Education and the expat path

Educational needs for kids is an important aspect of decision making for expats on the move. Different school systems, international school, local school, boarding school… Indeed, with my oldest fast approaching middle school, I know I may have some difficult choices to make a year from now, when it’s our turn to move. Will we find a location with an IB school? If not, will we take the children home? Do we want to put our kids through yet another change of school system?

While school availability has always been a deal breaker for me, I recently had the pleasure of speaking to someone who sees educational needs from a completely different, and rather refreshing, perspective.

Home schooling – the best choice we have ever made for our family

Untitled 2Michelle, our trailblazer from the far corners of Oman, lives in Salalah with her husband and three children aged 9, 11 and 13.

Michelle home schools her children, and this choice has steered much of her expat path.

‘Initially, the schooling situation almost deterred me from becoming an expat,’ she says, ‘but deciding to home school has been one of the best things I have done in my life. I think what started as the biggest challenge to our expat journey has now become the greatest contribution to our family as a whole.’

When Michelle and her husband first moved overseas in 2012, from Australia to Dubai, they struggled to find a school to suit their requirements. The decision to home school was made.

‘It was a difficult decision to home school the children. I didn’t know how I would juggle three students at totally different levels, and make an international move at the same time. Considering that my children had lived in the same house all their lives, and had only been overseas once, it was a huge adjustment for us all.’

Michelle found herself alone with the kids a lot in Dubai, with her husband travelling almost constantly for work. After three years, the family knew something had to change. When a job became available in Salalah, they accepted and prepared to move. The availability of a school was not a concern; neither was moving with the school year.

‘Home schooling has allowed us freedom,’ says Michelle. ‘We travel when we want, learn at our own pace and we are able to study subjects that interest us.’

The first three years of home schooling, Michelle’s children were enrolled in an Australian government online program. When they moved to Salalah, she decided to design her own curriculum, purchasing curriculum packages and guidelines from the US and Australia. This allows her to cater to individual needs, at the same time as the children sit quizzes to ensure they are on the right track.

‘We have great discussions about what we are learning. The children have a real enthusiasm for learning, and we try to use our learning in daily life and situations around us,’ says Michelle. ‘I feel really proud that I am guiding my children to be well rounded people,’ she elaborates.

Expat life in Salalah

IMG_5366Life in Salalah, made possible partly because the children are home schooled, is a very special experience to the Schofields.

‘Living in Salalah is very different to living in Dubai,’ says Michelle. ‘Firstly, the expat population of Salalah is very small. When we first moved, there were under ten other expat children in the whole town. The amount of support we received and how quickly relationships developed meant that we settled in much more quickly than in our previous move.’

‘We are also immersed in the Arabic culture,’ she continues. ‘Fortunately, we took Arabic lessons in Dubai, so we have a little knowledge of the language, which is very helpful when there are many people we deal with day to day who do not speak English. When local people assume we do not know Arabic and then we can converse a little with them you can see their respect for us. It has opened up a lot of conversations and experiences we would not have had otherwise.’

‘Life in Salalah is just different to anything we have previously experienced. For example, when we are in our local supermarket, there are whole goats on display in the window. When we play in the park, women bring us local sweet tea to share with them. In some ways, our move to Salalah feels like our first ‘real’ expat move, because of the absence of familiar things and traditions, that we still had in Dubai, Michelle concludes.

Reflecting on how her move to Salalah has changed her, Michelle says that her biggest adjustment has been learning to ‘go with the flow.’

‘I am by nature a very organised and routine person. You need to be open minded about getting things done, like household repairs. You need to re-adjust your plans when things are not available that you need. This happens very often. We have a great system here, when something becomes available in the supermarket, everyone messages everyone else to let them know, and offers to buy all the stock off the shelves. I think it takes a unique kind of expat to thrive in Salalah. I would not have put myself in that category before, but seeing the humorous side to life and being open to new experiences certainly helps here.’

Concluding on how the decision to home school has changed her path, Michelle says:

‘I think that what started as the biggest challenge to our expat journey has now become the greatest contribution to our family as a whole. Deciding to home school has changed us all for the better and means there are no barriers to where we move next.’

Michelle’s top tips to those considering home schooling:

  • Be patient. As with most new experiences, it takes time to get into the swing of home schooling. Most home schooling families I have talked to felt like they weren’t getting anywhere at the start, and some of the most successful even felt that they had no idea what they were doing in the beginning. Persevere. Don’t be afraid to try something, and if it doesn’t work then move onto something else. Eventually you will find a routine and resources that suit your family.
  • You don’t need to be a teacher or even consider yourself a very academic person to home school. There are great resources available. Most home school resources are complete courses with clear instructions, resources, worksheets and tests included. If you need more support there are online courses and even courses with a teacher supporting you online.
  • See if there is a home school association where you live. We were really fortunate that we found a great group of home schooling families when we moved to Dubai. They provided support and advice, organised field trips and academic courses, and often parents would lead classes in their own area of expertise. You can be as involved as you like. We made great life-long friends and it helped fill the social gap the children missed from not attending a formal school.
  • Michelle’s recommended online resources:

www.rainbowresource.com/ for purchasing ready-made courses in different subjects.

www.code.org/ for online courses without teacher support.

https://www.londonartcollege.co.uk/ for online courses with teacher support.

http://www.clonlara.org/ for a teacher supported home school curriculum.