To board or not to board

Depending on what country you’re from, boarding school may be familiar from your own education, a luxury, or an unthinkable separation. In the UK, India, and China, boarding schools are relatively common, while someone from the US may not know anyone who has attended one. For some families, therefore, it can be a shock to be transferred to an area where the best options are either a boarding school several hours away or leaving the child in the home country for education, potentially not seeing them for months on end. Parents may even have stereotypes about boarding schools, such as that they are only for the ultra-elite or are primarily for troubled children.  

In reality, boarding schools vary as much as any other educational institution. Proponents of boarding schools stress the independence they offer children, as well as the camaraderie and high educational standards. Opponents criticize the lack of direct parental oversight. 

When considering whether a boarding school is right for an assignee’s situation, there are many things to take into consideration.  

Distance: In some cases, the boarding school may be in the capital of the host country while parents primarily work in the field. In others, children may be residing in a different country altogether. For example, many expatriates assigned to Mozambique or Zambia choose to send their children to boarding school in neighboring South Africa. Keep in mind this will mean visas for two countries instead of just one.  

Cost: Some companies provide an education allowance, but boarding schools require room and board in addition to educational fees. If you read in a Living Abroad country report that most expatriates send their children to boarding schools, it is important to confirm in advance what that allowance will cover before approaching families about relocation. 

The child: Parents will have to take their child’s needs and wishes into account as much as possible. If a child has concerns, parents should stress the positives for them, such as a continuous education at an international standard and the opportunity to practice new skills. It would be worth allowing families to take a significant portion of time on a predeparture trip to let their children thoroughly explore the surroundings of a place that will be both home and school.  

Boarding schools can provide a unique opportunity for families, but also stir up anxiety among potential expatriates. Despite being a separation, though, it’s important to remember that they can allow for more family time than having to leave the children at home and be an overall positive in their international experience.  

Written by Kate Havas, GMS-T, Content Manager