Boarding school Vs international school: what is the best option?

June 19, 2018

Making the decision to live and work abroad as an expat will impact your entire family. A challenge for many new expats, especially those with older children, is where to send them to school? You may be considering two options:

  1. Boarding school in your home country
  2. International school in the country you are moving too

There are pros and cons to both, some of which are shown below, however, it is by no means an exhaustive list. Ultimately it is a personal decision for your family based on the needs of you and your child:

This could be a big plus if your children are teenagers with an established network of friends and an active social life. The opportunity to stay close to friends and extended family may make boarding school more appealing.
A boarding school education offers your child an immersive experience, while most day schools end at 3pm or 4pm, boarding school provides children with access to activities away from the classroom. There is a focus on extracurricular sports and activities in the evenings and weekends that may help your child develop skills like leadership and teamwork.
It is likely your child is going to experience homesickness at some point. This is difficult for both parent and child, especially when separated by long distance.
Your children will be part of a community at school that will stand them in good stead as they embark on life outside of school. As they will live with their classmates, they are highly likely to make friends for life during those formative years.
Boarding school in your home country might be a good option if multiple international moves are on the horizon, while your child is at school. Moving from country to country may negatively impact your child’s social development as well as their academic achievement.
While your child is at school many aspects of their life will be taken care of by someone else. For example, deciding what is good and bad behaviour, disciplining and rewarding your child, looking after them if they become sick will all be done by someone else. Of course, you will be kept informed and consulted when necessary, but on a day to day basis, staff at the school will be responsible for this.
If your child is away at boarding school, they are not as involved in family life. Although staying in touch is much easier today via Skype and FaceTime, it will not be the same.
Sending a child to boarding school is a significant financial commitment, not only in fees. Most boarding schools also have expensive uniforms, sports uniforms and equipment, school trips and a range of other costs that need to be considered when choosing a school.
Your child gets to experience living abroad, which has been shown to have a positive impact on children later in life. Third culture kids who have experienced life abroad, may be multi-lingual and are comfortable around culture that is not their own, are becoming increasingly attractive to international employers as adults.
Living abroad will open your child’s eyes to the diversity in the world. They are likely to develop cross cultural relationships with other expat and, hopefully, local children in your new country. As they build these friendships, they are likely to learn many valuable skills that are difficult to teach in a classroom setting like flexibility and respect for difference.
There is nothing like total immersion to learn a new language. If your children are younger, there is an even better chance they will return from life as an expat with a good grasp of the local language, once they are exposed to it on a daily basis. If their education is through English or another popular language, consider enrolling them in local language classes after school, you will be amazed how quickly they will pick it up. In a short time, they may be helping you.
Even if you choose a private international school, chances are the overall cost will not be as much as a boarding school at home, with a few notable exceptions such as Switzerland and Asia. Research should allow you to find a school that works well for your child and budget. Usually sports facilities and equipment are the compromise in less expensive international schools. If you are happy to access these outside of school, there is likely to be an international school that works for you.
Most international schools cover the syllabus of US, UK or the international Baccalaureate so if you want your child to be taught a syllabus outside of this, you may have difficulty. Use forums and expat websites to find international schools that may follow the curriculum of your preferred country.
Depending on the age of your children, you may have to factor after-school childcare into consideration, particularly if both you and your partner will be working full time while you are abroad. You may not have access to family and friends to help look after them, as you do in your home country.
The other option if you bring your children with you on assignment is to send them to a local school. Although careful research will be required, they can be of very good quality and offer your child an authentic experience of life in your new country.
Ultimately it is about choosing the best option for your child. Involve them as much as possible in the decision-making process. Agree a shortlist of schools and see if it is possible for your son or daughter to have a ‘taster visit’ to understand what school life is like there before they enrol.  By focusing on their needs rather than your own, you will obtain the best possible outcome for your child.
With all the preparation for your move, don’t forget to look after the physical health of your family while you are away with an expat health insurance plan tailored to you.
Allianz Partners have no affiliation with any of the schools listed. List is for information purposes only.