How To Deal With Cultural Differences In Education

When sending children to a local school while living abroad, expat families may experience a wide array of cultural differences.
Photo by Jacob Plumb on Unsplash

Finding the right daycare or school is often the biggest challenge expat families face when arriving in a new country. Due to language barriers, place of residence or a late application during the school year, choices are often limited.

Educational Principles May Vary

Once your children have started going to school or nursery abroad, you may face more problems. Many of them will be due to cultural differences. According to the educational principles anchored in society, teachers in a local nursery or school tend to be either more authoritarian or more laissez-faire than what you are used to from home. In some countries, a higher degree of obedience is expected, in other countries, a much higher amount of free play and fun are promoted. In any case, you may find it difficult to accept how teachers – and also parents of new friends – approach your children.

International Schools As Local Status Symbol

Many expat parents will turn to international schools straightaway. But even here, you may not find what you were hoping for. Some expats have reported that the international school at their place of assignment is largely attended by children of wealthy local citizens. The international school is elevated to the status of a luxury good, which inevitably entails the corresponding status thinking on the part of the pupils going there.

In this case, the international school no longer offers a colourful mix of families from different nations, but a majority of children and parents speaking the local language outside of class. And even the teachers are often local, and only teach in English or French while their educational principles are defined by the predominant standards in the host country. New expat families can quickly find themselves in an outsider position here.

What Can You Do To Overcome Cultural Differences In Education?

So what can parents do if their expectations differ widely from the local standards of learning? How can they deal best with cultural differences in education?

  • First of all, it is important for both, expat children and their parents, to maintain contact with their home country and its educational model. Watching children’s programmes or using learning portals can support you in maintaining your own standards.
  • Even more important is to always listen to how your children actually feel in a daycare facility or school. Things that you yourself see as a problem may not have such a big influence on your children. While other factors that you don’t think about yourself can be far more important to them.
    Whenever your children talk about issues, you should always be aware that cultural differences between the school and their environment at home may contribute to the conflict.
  • Especially for older children, it may be advisable to raise their awareness of the differences between educational standards in their family and in the host country. For example, explain to them the unusually strict behaviour of teachers. Your children should also know if you disagree with a local parenting style, but make clear that you still think they should try to adapt to local rules.
  • For older children, school friends may play the most important role in life. Nevertheless, the imprint of their family is not extinguished! So continue to live up to your own standards, even if at times you feel that the environment has a greater influence on your children than you do.
  • Activities with the whole family strengthen you as a unit. So take extra time for family rituals, conversations and joint meals. Children who feel safe and secure at home can face challenges outside the home with confidence.
  • If you yourself feel to be an outsider in the school community, only one thing will help: Join in! Don’t miss any opportunity to get involved. Help with the school fete, invite other parents and children to your home and talk to the teachers as often as possible. Many things that you have only observed from an outsider’s perspective so far, may make more sense when participating.
  • Do you have the feeling that your children are not fully reaching their potential in the local school? Try to compensate for this at home. Maybe you can find supporters in the local expat community and organise some meetings, outings or learning groups.
  • If something crucial is missing in the local school from your point of view, perhaps you should take the initiative to improve things? You may be positively surprised how many other parents agree with you. Who knows, you may import something good from your home country.
  • Are your children frequently invited to visit local friends? You should appreciate this as an opportunity to learn about the values in the host country. Help your children to accept the rules set by their friends’ parents. At the same time, try to create a home environment where your children’s friends feel comfortable. This is the only way to ensure that cultural differences do not stand in the way of your children’s friendships.
  • Another challenge will be, if your children are used to playing outdoors a lot and can no longer do so in the host country because of the high temperatures or for safety reasons. Look for alternatives. Often expat parents are unaware that their children lack exercise and activity when living abroad. Leisure centers, for example, can provide exercise and play with peers – especially if running around is not promoted in kindergarten or school.
  • Keep in touch with other families in your home country. Openly share your concerns and challenges. Probably you will hear that your friends are also struggling with school issues.

And last but not least: Whatever the cultural differences in education look like that you are facing, always keep in mind that your children will learn many things abroad that you even may not have on your personal wish list.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

Key Takeaways

  • Maintain contact with your home country and its educational model.
  • Always listen to how your children actually feel in a daycare facility or school.
  • Raise your children’s their awareness of the differences between educational standards in their family and in the host country.
  • Children who feel safe and secure at home can face challenges outside the home with confidence.
  • Don’t miss any opportunity to get involved. Many things that you have only observed from an outsider’s perspective so far, may make more sense when participating.
  • Always keep in mind that your children will learn many things abroad that you even may not have on your personal wish list.
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