Packing boxes, applying for visas, booking flights: organizing a move abroad can be rather challenging, especially if you are bringing your partner and kids along. Many expat parents forget that they are not the only ones struggling with the transition and that it might also be hard for their children to adjust to the new Swiss life. Children might struggle to make new friends, overcome the language barrier, and deal with the loss of their friends back home. Attending a school in their host country will allow your children to get in touch with other kids their age. However, this step can bring a new set of challenges with it and might even intensify the adjustment issues. At local schools, expat kids often stick out like sore thumbs and they struggle to understand their new classmates and keep up with the workload.
This is why many expat parents choose to send their children to international schools. Particularly in cases when the move is just temporary, international schools might offer a more stable and welcoming environment. Moreover, the curriculum is similar to other international schools around the world, which means that expat kids will not encounter any academic problems when they move.
Switzerland has become an expat hot spot in recent years, much due to the fact that many international companies have opened their headquarters here. It is often these well-to-do global professionals who send their kids to international schools. Most of them choose this schooling option to ease the transition of moving for their children, and also because they believe in the quality of private education. On the downside, this choice stifles integration of foreigners into Swiss society, not just for the children but also for expat parents, who then have little contact with the locals.
This is one reason why the government of canton Zurich is now trying to limit international school access only to children of expats whose assignment in Switzerland is temporary. Some Swiss schools already have a bilingual or international curriculum, for example, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which can be taught alongside the local one, and may help longer-term expat kids adjust to their new environments. Sending your children to a Swiss school can help them to learn more about the local culture and improve their Swiss German. However, it can also be much more stressful and challenging.
It is important to support your kids throughout the adjustment periods, no matter what school they attend. In fact, there are a number of things you can do to make the transition smoother:
- Start learning the language early on! You can practice together with games or picture books. That way, the first day at the new school will be less of a shock.
- Visit the new school together with your child. Most schools will arrange for someone to give you a small tour and answer all of your questions. That way, the surroundings will feel familiar for your kid once school starts.
- Drop your kids off on the first day of school. No matter if you plan to pick up your son or daughter every day or if they will walk, take the bus, or bicycle to school, it makes sense to accompany them on the first day. This will give them a sense of security.
- Get in touch with other parents, both expats and locals. Expat parents might be able to give you some advice on how to get through this difficult time. Locals, on the other hand, can help you and your family to get involved in your community.
- Encourage sleepovers, play-dates, and extracurricular activities. Whatever gets your kid out of the house and allows them to make new friends is a good thing. This can include soccer practice or simply spending time with other kids.
Above all, you should make sure to give your child enough time to get through this transition. Chances are that even if you are well prepared, your family will need some time until they feel at home in Switzerland. No matter how long it takes, let your children know that you are always there to support them along the way.
By Elena Born
Elena Born was born and raised in a small town near Frankfurt, Germany. After studying abroad in Salem, Oregon, U.S. for a while, she graduated from university in Tübingen. Today, she lives and works in Munich, where she writes country and city guides for InterNations and provides general information to people moving abroad.
Photos by InterNations