Going back to school is always an exciting period, but when coupled with a new country and new school, the process can become overwhelming. Whether the family is moving to Shanghai for a temporary work assignment or a whole new life, making an international move with children in tow can seem a daunting task.
To ensure a smooth transition for everyone, parents should tell their children as soon as plans to move are confirmed. Regardless of the reason for the relocation, it’s important to explain, in simple terms, why the move will be a great adventure for the whole family.
Tips for a smooth international move
Here are a few tips for keeping children engaged, happy and secure when the family moves to a new country:
- Enroll the children in language classes. They’ll feel more confident if they can speak to and understand the locals, and they’ll adjust faster.
- Encourage a sense of discovery and adventure. Spend time deciding together what the family will see and do in the new country.
- Prepare as much as possible to become familiar with the new culture and environment.
- Be ready for culture shock. Listen to children’s concerns and look for a way to smoothly resolve them.
- Stay connected with family and friends back home. Pictures, emails and letters will help everyone keep in touch.
- It’s difficult for kids to move to another country, leaving friends and family behind. Although the transition may take time, living and going to school in a new country has unlimited benefits for children. Being organized and keeping them involved in major decisions will help the international move go smoothly for everyone.
Adjusting and settling in might take a little while, especially when the new country is very different from back home. Take it slow and give the new place a chance. Once you’ve adjusted to the new neighborhood and your house is growing on you, it’ll be time for the kids to start at their new school. Children need patience, as being the new kid is always a bit strange, but the good news in Shanghai is that your children will not be alone, as many new expatriates arrive every year. Little by little, your children will make friends and feel at home in the new city. Maybe they were taking swimming classes back home, so you’ll want to find swimming classes in Shanghai so they can take up where they left off. Or maybe being in a new place will inspire them to try something new – like art classes, football or a new musical instrument. The more your children communicate with other kids and take part in fun activities, the more your new city will feel like home.
Tips for the first few weeks or months at the new school
- Talk to your kids. A lot. The first few weeks of school can be challenging and you might find that your child reacts differently than you had expected. Make sure you take the time to talk to them about their experience. Watch for any signs that your child is not adjusting. Ask for one-on-one time with teachers if needed, and resolve any concerns as early as possible.
- Grades may change. Be aware that your child’s grades could be affected by the move. Often, grades go down. This can be due to the change in curriculum or teaching styles, or simply because they need time to adjust.
- Encourage extra-curricular activities. Help your children find clubs and activities they’re keen on, either through school or a community center.
- Encourage sleepovers and play dates. Ask your children about new friends, then call their parents and invite them over for an afternoon or evening, or volunteer to drive them to the mall or to a movie.
- Remember, it’s going to take time. Adjusting to a new home, new school and new friends will take a while; give your child the chance to feel comfortable in their new space. It may even take a few months before things settle. Allow your child (and yourself) that time. And before you know it, you’ll all be feeling a lot more at home.
While it may be difficult for parents to be clearheaded during the whole relocation and settling-in process, maintaining focus on the end result is a great help. An expatriate experience is the opportunity of a lifetime, providing children with unparalleled knowledge, an open mind and a unique opportunity to explore Chinese culture and language. While there may be a few difficult discussions, and undoubtedly some tears, parents need to remember that they are giving their child a gift. Following some constructive strategies such as those suggested above can help you all make the transition from early difficulties to the thrilling experience of relocating abroad.