International School Community Blog

Selecting an international school: Tip #10 – Does the school facilitate learning about the host country?

What reasons do parents think about when selecting a school for their children when they move abroad? Are they similar reasons for why teachers choose to work at an international school abroad as well?  There are many different kinds of international schools and they are all in different situations.  How important is finding out about how well the international school deals with disciplinary problems?  It could be beneficial to ask these types of questions at your interview, before you make any big decisions to move or choose an international school at which to work.  So, how do you choose the right international school for your children to attend or for you to work at?  In this blog series, we will discuss the Tips for Selecting an International School.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 12.43.09 PMTip #10 – Does the school facilitate learning about the host country?  (This may seem obvious, but some international schools make inadequate efforts in this area.)

One of the exciting reasons to work at international schools is to live, work and learn about a different culture and region. Many international schools strive to embed the local culture into the academic curriculum, extra-curricular activities and overall vision/mission of the school. The benefits of doing so are enormous. It helps to create open-mindedness, a sense of belonging to a community, create local partnerships, inspire community action and outreach projects, and promote understanding of language and local customs. However, this does not happen by accident and a school must make a conscious decision to design this all areas of the school; starting with the vision, mission and core values of the school.

Assessing how much value an international school puts into its local culture can start with looking at the school’s mission, vision and core values. For example, the International School of the Hague’s mission statement states part of its mission is “to make an active contribution to global, international and local communities” while “interacting with global, international and local communities through the exchange of resources and knowledge.” Another international school in Indonesia, Sinarmas World Academy, has their mission to “engage, act, thrive” by engaging in service to solve local, Asian and global issues. So why does this matter? All school-wide goals, projects and action items must be aligned with an overall school’s mission, vision and values. Therefore, if you have an interest in engaging in the local culture, this is a good place to start your research.

The second place to start is within the formal curriculum. Does the school offer authentic ways to engage and connect with the local community within a unit of study? Some international accreditation bodies have it as part of their framework. For example, the IBO (international baccalaureate organization) has a strong action and community service component of the PYP, MYP and DP programs. The DP program has a creativity action service (CAS) program where students use local issues to take up action projects. Both the MYP and PYP have strong action components as well that are integrates into units of inquiry and cross-curricular units. This often leads to relevant and meaningful action projects where students get to learn about and help solve local issues. Often schools have CAS coordinators that help to coordinate these projects across the school. These projects do not just happen outside of school walls, but can happen inside school. For instance, local schools are often invited into the school for a mutual learning experiences tied to a unit of study.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 12.12.14 PMPhoto: An example of authentic learning in action. A Grade 3 student working with students from a local school using iPads to take photos for an art activity.

Another area to integrate with the local community is through extra-curricular activities, conferences, special events and sporting programs. An important question to ask your prospective school is what types of extra-curricular activities do they offer with the local community? Do they offer local conferences for teachers or parents? Do they offer sports tournaments with local teams? Do they offer cultural events celebrating local traditions or customs? These are often questions that are way down the list but contribute to the overall school culture and climate. They provide unique opportunities for students and staff to learn and develop friendships with local members of the community. For example, in some international schools in Asia, they celebrate Chinese New Year and often invite local performers, artisans and experts to offer musical, arts, culinary activities for students to engage with. This can really enrich the informal areas of the curriculum that can have long lasting effects.

The opportunity to learn another language is another popular reason for choosing to work at an international school. The ability to converse in another language opens doors for our future learners as well as professionals. Thus, a critical question to ask is what languages are offered at the school and what language levels? Do they offer language instruction in the local language, either in the formal curriculum or as an after-school activity? Do they offer language lessons for staff? Often being able to speak even a few words of the local language goes a long way and is often appreciated by locals.

Interacting and learning from local cultures provides a tremendous opportunity for rich learning experiences for students, teachers and parents. I believe this is one reason why we travel and live overseas. Often, this is an area that is forgotten in job interviews but remains an important consideration when choosing an international school in the future.

This article was submitted by guest author and International School Community member: Mark Marshall

Have a specific international school in mind that you thinking of applying at? Check out our “Where our Members have worked” page and start contacting some of our members that know about the international school you are interested in knowing more about. Our 2400+ members currently work at (or have worked at in the past) 430 different international schools.  Feel free to send them a private message about how much their international school facilitates learning about the host country.