility with regard to schools.

So, maybe it’s time to take school information off the (perhaps overly) long list of CLO responsibilities. Education is, after all, a specialty. Why do we task people who may not even have children, much less any training in education, with providing this crucial information to parents?

Why not employ a part-time educational liaison at each post? Or even regionally, like the Global Employment Advisors? What a great contract spouse job for a teacher or social worker who can “speak the language” of special needs, ask the right questions and provide the right answers when we need them, as in: before we bid on the post. Just tossing that out there…

On educating square pegs and alternate schools: 

My son was diagnosed with SID and international schools in our current post do not support special needs. We moved our children to a local Christian school, where teachers are accommodating and the principal (an American) always listens to our issues and does her best to address it. Just because everybody at post goes to one school, does not mean that that school will be the right fit for your kids.

I found it frustrating to deal with my daughters HS teachers at post, and I AM a teacher. I think that made it worse b/c I knew too much to accept what certain teachers were willing to provide. (And yes, English teacher, time management IS an ADHD related issue! And yes, math teacher, dyscalculia is real!) I also am glad that I am done looking for schools–just need to keep my daughter in her boarding school (thank you SNEA). It’s so nice to see her happy and learning.

I can’t say enough good things about the British school my two youngest attended. We transferred from the American school and the difference was night and day. There were no meetings about “support” needed that could not be provided or talk of them not being “ready” for kindergarten. They told me that they build the classroom around the children, not the other way around…My children flourished and felt confident. They loved going to school and miss it now that we’ve gone.

We too went against the grain so far and chose a school outside the popular list. I’m so glad we did! I loved this post and I couldn’t agree more that parents need to find the schools that are best for their kids and not rely solely on CLO info. Most schools are great for different reasons, but are definitely not a “one size fits all”. And, sometimes the school that looks best on paper ends up being all wrong for your child. We have had our kids at separate schools at post, not necessarily convenient, but we believed it was better for them. Each child’s personality needs to be carefully considered when finding the best option for schools and it the first choice doesn’t work, then move them right away to the next best alternative! Only you know your kids and what makes them tick!

We’re on our third tour in a row of choosing the “other school.” You know, the one that people look at you funny for saying your kids attend. The one that might not be shiny on the outside, but inside is the perfect fit for your kids and your family. I stopped feeling pressure long ago to pick the school “everyone attends” and rather to research all the schools at post and pick the one that my kids will do best at. So far that has meant the smaller schools. The school with small classes. The school that might lack the pool or the abundance of extra curricular activities. We joke that our kids attend school with the other square pegs because they fit that way. And you know what? It’s been amazing! I also have to say for us it’s not been a clear cut British vs. American…we’ve done both and loved them both. For us it’s been the best fit school, not the preferred curriculum… It might not be the popular school, or the flashy school, or the Embassy supported school, but if it’s the best fit for your child, that is the BEST school in the world!

We moved our son in the middle of this year from the DoDDS school to the British school here for so many similar reasons. BEST. DECISION. EVER. I agree that they meet the child exactly where they are at and give them the tools to improve and learn and make mistakes and become accountable to their own education without shaming or labeling. I love that they are encourage to become their best – not a cookie cutter version of an invisible perfect child. I would add to any FS family out there that even if they choose a school at post and it ends up not fitting well for whatever reason, there is no shame in changing it up. I figure I am my child’s best advocate whether researching the schools off the CLO grid or arriving and finding that what we started with is not going to cut it for that tour.

Although Kelly’s observations were for American vs. British schools, I think the ultimate point is that people need to be willing to “think outside the box.” At some posts, one of the American/international/British school is much better than the others. Some places they’re all pretty similar. I think the key is knowing what you and your children want/need and being willing to work toward that. Especially with special needs, what works for some doesn’t automatically work for others. Even at big English-speaking posts with seemingly limitless options (we’re in London), there are people who really struggle to find a school that is willing to take their child and to provide help. 

Thanks so much for posting this — we’re dealing with our own ‘square pegs’ and I’ve been really down on myself lately for feeling (under a LOT of pressure from the local school) like we’re bad parents because our kids don’t fit into the educational norms here — both at school and at our post.

I am so jealous that you are done, I can’t tell you! Two tours to go and I will be finished! I can’t wait. 

On getting information about schools at post, at the bidding stage and beyond:

I do agree that as parents we really need to be involve when choosing a school and pick the best for our kids, based on our research and not based on input from information post has. Some times the information is outdated and does not reflect reality…as happened to us in our current post. 

It’s hard to pick before arriving and that’s what we are often required to do.

My husband says [picking a school] is like buying a car without even seeing it… it makes you so uneasy.

The trouble is figuring out which school will be right for your kids based mostly on websites alone. If the CLO doesn’t have info and can’t or won’t put you in touch with other parents, and if the school won’t either, you are making a critical decision on where to place your kid well before you can actually see the school or talk to anyone.  

CLOs can provide basic information, but often they just don’t know about all of the options, especially the specialized ones.

When we first arrived to post we were only given information about the “American school” as well. We decided that it just wasn’t the right school for our boys, so we opted to send them to the French school *gasp*! Can you imagine? Americans wanting their kids to learn another language?! Talk about black sheep!! Well, it has not been without it’s challenges, but I agree wholeheartedly with you to see ALL your options, not just the ones the CLO sends out. It’s OK to step out and be different, if it fits your square peg family!

It’s really reassuring to hear someone with more experience saying what we’re already starting to figure out; that the CLO and the Office of Overseas Schools are a starting point and not a final answer.

There are a lot of good CLO’s out there who go above and beyond to support the people in their post. They are not education experts, but the SHOULD at least knowledgeable of the different schools at Post, as well as willing to put them in touch with people whose kids attend those “alternative” schools…at CLO Training in Bangkok this past February, they make a HUGE point of emphasizing that CLO’s should NOT recommend schools …. we should tell incoming officers and their families the choices they are aware of, and let them decide themselves. Only parents know their kids and what is the best environment for their children. If anyone experiences a CLO or Management Officer that pressures them to pick one school over another, they should call them out on it, or contact FLO, because our job isn’t to pick schools …. it is to know the options and try to provide parents with the information they need to make the right decision for their own children.

I’m also a CLO and I would hope if people ask me I present ALL options for schooling. That being said. . . if I didn’t have five kids of my own and my own educational training, I’m not sure I would be able to look at the options quite the same.

On the possibility of placing educational liaisons at each post or in each region:

I am not sure how smaller posts would ever fund a specialized contract EFM for schools, but I absolutely understand how frustrating it can be talking about school issues with a CLO that has no kids. Kind of like getting sex advice from a priest! 

I will vote for an EFM Educator liaison. There are lot of EFM’s that are Teachers with kids or without kids, and it would be a great job to be an Educator Liaison.  

I am thankfully done with educating my square peg overseas. But I thought these comments were worth sharing and that the idea of an educational liaison was worth putting “out there.”

Signed, a recovering Foreign Service parent.

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4 comments

  1. I checked out DIS again, out of curiosity. While I still can’t afford it (and they have no tuition reduction program, either), I fail to see how it is a British school. They don’t offer Latin (a deal-breaker for my daughter), for one. The main thing, though, is that the school was created by parents in the business community. It quite resembles the IB World School in Vilnius, also created by parents (American and Danish, for what it’s worth).
    I have the feeling I’m being annoying. I don’t mean to be. I am slowly coming to terms with the idea of a local school. It seems to be the only option, besides the Lycee, where dd could continue her four languages.

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  2. You are not being annoying, however, my posts were about Foreign Service kids whose tuition is paid by the State Department, not about other expats who have different benefits packages. So, I sympathize, but it’s kind of an apples and oranges situation.

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