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Local school to international school?


Hi all,

I'm wondering if there any more seasoned expats out there who could possibly shed some light on our situation (surely not a unique one). We came here feeling very committed to staying in the local school system, even knowing it wouldn't be easy given the language and cultural adjustment. But we are now considering switching to an international school for a variety of reasons.

Our first grader is simply not thriving where he is. He complains of stomach aches almost daily. While the kids in his class are trying, he doesn't really have any friends yet. At this point we are reluctant to introduce him to any extracurricular activities because he is pretty beat after a long day of school in a new language, and yet he gets very little art, music, or team sport (he does do gym and swimming) during his regular school day.

Basically, we are just starting to question if we all might be happier in a more international setting. My husband speaks no French, so currently cannot be involved at all in the day-to-day aspect of schooling. The option that best fits us seems like it would be more enriching for our son on many levels. But of course he would not be getting the language advantage. It also feels a little like retreating to a bubble rather than having a local cultural experience.

I'm wondering if anyone else has had similar concerns and what they decided to do. We are reluctant to switch too early, to go through the tough months and then not see the benefit of sticking it out. But we also don't want to make everyone in our household miserable!

Please also feel free to email me directly at hruskova [at] mac [dot] com.

Thank you!!


There is a new FB group for parents with children in local schools. There you might be able to exchange views and tips with parents whose children have also just started in local schools.

Nov 10, 2013 12:11

We find ourselves in a similar situation (after much longer in Belgium and our child born here) and still haven't really made up our minds. The french has indeed improved and friendships are slowly forming. Perhaps more difficult is our lack of French and the ability to effectively to engage with parents and teachers. As previously pointed out one can never be sure if we'd need to move again and the ease of transferring to a new country. I'm concerned more about the quality of written english more than the French. (I'm a little uncomfortable burdening our child with extra lessons rather than having fun). The question I come back to is what is the purpose (other than cost) of attending the local school? Is it more about learning another language or integrating into belgian society? I'd be interested in hearing about whether bi-lingual international schools can really offer the best of both worlds?

Nov 10, 2013 22:43

Celticv, our main motivation for going to local school was language, which was directly linked to culture, I suppose. I speak French fairly well, but my husband not at all. He was especially eager to make it possible for our kids to learn a second language, since he never did and it does not come at all easily to him. But we are also starting to look at it as a family decision more I think. He cannot be involved in our children's education at all. And while I do speak French, I am finding it very difficult to truly integrate with the Belgian families. I am friendly with some parents at school, but I don't really see it going much further than very casual chitchat at pickup. Perhaps if my son really hit it off with one or two kids, there would be more of a chance to get to know the parents. But if we're mostly looking to connect with other expat parents anyway, then why not just do it at an international school? Something we're thinking about.

How old is your child?

Nov 10, 2013 22:57

I, thanks for sharing your experiences. It really does take time. I agree it could be very helpful to see if there are a couple of kids it would make sense to try to meet outside of school. I've been asking my son who he would like to have over, but it's never very clear. Asking the teacher about what she sees happening on a social level is a good idea. I think she might have some thoughts.

Nov 10, 2013 23:03

our eldest child is in 3rd maternelle (4.5yrs) so we are considering switching to an international school in the next year or two. we dont want to lose the french advantage but i think english needs to be at least on an equal footing and it would indeed make it easier to engage with other parents and teachers

Nov 10, 2013 23:14


"i think english needs to be at least on an equal footing "
If you speak English at home, it will be.

"engage with other parents and teachers"
Stops dead after primary.

Best thing for bilingualism is language 1 at home, and language 2 at school. You can do 3 languages if Mum & Dad do one each and are both quite active.

Move the kid to an international school now, and you sacrifice any chance true bilingualism.

Nov 11, 2013 00:31

You can engage with international families OUTSIDE school if that is your goal here, by joining BCT, an English speaking church, Scouts or Dancing and BSB not actually run by BSB just in the building. You can engage with international families at local schools too - ours is 40% non Belgian and as many nationalities and languages as you'll find at any international school here.

Beware of "bilingual" schools. You're best waiting at least until your child is already bilingual, if you want your child to speak fluent French and you're best doing your homework on them about the languages actually spoken by the children in the classes and in the playground and the level of English and French, including the teachers!!!! So some schools have a fantastic bilingual programme, some you may find do not.

What happens if you move to international school and still find no connection with the children or the parents? There is no guarantee this will happen.

I think if our teenagers who've been educated in French were pitched against teenagers who've been educated in English and they were tested on their written English skills, I'm confident our teenagers would not be behind their peers at English school. I did consider putting one of them in for the 11+ a few weeks ago, just as an experiment, but actually then I though it was a stupid idea, her English is fantastic. Her elder sibling now has a sensible English teacher at his school, he gets to do English work you'd expect a child of his age would do in an English school, whilst the others in his class are learning "how are you?" , so he's getting English at his French school to his level. I don't regret for one moment that the kids are bilingual in both languages in speech and writing, with no effort from me and no formal English tuition. Their English is on a par with peers in international schools, I do not have to pay 25k a year.

Nov 12, 2013 00:04

I don't think the argument that you swap to an English school for the benefit of dad is a very well justified argument. Surely you should choose a school for the child, not the parent. So would you send to an English school which is a poor one, just so a parent can speak to the teachers? Or should you send a school which is going to educate your child well and give them many advantages in later life? At our school, there are loads of parents who don't speak the school language, but many of them continue to help with organising the annual school dinner, clothes sales, fancy fair, DIY day, reading English books to maternelle kids in lunch hours in Winter, teaching English as a lunch time activity etc etc. How much a parent is involved in their child's education really is more than speaking the language of the school, although of course it does help.

Nov 12, 2013 09:30

Bottomline question is whether you are planning to stay here for an extensive period of time or you might move out in 2-3 years.
If it's the former, you might want to opt for a local school possibly in your neighbourhood so to start a community life: kids wouldn't need to be driven to the other end of the city to visit friends, and also you might be able to get in touch with locals sharing common issues.

Nov 19, 2013 13:43

Very true, J - 'A child that is going to thrive ought to thrive in any school environment'.
Parents just relax, get a hobby and the child will relax too.
I'm an International school teacher ( my kids are in Belgian school. Teachers can be rather cold and distant, but the level is very good), and let me tell you, we have children in the International schools, with the same settling in problem. Just give it time. What he needs is a nice, loving, understanding teacher ( not often found in Belgian schools, but who knows, you could get lucky) and he will be fine. Good luck!

Jan 19, 2014 12:38