Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Questions checklist for international schools

Three years ago when I was shopping around for a school for Miriam, I didn't really know what I was doing. I didn't even have experience (as a parent) with the public school system in my native country, let alone the complex international school system in a foreign one. I did my best, and I'm happy with where we ended up, but I've learned a lot since then. If I were shopping around for an international school today, these are the questions I would arm myself with when visiting a campus.

Who are your teachers? The staff of some schools skews toward young teachers fresh out of university; others have more career teachers with accompanying families. Both are fine. It just depends which you prefer (and it might say something about the benefits and relocation package offered by the school to its employees). Also in this category: what is typical teacher turnover? What nationality do the teachers tend to be? What qualifications or experience must they have? Etc.

Who are your students? In my own research three years ago, I came across schools where if I had sent Miriam there, she would have been the ONLY non-Muslim, or the ONLY American, or the ONLY blond-haired child, etc. Of course none of those are deal-breakers all on their own, but you should ask this question so that you aren't surprised on the first day of school that your child is the only non-Muslim (or whatever) there!

Can I see your library? What are the lending privileges? In many foreign countries, your child's school library may be the only library you have access to. So try to find a good one if that is important to you! Some school libraries may give borrowing privileges to younger siblings, or allow students to check out more books with a parent card.

How big is your school? Do you have multiple classes per grade level? What is the highest grade level offered? Are more grades being added each year?

What kind of curriculum do you have? At English-medium international schools, it tends to be one of the Big Three (US, UK, or Australian). You can also ask the school what kind of re-entry your child would have in a school in their home country - does the curriculum transfer straight across? How about exams at higher levels (IB, AP, GCSE, etc.) - are they offered and/or accepted in the home country?

What are your admissions requirements for students? This is a tricky one. Some schools require read/write literacy in English before a child can enter Year 2. But there are a million exceptions - if an older sibling has already been accepted to the school; if the child is of a certain age (you can't send a 10-year-old to Year 2); if what the heck, you can sign the tuition check so come on in; etc. You should also ask the school if certain nationalities (as determined by passport) are excluded from admission.

Are the children ever segregated by gender? Some schools segregate after a certain age. Some have co-ed classes but segregate for PE swimming sessions. Some have entirely different campuses for girls and boys.

What is the classroom atmosphere? Do teachers keep students in line by yelling, or ringing a huge cowbell, or by shaming troublemakers (all of which I've heard of here)? Make sure you find an atmosphere in which your child will be comfortable.

Does the school have an online presence? This may be a simple website, or it may include a more extensive parent/school communication system with homework postings, announcements, calendar, etc.

What are the school fees? There is tuition, of course, but don't forget about uniforms, books, transportation, registration, and activity fees. If your employer is sponsoring tuition, find out if that includes all the extras (it probably doesn't).

One last important factor in choosing an international school is how you feel about it overall. I remember walking into the girls' school for the first time three years ago and more than any other school I had visited, that school felt like home to me. A school could sound really good to you on paper, and have all the right answers to the above questions, but still not be a good match for your family. Make sure you let your intuition have input in this decision as well!

Did I miss anything?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The hardest holiday

Easter is the hardest holiday to celebrate around here. It faces the uphill battle of 1) being a Christian holiday in a Muslim country, that is 2) held on the Western Christian Sabbath (Sunday), which is a work day here. I forgot it even was Easter until about the day before. Yesterday - Easter itself - I made a last-minute trip to Spinney's in Mirdif to get something special for the girls for the holiday. The selection was very poor, though - hollow chocolate rabbits missing most of the foil covering; ├╝ber-expensive dark chocolate eggs; smashed-in boxes of truffles. From that miserable pile, I salvaged two Lindt chocolate hens wrapped in shiny, colored foil - one for each girl. I gave the hens to the girls after school. Because Easter is a school day here. I felt like Ma Ingalls in the wilderness, handing over a single stick of peppermint candy to Mary and Laura for Christmas.

Fortunately, a neighbor held an Easter activity afternoon with egg-and-spoon races and even an Easter Egg hunt. Later, as a family, we watched a few Easter videos on Sterling had a doctor appointment in the evening. To spend more time as a family (really), all five of us went, together. We received our most sincere Easter greetings of the day from the Muslim receptionist who wished us Happy Eid (holiday) and talked with me about how it can be hard to be apart from our extended families on such holidays.

It wasn't until we moved here that I realized how much I drew upon the public consciousness of certain holidays in my own celebrating of them. It's easy to remember that Easter is approaching when the dollar section of Target is overflowing with that plastic green grass, plastic eggs, and wicker baskets. Last year we were in Germany for Easter, and public awareness of the holiday was in overdrive - the whole country shut down for a few days of celebration, town squares were decorated with Easter eggs, etc. Furthermore, if you celebrate the religious aspect of Easter, you can count on Easter Sunday being a day off from work, a day to dress up in your finest and take pictures of the family. We did have an Easter program at church on Friday, which was nice. But it wasn't Easter itself, so I didn't think to take nice pictures or sit down with the kids to talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I think in future years, we should consider holding our own religious Easter observance on Good Friday, our Sabbath. Then I can not worry that we're missing Easter when Sunday itself comes around with all of its busy work/school-day distractions.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

From fear to love

For the first five months of his life, Sterling was somewhat terrified of Magdalena. She was loud and unpredictable and her idea of playing with a newborn was getting right in his face with a rough game of pat-a-cake. Looking through photos of the two of them from that time period, a certain trend emerges.

"not so sure about this i am nervous"

"uh oh, the nice calm sister was holding me and then SHE showed up i am nervous"

"which one is holding me i can't tell from this angle i am nervous"

"the calm one is here but so is the other one i am nervous"

Magdalena made him nervous. As you can see. Miriam was the preferred sister for quiet sitting. Magdalena was feared.

UNTIL. At about five months old, a switch flipped. It's the switch that flips in every baby, and all of sudden they love games of surprises and tickles and happy noises: peek-a-boo, creep mouse, this little piggy, and, yes, in-your-face pat-a-cake. In other words, that loud, unpredictable 5-year-old with uncontainable energy and enthusiasm just became the perfect playmate.

These days, Sterling only has to look at Magdalena and he bursts out into wiggly smiles and anticipatory giggles. He knows he can never be quite sure what kind of game she'll come up with to play with him. And that's just how he likes it.

"[at ease]"

Friday, April 18, 2014

April 18th, outsourced

I love the idea of these faux-old-fashioned maps, customized to a particular road trip or journey or community!

Wheel of Fortune FAIL. [HT Blair]

The CNN pregnancy test, for when you want to know that they don't know. [HT Andrew]

Babies cry at night as part of an elaborate plot to keep Mom tired so she doesn't want to procreate again anytime soon. Sounds about right. [HT Andrew]

Warning: you won't be able to unsee these examples from a Nicolas Cage-themed art exhibition that was held last weekend in San Francisco.

I posted a link to the prototype for this zip-up bed linens product a few months ago. It has a Kickstarter now! The price point is a little higher than I can personally manage (and also, we have freak Middle Eastern-sized mattresses), but I LOVE the idea!

Babies in Ridiculous Poses. The fact that many of these are composites was news to me! I am relieved to know that professional photographers, at least, are not shoving babies into jars of candy. [HT Missy]

I know this is technically a commercial, but it is charming: An & Ria's First Flight. You cannot convince me she doesn't say "Hot diggity!" at 2:22. [HT Josie]

Missing Child Found Safe Inside Claw Machine is Safe, Probably Bummed to be Rescued.

The private lives of public toilets. I read this article and then immediately wanted to anonymously send a copy to my department's cleaning lady re: The Bathroom Incident. [HT Andrew]

I think these are the same few photographs that make the rounds every year, but I, for one, was happy/FREAKED OUT to see them again: Vintage Easter Bunny Photos. [HT Jessie]

A map of all the places where nobody lives! Yes, it uses census data, but it does not rely on counties so it really is showing you were nobody lives. [HT Jen]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The US, from the outside

Magdalena's Year 1 concert was yesterday. The theme was "Around the World," with dances and short presentations about seven different countries: India, China, South Africa, UAE, UK, USA, and Spain. It was so fascinating to see the school's/students'/teachers' interpretation of US culture - it's a British curriculum school with very few American students and only two or three American teachers.

The recitations by the children included such tidbits as:

- The US is the home of such restaurants as McDonald's, TGI Fridays, and Chili's. [They also named a few main items of American cuisine - you can see them on the far left drawing - but I didn't catch what they were.]

- George Washington was the first president of the United States.

- And this little boy recited the entire Pledge of Allegiance!

In addition, the costumes (as you can see) were bell-bottomed jumpsuits. The music for the dance was "Moves Like Jagger."

I loved getting an outsider's view of my own culture. And I suddenly feel shamed into wanting to teach my kids the Pledge of Allegiance! It was all I could do not to start reciting it along with the little boy.

(Magdalena's part was about Spain. She did a great job. Yes, that is a sandwich instead of a flamenco fan.)


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