Many schools and locations are great for kids. Others, simply are not. If you’re a single parent or a teaching couple with kids, you most definitely want to make choosing a kid friendly school a top priority. After all, if your kids aren’t happy, neither will you be. My kids grew up overseas from kindergarten through high-school graduation. Although I’m no expert on the topic, here are some things I feel you should consider when choosing a family friendly school.
Does the school you are considering offer teachers an apartment or small house on a compound? Compound living can be great for kids if playmates live nearby. Otherwise, this type of living can be an isolating experience that leaves kids feeling bored and lonely. We lived on two school compounds when our kids were young. Each was full of students from the school and offered our children endless opportunities for fun and play dates. But, when we lived in a house in Guatemala City, our kids felt isolated. Surrounded by high walls and razor ribbon, our Guatemalan house made us all feel like we were in detention. Pakistan could have turned out like Guatemala but by then our kids were in their teens and we hired a driver to shuffle them to-and-from their friends’ homes.
When evaluating living situations you’ll want to know the approximate size of the school-offered accommodations and, alternativley, the cost of renting a suitable abode out in the community, should this become necessary. In Africa, the “spacious” school-sponsored cottage turned out to be Barbie-sized. My wife and son and I had never before felt so “closed in”.
Your kids’ potential playmates and friends are an important consideration. Living in Pakistan posed an unforeseen problem for my kids. The student body was predominately male host nationals and many found it entertaining to gang-up on, exclude, and even harass expat kids, especially pretty teenage girls. I have seen this happen in more than one school and you’ll want honest information on this topic before you unknowingly subject your children to such an ugly situation. My kids eventually became accepted by the other kids, but it took some time. Other expat kids, boys and girls, were not so lucky.
Health care may or may not be high on your list of concerns. It wasn’t for us. But should your child require special medication or treatment you’ll want to be positive the school health insurance policy covers it. You also need to verify that necessary meds are available in country. If you need to have them mailed in, be sure to find out well in advance about customs regulations and fees. I know of a teacher who, after moving overseas with her child, found the director had misrepresented the health insurance. She had already given up her US insurance and now found herself forced to cover the high cost of the imported medicine out-of-pocket. Any special medical concerns should be well researched in advance.
Safety is a tremendous consideration. If you discover kids were kidnapped off the school bus and held for ransom in previous times, you have a definite sign your kids are going to be under lock and key and always within your sight. Safety was a very real problem for us in developing nations and it is well worth finding out about in advance of signing a contract. Safety concerns are a good reason for not accepting a position.
Is tuition covered for your kids, as well as round trip airfare? Get it in writing if it is. When we lived in Guatemala the director decided to retroactively charge tuition to families with dependent children. This took a huge cut out of our already low pay checks. Walking out on the school was impossible as we had no home or jobs to return to, not to mention we would have had to pull our kids out of school. If our children required remedial classes, this would have also added to our costs.
Most schools sponsor activities for children and some do prefer to hire teaching families. This can be good or bad. A few teachers have reported that their school is so “family friendly” that if you don’t participate in the endless planned activities you soon become seen as anti-social, when all you really want is a little down time.
Weather is an important consideration. If it rains all the time or snows, kids may find themselves stuck inside. In Thailand it rained most every day during the rainy season but this wasn’t a problem because it was a warm rain. It snowed for months when we lived in Romania and this did keep the kids trapped in the house, as well as us.
I’ve tried to hit the major concerns for families entertaining an overseas position. If you have something to add, questions or general comments about this topic, please go to the Family Friendly Discussion Board