Louise, Sassy, and Ooshka. The Women at the International School Gate

An international move for a family will often require finding an International School. One of my part-time roles is as a relocation specialist. I Skype with families on the other side of the world who are nervously sitting with a list of questions about their future expat life. School is always at the top of the list. Which one? Who has the best facilities? Is it safe? Do they have security?

It’s my job to answer professionally and responsibly. I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it is for me not to crack a joke about it all. We’ve experienced three different school systems now, each school has been great but they’ve all had their own idiosyncrasies. Obviously when I’m working I have to be serious about it all. The International Baccalaureate versus O and A levels, but here on the blog, I can be as naughty as I want to. Bye bye professionalism and hello grand stereotypes.

How do the different schools measure up? Let’s take a look.

The British School

At the British school you will have friends called Louise and Helen. You will not drive one of those big awful American tanks, you will drive a seven seater Volvo or a Honda big enough to carry a red telephone box, and a kilometres worth of bunting for the school fair. School will begin at 5.45am and finish by 1. You’ll overhear Claire and Tabitha whisper squealing about their invitation to the embassy for tonight’s rent a crowd. There’s a rumour that Kate’s doesn’t she look amazing brother’s girlfriend’s half cousin is going to be there. There will be reading levels, math facts and tests – all of which will be very important because Harry is off to boarding school at age 11 and he’ll need a good report. You will find yourself preceding every word with frightfully, terribly and awfully. You have no idea why you’re doing this but you can’t seem to stop, it’s frightfully, terribly, awfully tedious. You will compete in the sack race and break your ankle trying to beat Harriet in the Grade One Mum’s hundred metre dash.

The American School

Your friends will be called Sassy and Heather. You will drive a Hummer or an Escalade. It will need to be big enough to carry the donut machine and the pony that you’ve been asked to organize for the Kindergarten Valentines Day celebrations. As you open the door to drop your child at the front of the school a woman from the PTA with a clipboard and a sign up sheet jumps into your car. She has a fixed smile with a prozac glazed look in her eyes as she tells you how excited she is to see you. As you look over her shoulder you notice the teachers have formed an archway in the entrance hall and they are high fiving the students as they make their way into school. Everything is awesome! Totally awesome! So awesome that we speak in constant exclamation marks! We’re all so excited! By the end of your child’s first day he has been to three parties and eaten more sugar than he has in his entire life. There are no spelling tests. There are no reading levels, there are “just right” books that are “just right” for your child. It’s totally awesome, everyone is equal, we are a totally awesome equal opportunity school. You arrive late to the first PTA meeting wondering if they’ll be booze but discover that everyone is too busy drinking the kool-aid to notice. And anyway who needs booze when you’ve got sugar?! Mary Kate and Suzy have supplied fourteen cartons or dunkin donuts, a tin of instant coffee, and twenty jars of coffee mate.

The Canadian School

Your friends will be called Bonnie and Shona. You will drive something with snow chains. It will be big enough to carry the hockey pads, helmets, sticks and skates. As you open the door to drop your child at school four people will rush towards you to ask if you need a hand getting your things out of the car. Unofficial welcomers will show your children to class and someone will hand you a double double with a toasted bagel from Tim Hortons. There are no spelling tests, that will come later. For the first five years of your child’s life they will be concentrating on how to become a good citizen. Don’t worry if they can’t hold their pen, they already know how to sing the anthem in French and English. Your child teaches you the new way to spell Canada. C eh, N eh, D eh. You start saying “anyways” and talk about getting owt and abowt on the weekend. You suggest that the first class meeting be at Starbucks and instantly apologize for your lack of thought. The PTA meets at the skate rink and is sponsored by The North Face, Lululemon and Mountain Equipment Co-op.

The Australian School

Your friends will be called Cheryl and Angela. You will drive badly because you are on the wrong side of the road. You will need a big enough back seat for the esky and the keg of beer. When you drop your child off at school you’ll hear someone yell out  “Hey, bloody sit still while I tie your shoelaces back up will ya?” There is no embassy, you will create your own informal embassy in the tuck shop which now has a bar. It’s highly possible a few bottles of champagne will make their way to the PTA coffee morning and the participants will need to catch the bus home with the kids at the end of the day. The school is littered with pictures of Opera Houses, Kangaroos and Aboriginal art. All fundraising will involve a keg of beer and a sausage sizzle.

The International School of the Netherlands

You will not know your friend’s names as you could not quite understand what they said when you first met. Maybe it was Heike? Yoshka? or Ooshka? You will ride your bike to school. Your children will be attached to you in various slings as you peddle, in the snow. You will feel like a pale, white, short pathetic attempt of a woman by the end of school drop off. Everyone appears to be six feet tall, tanned, blonde and uber fit. You will cut carrots and grapes for lunch and supply yoplait for the class each week while they play with wooden blocks and design IKEA looking furniture. Your clothes will be incredibly fashionable while made of hemp and your feet will be permanently stained from your birkenstocks. Your child will come home with a friend with white hair whose name sounded like an attempt to yodel with something stuck in your throat.

All of these schools, although different, will provide the same opportunities.

A bloody good laugh at the end of the day.


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