Starting school in Amman, Jordan, has been both harder and easier than we expected it to be. Yeah, that sentence doesn’t make much sense to me either. What I mean to say is, there are some things that we thought would be easy to transition to that weren’t, and other things that were not nearly the fuss we expected them to be.
Last Sunday Alexander started year 2 at his new school. (Yes, the school week is from Sunday to Thursday, with the weekend falling on Friday and Saturday.) Since the school is made up primarily of expats from over 20 countries, the first day of school was reserved for new children only. There were definite advantages of that extra day of school before the returning children came back on the Monday. For one, he got an extra day to learn his way around the school, but the most important aspect of this “welcome day” was that he got to meet other new children that he could stick with on the real first day of school if he started feeling scared.
This is Alexander’s third school, so he has become somewhat of a pro at adjusting to new environments, but this foreign transition came with worries that were never an issue back home, like language barriers among peers and different curriculum and teaching styles from his former teacher. We chose an international school versus a French school because their grade levels match up the closest to what we are used to back in England, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the curriculum is the same. We have discovered that there are a number of things that Alexander is a bit behind in, particularly reading and writing, that we will have to work extra hard on these first few months to get him caught up in. The school is understanding about these sort of things, which helps to some degree, but it has still been a stressful situation for Alexander who is used to excelling at his school subjects. But if these differences seem daunting to Alexander, I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be for the children who have arrived at the school speaking little to no English. So while we weren’t expecting quite the gap between subject knowledge that there is, it is nothing that a little hard work can’t fix.
The one thing I had been worried about prior to school beginning was the difficulty of making friends, particularly at a school where many children come from different cultural backgrounds. Isn’t this every mum’s biggest fear? That you’ll send your son or daughter off to a new school and they’ll sit alone in the lunch room or have no one to talk to during breaks? Friendships can make or break a school experience, so while I want Alexander to learn new things and make good grades, it’s just as important to me that he forms relationships with the children at his school, too.
Having lived and taught in foreign countries myself, I should have remembered that children at international schools are some of the most welcoming, friendly children around. Language issues, cultural differences – these things don’t matter to most children. If you can smile at each other and run around like lunatics on a playground, you don’t need to share a language. These fears of mine were completely unwarranted and by Thursday he was already begging for a sleepover with two of his new friends. Phew!
On Thursday, when he celebrated his birthday at school, I was stood in a group of women from countries as far afield as Holland, America, France, and Egypt and looked over to find Alexander talking to his new friends from Russia, Spain and India, it really hit just how life-altering this move will be for the three of us. Any lingering uncertainties about whether this was the right decision have all but faded away. I could not have given his this back in Paris – this international school education, these friendships that will teach him so much about other cultures and make him a more open-minded person. And now that I’m here, I realise how much I needed this, too, and how much I have missed living overseas and the wealth of new, sometimes awkward but always interesting, experiences that comes with it. We are all going to grow so much over these next few years!
Waiting for the school bus to arrive. At 7am!!