While I was convinced than home education was the best thing for our family at the time we made the decision, I didn’t know how we could combine it with our life as expatriates and how this two aspects of our lives could coexist.
When changing countries every two or three years how can we build a group of support? How can we meet other parents without our kids going to school? How do we navigate differences in legislation between countries?
To answer these question and many others, I have interviewed a dozen of expat families who homeschool around the world. I would like to share with you what I have learned.
I haven’t done a survey on a representative sample (the former market researcher in me would have loved to be able to do it) but my humble qualitative research gave me a pretty clear view of the opportunities that home education when living abroad might bring. I am not suggesting that this is the right answer for all the families living abroad though.
1. Home education brings stability
The expat life might be quite challenging (even unsettling) for children as any parent who relocates any 2 or 3 years might tell you. School systems and curriculums are different, sometimes you need to abruptly relocate in the middle of the school year, children are forced to switch languages and even study in a language that they haven’t learned yet. Parents say that home education makes transition easier.
« We change countries very often, every 3 years. So we homeschool our four children in order to have the same curriculum and « operating mode » wherever we are: in Europe, Africa or Asia »- Adelaide who home schools 5 children since 2 years
2. Home education enables flexibility and travel
Some families need to commute between two countries. Others want to preserve their freedom to travel when they want (or can), and avoid being tied up to the schedule of school holidays.
« We would like to navigate between France and India. Therefore homeschooling is more convenient » - Catherine who considers home education
Some families choose to combine traveling and discovering the world with home education and that’s what we call « world schooling »
3. Home education makes relocations easier
At each new move, expat families need to search for new schools, wait until they find a free spot for each child in the family, sometimes even decide to put their children in schools that they don’t really like because there is no other option available. Families might spend many months appart, because one parent needs to relocate and start a new contract right away, while the other parent stays with the children in their current country, waiting until the school year is over. Children need to integrate in new environments over and over again and some of them find it hard to change their schools so often.
« Since we started homeschooling, no more hassles with schools, waiting lists, problems of intégration, fears.. »- Adelaide who home schools 5 children since 2 years
4. Home education is sometimes a less expensive alternative to (international/private) schools
In order to have a consistent curriculum some families decide to enroll the children in international schools. But they are expensive and the budget can be quite high for families with several children. In this case, home education is chosen for the advantage of being able to follow the same curriculum in different countries at a lower budget.
5. In some cases, home education is considered to be a better alternative to local and international schools
In some cases parents are concerned about violence in schools, education in unsafe environments, inadequate learning opportunities, the gap between the school’s values and their own values. Sometimes the child does not speak the language in which education is available in a particular country. In this cases homeschooling is adopted in the family, sometimes temporary.
When I started researching this topic I had some concerns:
1. How do children homeschooled abroad socialize?
Like anybody else.
They make friends in their neighborhoods, in the parks, on the playgrounds. They find friends during their activities or in playgroups. They meet other children and adults in local and expat homeschooling communities. They can play with their friends who attend school in their free time. Homeschooling families find support groups and homeschooling co-ops through Internet or by searching them locally.
Home educated children socialize with children of their âge but also with all age groups.
There are mentoring programs especially created for TCK (Third Culture Kids) that offer them reliable and inspiring adults other than their own parents, particularly needed when a child becomes a teenager.
« Socialization is the least of your concerns while you are homeschooling. You will find that you end up being busy all the time: co-op classes, playdates, music classes, sports, homeschool physical education (P.E.) classes. » - Sara who home schools two children since eight years and blogs at A New Path to Follow
I have also met expat families who tried homeschooling abroad and gave up. They report that for them the effort of meeting people when arriving into a new country was greater when homeschooling than making contacts through the schools of their children.
2. Do homeschooled kids abroad go to the university?
They do. If they want to. Many universities are happy to welcome homeschooled kids.
Parents who choose to homeschool while living abroad need to document their children’s learning. Documents and tests are sometimes required.
3. How do they learn the local language?
In many different ways, depending on the opportunities available in the countries they live in and the priorities set by the family.
In some cases, children learn it by attending activities in the language(s) of the country, in others, by playing and interacting with their friends. Sometimes they attend language classes alone or with their families.
4. How to navigate the legal differences between countries?
This might be the tricky part. Homeschooling is legal in some countries and illegal in others. Some countries make exceptions for expats. Military families seem to benefit from a special regime.
Families need to adapt, change their plans, find compromises or refuse to relocate in a country where they cannot continue to home educate.
For families who want to home educate abroad, flexibility and at the same time determination to follow their goal seem to be the key words.
« I think that it is good to reassess your plans regularly. If homeschooling works then carry-on. If it doesn't, look for alternative methods or try traditional schooling for a bit. Take things one day at a time. » - Denise who home schools 4 children since 9 years
To go further, here are some interesting ressources:
Mentoring for TCKs (Third Culture Kids) Sea Change Mentoring
Many ressources do go further in your research about Homeschooling (a list of books, studies, laws and regulations, blogs, etc...) Alternatives to School