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Our kids have changed school a lot of times and their schools have been in different parts of the world. K1 is just 10 and is already on his sixth school. Choosing the right school for our kids is always a challenge. They spend so much of their growing years in school that going wrong can turn out to be harmful or in some cases disastrous. There are cases of kids being bullied so much that they cannot talk about it until much after they have been removed from the environment.
During our last stay in a country where English is not the first language we tried out the immersion experience for K1. That means he was surrounded by people from a culturally different background and speaking a different language all the time. He was six when he started there and the only Asian in school. He was totally immersed, to the extent that he would sometimes be submerged and floundering while trying to communicate with the kids.
K1 is a little on the quieter side and it’s not often that he is the first one to initiate a conversation. Kids would make fun of him during recess or they would prompt him with the wrong answer during class. He barely had any friends during the first year except some other kids who were not in the ‘in’ gangs. Things got better later. Learning the language, a great school, involvement in sports and incredibly supportive teachers made up for the lack of friends but which kid is happy without social acceptance?
K1 not only managed, he did really well at school and sports. He was busy and excited. He managed to ignore people who made digs at him and even started giving it back to them in their language. He made a few friends, got called over for a few birthday parties, got voted to the school council and became an integral part of the school. He never talked about changing schools and always resisted the suggestion if I ever brought it up. Maybe he thought that a known devil is better than an unknown.
Anyway, back in India he was anxious about his first day at the school we chose. We made him a part of the school selection process. It so often happens in India that the prohibitive fees and intense competition to get into good schools leaves you with no choice. Thankfully, he was happy with the school he was able to get into. He was a little apprehensive about his Hindi which had become rusty in the years he spent away from his country. Nevertheless, he enjoyed himself and made friends in the first week itself. Maybe he had gotten used to moving and adapting fast or maybe he was just happy to be back in India. Whatever it was, he was like a fish back in water. He flourished in this school too. His last day there came too soon and brought tears to his eyes.
This time when we have come to a country where English is again not the first language, we decided to forego the immersion experience for both our kids. K2 had never really faced it because he was quite small the first time we went out. We visited both an immersion kind of school and a truly international one. K1 was so happy with the second school, one look at his face and we knew what he wanted. K2 was happy to go wherever they let him play a lot! Though the second school is quite small and does not have many sports or extra-curricular activities, we decided to go for it because we thought our kids will be very comfortable in an environment which is informal and has plenty of scope for individual expression. We believed that challenging kids to adapt and flourish in an alien environment is one thing but having gloriously happy kids has a lot to say for itself.
Most kids have first day anxiety in any new school and our kids are no different. Fortunately both of them met a lot of their schoolmates during the school vacation so first day was a breeze. K1 was so comfortable in class; he said he did not feel it was his first day there. K2 was so happy the moment he entered the play area, he forgot all about me and ran off.
What also helped the quick settling in is that we have moved to a locality where there are a lot of families from India. At the end of the day, both for kids and adults, approaching and talking to strangers from your own country is comparatively easy. Lack of a common language can be a barrier in the park. Of course it can be overcome, but not without some effort. We want our kids to have an international experience and learn to accept and respect different cultures, but at the same time not shun their Indian roots. Multi-cultural acquaintances and friendships will grow as our activities increase and our network expands. What we can never lose sight of is that when kids are happy, they can do anything, but when they are not, every activity or task is more painful than pulling teeth.