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.

 

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    *whispers* you listed 5 schools, Kirsty. 😉

    My kids are at an Australian School. There’s beer at every school function that happens after midday and a sausage sizzle after Saturday swimming lessons.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Lol. Very funny. Sausage sizzles and cake stalls. Stubbies and bubbles. Naplan. That is how our school rolls.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Bloody Brillant. I’m shopping for a new car this weekend. Ailsa

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    What a laugh though you were spot on!!!!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Oopsy daisy! And I’m out doing very important things (getting my toes shellacked with a girlfriend) so I can’t fix it until later…or those few spelling mistakes. I seriously need an editor. Thanks gorgeous, glad to hear the sausage sizzle is going strong. Kx

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Soooooo bloody funny!!!!!!! My kids have just started in an American School run by the Canadian, British and American embassies – I’m not sure which car to buy 😉

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Oh, this post is going straight to the pool room. You are bloody funny. Love from Jakarta.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Or The French Village School where the classes are arranged in 3 groups – the maggots,the caterpillars and the butterflies depending on ability.This will be explained to you in a very slowwwwww but loud vpice because you are Australian and obviously deaf as well as linguistically challenged. But nobody will explain if your child is the maggot,caterpillar or butterfly.I spent lots of time peering in classroom windows trying to work it out.
    My friends were Marie-Claude,Marie-Helene,Marie- Claire

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    My kids went to the German school in Libya together with Silke and Bernd. Everyone drove a Mercedes and had sausages and sauerkraut for lunch. 🙂

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    im going to forward this to my husband…anybody can add about the french school, which is one of our two possible options?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    I’d kill for a sausage sizzle about now. xx

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    I cannot stop giggling. Maggots?!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    We had friends with Wintershall in Libya, best sauerkraut ever!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Thanks Kate, I had a little giggle while I wrote this one. xx

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    You know, that sounds like the perfect combo. You have to let me know how it goes. x

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Thanks Girvani xx

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    A bright yellow Hummer is hard to miss in the carpark 😉

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Oh I love it !
    And as someone who hasn’t down the international school thing, you could actually substitute ” multinational chain restaurant” for school and you have my backpacking/waitressing/bartending experiences completely true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    As an American expat living in Melbourne with my Canadian husband and our four children, I have loved all of your recent posts. My son’s primary school had a sausage sizzle yesterday to celebrate the opening of their Secret Garden, and we have drunk more champagne in the past three years living in Australia than in the previous two decades that have been spread out over three countries. When the president of the school parents’ association at my daughters’ school can’t get enough volunteers, all she needs to do is offer French champagne, and presto! The roster fills miraculously.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Hysterical! I loved this! Guess where I’m from!! (though I just came from serving 500 sausages at my children’s school’s footy day sausage sizzle. Wish there had been some champers…)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Loved your article! All my british school/ ism and even dutch school friends concur. We have a great discussion going on FB and your insightful and funny piece has been shared by many! Wish I could tag you in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Oh I wish you could tag me in too!! Can you tag the 4 kids 20 suitcases Facebook page? I think you can. Thanks so much for letting me know, love to think of you guys having a chat about it. xx

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Great article! At the international school in Malawi Mums drive diesel 4 x 4’s / pick-ups to navigate over the potholes. The school farmyard has a camel and your kids run barefoot at athletics (and are usually barefoot by the end of the school day). The bar is always stocked with Malawi G&T”s and Carlsberg beer at school functions and you are always greeted with a friendly, smiling face in the “warm heart of Africa.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Woman you have gone viral in Jakarta and OZ….love this post. I love the way you write and the stories you share with us all. Thinking of popping over your way next year, feeling like catching up with everyone in Oman and of cause Doha. xxxx

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Great giggle – loved it – haven’t been down the international school route but as an Aussie can totally relate!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    The Swiss School

    Children are NEVER driven to school. Instead, the are bundled up, plastered with reflective stickers, given a back pack, an umbrella and shown the door. But rest assured, BMW’s, Mercedes, and Porsches are standard issue.

    You don’t have any Swiss friends. The Swiss think private schools are for those who can’t make it in public schools. But if you did…just kidding, you won’t.

    The tot will navigate, cross, and take a bus or two to arrive at school.

    Shoes will be taken off and “inside” shoes will be put on. Recess takes place in all elements. There is “no bad weather, only bad clothing”.

    Every child will own six pairs of regulation shoes; hiking boots, rain boots, snow boots, outside shoes, inside shoes, and inside athletic shoes.

    Play dates must be scheduled months in advance or you will risk a conflict w the safari, trip to Thailand, or Miami the family plans to take during Herbstferien.

    Children shall be at the very least trilingual. It’s much more interesting to have a nightmare in which the protagonist speaks French or English or something. The hero always speaks Swiss German, which as an expat, you will never learn.

    There is no PTA. You will be invited to the school once monthly for coffee and petit fours. Your input is neither solicited nor held in high regard but the petit fours are excellent.

    The Swiss School

    Children are NEVER driven to school. Instead, the are bundled up, plastered with reflective stickers, given a back pack, an umbrella and shown the door. But rest assured, BMW’s, Mercedes, and Porsches are standard issue.

    You don’t have any Swiss friends. The Swiss think private schools are for those who can’t make it in public schools. But if you did…just kidding, you won’t.

    The tot will navigate, cross, and take a bus or two to arrive at school.

    Shoes will be taken off and “inside” shoes will be put on. Recess takes place in all elements. There is “no bad weather, only bad clothing”.

    Every child will own six pairs of regulation shoes; hiking boots, rain boots, snow boots, outside shoes, inside shoes, and inside athletic shoes.

    Play dates must be scheduled months in advance or you will risk a conflict w the safari, trip to Thailand, or Miami the family plans to take during Herbstferien.

    Children shall be at the very least trilingual. It’s much more interesting to have a nightmare in which the protagonist speaks French or English or something. The hero always speaks Swiss German, which as an expat, you will never learn.

    There is no PTA. You will be invited to the school once monthly for coffee and petit fours. Your input is neither solicited nor held in high regard but the petit fours are excellent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    I’ve just hit my one month anniversary here in Doha and just found your blog. It about made me pee in my pants as I have already met a few of the very women you mention, even if they are truly meant to be composites. And I think I may even have met you at a coffee last week! I’m off to read more of your funnies as the gloss has worn off a bit in all the traffic :-))

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    [must keep this non-libellous…..] In Gaborone, Botswana you will drive an imported Toyota which will look very shabby at the school gate next to the brand new Range Rovers & Mercedes. As a Brit who considers clean underwear to be an achievement, you will also look very shabby next to the immaculate ladies in full make-up, business suit & stripper heels at 6.45am. Your sons’ friends will have dual nationality (as a minimum) & be mixed race. They will be called Oyapo & Ooagile but you will not know how to spell these come party invitation time. Your reception-aged kids will be taught songs about Jesus but the food in the tuck shop is all halaal. Only you will be confused. All PTA events involve a braai (SA barbecue) which is a serious business. Bring your own steak & beer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    I have to say that was quite funny….I am American, my husband is Australian and our kids have gone to German (preschool), American and British schools and the oldest is 7 yrs old!!! Also, I work at an Australian school. It is nice to see the humour in it all 🙂

  • Cindy Paardenkooper

    Funny! Always good to bring some lightheartedness into those confusing times. The Dutch international school sounds more like a German school to me (the uber fit and yodeling-part I guess) although we do eat a lot of yoghurt:-) Thanks I’ll share it to all the mums that are going to have to choose some school somewhere.

  • Zita

    Loooove this, so funny! So true

    • http://expatwithkidsinparis.blogspot.fr/ Expat with Kids

      Is this Zita from the Swiss school in Madrid by any chance?
      Totally agree with the Swiss school description. Made me smile big time whoever wrote it.

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  • Mascha PK

    At the International School of Amsterdam your child will have another student as a Student Ambassador so your child will learn how to find his way in the newly expanded buildings and campus, the whole complex nicknamed ‘The Pink Castle’.

    Parents are driving anything between the tram and a ‘three is the new two’ family size ‘bakfiets’ (carrier/delivery cycle), the Mercedes minivan schoolbus with near-retired drivers who look like they just came off their barstool, whom your child will soon call uncle Jan and auntie Janny, or a car ranging from a Daihatsu Cuore to a modest 7 seater Volvo and the occasional Maserati or panther-themed Tesla, all parked in too tiny spaces in the school-lot with a traffic intensity and difficulty level of the Place Charles de Gaulle-Étoile.
    Children as young as age 9 bike home by themselves or take the tram back to the city center where they live, while the school is in the suburbs.

    Volunteering for the Annual Winter Fair will make you feel like you’d rather have a full time job as an excuse, and you’ll be monitoring one of the two ice rinks they put in place for the occasion.
    You’ll also be spending a lot of time waiting in school for your child to be done with after school activities because you can have all the sports and arts taken care of on campus, you just can’t have school-organized after school care, plus you’re required to monitor your child at after school hours if only for the two minutes between the last class and the soccer practice.

    Parents from different backgrounds will oppose to your child receiving proper health classes that they fear to be a bit too Dutch – style progressive, and all parents will fear the eternal wrath of the school nurse and athletic director for not having filled out and returned those forms yesterday. That you have provided those details upon admission does not mean they are generally accessible by the different departments.

    You will no longer be needed for your child’s dental visits as the dentist has her own school office during school hours, and after one year of shock and fear of racial conflict and confusion, you will be looking forward to the next time Sinterklaas and his black-face-painted helpers as well as some rainbow colored ones named Piet/Peter, will come to the school again and throw small gingerbread style cookies named pepernoten around.

    Each PTA parent will have several badges because it’s just always the same people who will help organize activities and committees, even though most other trailing spouses are complaining that their houses or apartments only have very small kitchens and children have to bunk together because apartment size in Amsterdam is a precious commodity and all they seem to be doing is go to the gym or another museum or market.

    There will be one or two parents who will always know to take the Dutch Holidays and festivals a few steps further and organize weekly beer-bike nights out for the parents, all wearing orange or red-blue-and white hats, or meet up with their rented ‘sloep’ and boat around the city center canals with sushi and wine for a few hours.

    Get-togethers with other families are hard to plan with everyone going on European city trips from Stockholm to Budapest every other weekend as the Netherlands are tiny and Europe is their backyard with Schiphol Airport around the corner.

    You’ll find yourself longing for the freedom you and your children experienced while living in Amstelveen or Amsterdam and had ‘The Bos’ (park) around the corner. You will try and grab every opportunity to go back and visit Amsterdam in combination with at least one other European city you’ve learned to love, trips often organized by another former ISA school mom who now also lives in the US again.

    • Sandra

      Awesome piece! VERY funny and true. We were at the ISA for 6 years until 2012 and I am Dutch. It is always so fun to get the perceptions from different cultures on this overall GREAT International School in The Netherlands… Oh and the school nurse Anita? She’s really a sweetheart… She’s just typical Dutch, very straight forward and direct. But dealing with 60 different cultures, being clear and direct about health requirements is probably a good thing!

    • http://shamozal.blogspot.com Kirsty Rice 4kids20suitcases

      “Volunteering for the Annual Winter Fair will make you feel like you’d rather have a full time job as an excuse”. So so true!

  • http://www.expatwithkidsinparis.blogspot.com/ Expat with Kids

    Hillarious. Thanks for a good mooring laugh! Swiss School is spot on. International School of Paris same as The Netherlands except we take the metro or scooters instead of bikes! Definitely no Birkenstocks in Paris! 😉

  • Yoshka

    Very good laugh and sense of truth it it. I’m Dutch, kids grew up in UK and hk in British school and British international school. British international school in hk has many nationalities so besides ‘terribly’ and ‘awfully’ there is a whole lot of ‘awesome’ 😉
    Btw I don’t think Yoshka is a typical Dutch name and I know as I’m Dutch and called Yoshka

    • http://shamozal.blogspot.com Kirsty Rice 4kids20suitcases

      I love that your name is Yoshka! Thanks for the comment. xx

  • Anisa GTP

    Awesome! 🙂

  • http://www.darlenefoster.ca Darlene Foster

    This was tooo funny. You were spot on with the Canadian School. Anyways, I am yearning for a double double right abowt now! Sorry abowt that.

  • anintrovertedblogger

    I love this piece! I’ve read it several times over the years and always have a laugh!