Living overseas requires a lot of preparation. You need to think of everything from the packing of most cherished or wanted items to the practical. You need to decide which country to live in and what kind of housing you’ll be lucky to get for free or be able to afford. You’ll think about and negotiate your benefits package. And I’m sure you’ll be thinking about where your kids will go to school. This last one seemed easy for us, we’d home school. Or so we thought.
One and a half years ago, we moved to Al Ain and were prepared to home school. My employer had previously warned us about the expensive tuition costs, and they wouldn’t be covered. (* Most companies who hire you overseas WILL pay tuition for kids, so just check your benefits). Tuition here in Al Ain can run anywhere from $2,500USD to $10,800USD a year. Bare in mind, you get what you pay for. Multiply the higher end by three kids, and you’ve got a lot to think about. You also have to be ok with your child studying the British, SABIS or International curriculum in most cases, although there are a few teaching American curriculum. Knowing the prices and knowing we were coming to save money, I brought all my teaching materials, told my husband he’d be a great home school teacher, and prepared to keep them home schooled.
However, upon arrival, we got caught up in the excitement of everyone finding this one school with low fees and who promised to work with the expat parents in providing our children an excellent education. So, we filled out all the paperwork, tested our oldest two kids, and enrolled them into their first overseas school experience. All seemed fine in the beginning…they were liking the school and the kids, and seemed to be learning what they needed. Or so we thought. When I visited the school, more than once, and talked to the teachers and principal, I realized they were not getting what they needed. My son was regressing in social and emotional areas, which stemmed from unkempt (to my standards) toilet facilities and bullying on the playground. Every day, he came home upset about school. That is not how school is supposed to be and it broke my heart for him. He was left sitting in the classroom doing nothing while other children finished assignments…never challenged or given extra work. Everything they did, except for Math, required them to copy information from the board into their notebooks…not a skill that should be required of a six year old, and finger spacing was never once encouraged. The classroom walls were bare after KG, the playground was a brick courtyard of sorts, and the stimulation was lacking overall.
My daughter was happy as a clam in KG as she was doted on in class. The teachers adored her, helped her and almost did everything for her. But she was not learning to do things on her own. I started noticing this at home as well. She expected us to do everything for her when it came to school work. I was less than happy with the education and emotional support they were lacking, and figured my husband could do a better job at home. So, we pulled my daughter out to home school that December, and decided to go with the higher end of the tuition scale for my son, putting him in another school.
Transferring from one school to another is not that easy, especially when they are on the “books”, meaning they’ve taken end of term tests. Visits to the Ministry of Education, the schools and lots of stamps later…we were cleared to move my son. His new school was great. He liked his teacher, the kids were nice, the bathrooms were clean and the classrooms were reminiscent of Montessori type learning environments. We were happy where he was. His previous regressions slowly started subsiding, and he even landed the lead roll in his class play as Blackbeard. He was making friends from all over the world, and was even learning the metric system and British currency. He was truly getting submerged into living overseas, and was happy about it. There were covered playground with water misters and lots of play equipment. They took swimming during P.E.. We didn’t hear the complaints daily when he came home from school…instead, he asked for playdates with his newly made friends. They focused on a Montessori type structure for the primary grades, so he didn’t have a lot of books for the work, but had weekly spelling lists I was able to work on, as well as leveled reading which challenged him. They delved into Science, took field trips, and pushed him in Math.
As for my daughter, she loved being at home with daddy for another year. Her strengths are in art, dance and creative play…and she was getting more time to develop these at home. The home school part was going so-so…she wasn’t all that into pushing herself to learn, I suspect from being coddled at the first school. Back in the States, she attended a challenging preschool and was very motivated. I could see that she had lost a lot of that internal belief that she could accomplish things on her own. However, she was still absorbing the information in her own way, and would surprise us every so often with what she was actually learning. Home school was working for her in a less-than-traditional way, and we were ok with that.
Sadly, come the following school year, my son’s new school had a 20% tuition increase from the already high price we were paying, and we had to withdraw him. Many parents here were faced with the same situation, leaving a lot of home-schooled children this year among the expats whose companies do not pay tuition. We are challenged daily, as two full-time working parents, to give our children the best education they deserve. We were trying to make sure they covered the material they needed to stay on track for following school years, should we be able to put them back into school. For some reason, teaching your own children is far more difficult than teaching others. The patience wears thin quickly. We also tried to find ways to get them their social outlets with other children and experiences, which I think is important for them in learning about their surroundings. We enrolled them in Girl Scouts and Karate, providing weekly outlets for them to meet friends and have some fun.
We are currently still home schooling both kids and we are seeing the effects of it. Yes, I’m sure many parents out there are doing it with great success, even with two full-time working parents, or even as single parents, but for us, it’s not working. I even have a friend here who has home schooled her children for most of their educational career in the States just fine, and they are finding it very difficult in these circumstances here to keep it up. My kids ask to go to sc
hool, to see their friends, and I don’t blame them. It’s times like this where I wonder what I’m doing to them by living here. And I remember that they are getting a cultural experience like no other, with some disadvantages that come along with any good thing. What’s more important? Only I can decide that for myself and my family, just as you will when you choose to live abroad.
Overall, schools overseas are different than we are used to back home. Aside from the lack of free public schools for our children to attend, or not having many choices of schools with American curriculum, there’s the cultural differences all colliding within one school. You have families from all over the world coming together as a community in one school…some far more liberal than we are used to, and some far more reserved. Your child gets a mix every day and learns something new each time he or she talks to a friend. I’ll never forget when my husband asked my son if his friends “talked differently” than him, and he replied, “what do you mean? They talk like me!” He didn’t notice there was a difference between them, and that’s one thing I love about living abroad. We are hoping that next year will yield a chance for them both to go back to school here, back with their friends, one way or another. We found the school that works for us after trial and error, and that’s all I can encourage you to do should you come here. Choose what works best for you and your family.
Below, you will find a few of the schools here in Al Ain for you to consider.
Al Ain English Speaking School (AAESS)
Offers: Primary & Secondary
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org“>email@example.com for all admission queries
Tel: +971 (0)3 7678636
Al Ain International School
Offers: Stage 1 (nursery) to year 5
Tel: +971 (0)56 6419025
International School of Chouefait
Offers: Primary & Secondary
Tel: +971 (0)3 7678444
Offers: KG1, KG2 & Grade 1 (3-5yrs) – opening more each year
Curriculum: International Primary Curriculum
Director: Emma McGrath
Tel: +971 (03) 7828300
Mobile: +971 (0) 50 8333040