Mark: I would use the following words to describe them: confident, privileged and adaptable, all evident in children we have taught in international schools.
Kristen: On the other hand they could also be described as over-confident, which we have seen in children we have met since moving here to Dubai.
So, what are the benefits of being educated in an international environment?
Mark: I believe it gives children the ability to understand and respect different cultures. This in itself promotes tolerance between the cultures, something we are all encouraging in this often fragile balance between conflict and peace.
Kristen: Having the chance to explore another country with other children who have different experiences and views, I believe, encourages children to meet new people and to grow in self-confidence in the process. It’s a quality all parents wish their children to develop. It allows children to see the world rather than being indoctrinated into the culture of only one country.
Kristen: This promotes second language options for our children giving them access to another world of language and opportunity. We who are born and bred with English as a first language, take it for granted that wherever we go in the world, someone will be able to communicate in our language. We have become lazy and apathetic about language and learning new ones. Internationally educated children are immersed into language, from the native language in the country of residence to the mix of languages spoken by their friends. This is exciting, these children are being given a gift of language which allows a crossover to a different culture and deeper understanding of the benefit language can bring.
Is moving children to a new culture and language difficult for them?
Mark: Kristen and I certainly had those discussions about moving from the UK to Dubai. Our children were young enough to move them without disrupting their education, but would they cope with all of the changes they would experience with schooling, housing, culture and the weather?
Kristen: There are two ways to look at this, it can be viewed as a positive experience to broaden their horizon or as a negative one where separation from everything they know can cause stress and upset and alter family dynamics. A lot of the success or failure when moving children is down to how the family unit deals with the changes and how supportive the school is in helping children to settle into new routines and possible language barriers.
Do parents make the decision for the best for the family or for them and their job offer at the time? Is it financial pressure or the chance to spend some quality time together a driving force?
Kristen: We moved to be closer to family, we knew Dubai as we had been visiting for over a decade before moving here. Our children knew the country and the culture and had a ready-made family support network to ease the transition from one country to another. This proved invaluable to us as parents as we had people who we trusted to help us when we needed it.
Mark: As teachers we are conscious of the move in education in the UK to a more international way of teaching. The world of education is not the vast range of curriculum options we have seen in the past. Although international curriculums offer varied courses for our children, they are moving towards a more general approach to education which can make the decision about which school to send your child to even more difficult. The world has become smaller and the thought of moving halfway round the world is not as daunting for some as it used to be. This is only adding to the number of families choosing to educate their children internationally.
Kristen: The world has become more accessible to more people and this has opened doors for many families who would not have considered international education for their children before.
Do children lose their national identity by being internationally educated?
Mark: Perhaps for some they do, as they do not have a sense of belonging that non-internationally educated children do. When asked, “Where are you from?”, what do they say, — their country of birth or the country they have spent more time in, be it only three years? It is difficult to explain to others that you are not sure where you are from. Do these children reply, “I am international” as this is what they are, picking up culture, language and tradition from every country they have the benefit of living in? Or do they pick from a list of possibilities from birth to adolescence? Dubai has a thriving community of international societies where you can join and mix with people who share your home country with all the passion than can be seen in their home country.
Kristen: We speak from experience with the Welsh Society here in Dubai, a fantastic group of people passionate about their country, passionate about holding events for their members and raising money for charity. There are many more societies in Dubai who all do amazing things for their communities and we can speak with assurance that their efforts are truly appreciated by those who move abroad and struggle with their lack of national identity.
Mark: Children who move around may not have the prejudices that being educated in their home country can bring. With more tolerance of culture and religion, acceptance of other people’s opinion and the ability to reflect on their personal upbringing and how this has influenced their childhood opinion and thought, this can only be looked upon as a positive.
Kristen: Being taught in international schools encourages students to be more adaptive when faced with change. If we are used to different opinions, we won’t judge so harshly. If we are faced with an opposing culture to ours, we will view it with tolerance and an open mind in a respectful way. This cannot be said for the non-internationally educated children we have taught in our teaching careers in the UK, where prejudices and family opinion often cause blindness to the humans we are dealing with.
Mark: Many of our friends back in the UK look at our life and consider it to be one of privilege, where our children are able to do more than they would have done back home. The lifestyle we live is markedly improved by the wonderful weather and the opportunity for our children to become involved in a huge range of activities. No more calling off a planned barbeque due to rain, we are pretty much guaranteed that when you plan an outdoor event it will go ahead as planned. This is a luxury we cannot put a price on. Our children are more confident than when they arrived two years ago, they will walk into a shop and ask for an item they want with no hesitation at all. They now confidently stand up in front of their peers and present their ideas to their classes.
Kristen: We have seen all this since moving them to international education. Our children have increased tolerance of different culture and faith, they have been exposed to these cultures through family holidays to India and travel within the UAE. This has made them more considerate of the cultural differences than they were in the UK. Our worry is for long-lasting friendships for our children.
Can children make these strong connections last a lifetime? In an international setting where children come and go, is this really possible?
Mark: Kristen and I have not been here for long enough to answer this question but I believe that our children are experiencing friendships with children from all over the world, they are learning about their cultures and way of lives that are so different from theirs. Who knows where our children will decide to live when they leave home, perhaps being internationally educated makes the possibilities endless? What an exciting prospect, not being limited to the same country, the same routines and lifestyle!
Kristen: Mark and I would like to say this; most people we have had contact with in an international setting want to live in a peaceful world where judgements are not based on religion, colour or creed. We believe that internationally educated children could be the key to this ideal, as they view the world as a much smaller place, one in which we play a part in holding together and protecting. Now our children have this seed of multi-culturalism inside them, they can grow into tolerant, reflective and balanced individuals who see the world in a more positive light. We are immensely glad we moved our children to be internationally educated.