International schools: going local or not

Of the many considerations and decisions we have to make as expats, ones regarding education for our kids can be amongst the most challenging. What’s available where we are has made the decision for us whenever we came to that juncture. While we were still living in San Diego, our oldest was going to attend a German immersion charter school in San Diego. San Diego doesn’t otherwise have a Deutsche Schule but amazingly has the Albert Einstein Academies, the aforementioned immersion charter school.

Since we moved back to Germany before our daughter matriculated, she’s had another year of Kindergarten for us to consider the path to set on. We currently live more than an hour away from the next large city, Stuttgart, which now has three international schools. My husband and I didn’t feel that for this stage of the game (grade school) there was any reason that anybody had to make the big sacrifice of commuting in order for her to attend an international school. There is also a relatively new (about eight years old) international school in a smaller city closer to us that we keep in mind as an option for the future, but we’ve been made wary by stories from other expat families with older kids. Basically, the quality of teaching as well as administrative organization is not the greatest, especially for the older and newer grades since in a lot of cases, the school is still figuring things out.

A great breakdown of the pros and cons of local vs. international schools can be found on Chantal Panozzo‘s blog on expat life in Switzerland. With her permission, I’ve republished the main points which Chantal made in her helpful and humorous advice column, Dear Frau. She’s written specifically with her Swiss readers in mind, but the arguments can largely be applied to German schools as well.

Swiss School Advantages:

  • Cost
  • Assimilation
  • Language learning
  • Most likely close by/local
  • Swiss friends/less transient group of children

Swiss School Disadvantages:

  • English reading/writing skills will be lacking
  • Schedule (coming home for lunches/different starting and ending times depending on days of week, etc.)
  • May need to hire a Tagesmutter (childminder) if both parents plan on working and there is no Ganztagschule or Tageschule (all day school) or Betreuung (extended care) offered at the school.
  • If there is a Tageschule (day school), the cost is typically high (CHF 10,000). (N.B. An extra cost is not necessarily the case in Germany or else is priced on a sliding scale basis.)
  • Difficult to move to another country (or canton/Bundesland!) for the child after starting
  • Foreign parents may find it difficult to help their children with homework

International School Advantages:

  • Native English/International curriculum
  • Daylong schedules
  • Easy to change countries
  • International environment/mix with children from all around the globe
  • Higher comfort level for foreign parents

International School Disadvantages:

  • Cost (CHF 30,000 or USD 30,000 a year is typical—but look on the bright side, that’s how much an average full-time day care costs in Switzerland too…) In Germany, fees range between USD 10,000 to USD 25,000 depending on grade of student and city.
  • Assimilation (your child will stay in an expat bubble)
  • Local language learning (your child will miss out, although bi-lingual international schools are also an option)
  • Transient students AND teachers
  • May have to travel further to the school every day

Things to ask yourself when making a decision:

  1. Are you going to be in Switzerland/Germany long-term or not?
  2. Is your company paying for your child’s schooling?
  3. How important is it to you that your children read and write in English to the level expected of a native speaker?

The original blog post can be found here with reader comments.

These are the questions that I would add to the decision making process:

  1. What is the age of your child? Are you moving with a child who is ten years old and might have difficulties in adjusting to a local school and has no German language skill?
  2. What is the quality and reputation of the international school(s) you are considering? Does it really beat the local school that may have a smaller teacher-student ratio than the international school and receive enviable subsidies from the city government or does it offer a great alternative to something lacking?

Many thanks to Frau Chantal Panozzo for allowing us to republish her post here and to members of the International Women’s Club of Stuttgart for their insights!

2 thoughts on “International schools: going local or not

  1. I think age is a big factor…my kids were in 6th grade and 10th grade when we moved to Germany. They went to an international school (fortunately the company paid for it) The 10th grader was able to do the International Baccalaureate program which is internationally known/accepted and was able to get a year of college credit based on her exam scores!
    We also knew we would not be in Germany long term. We were also happy that the international school required Spanish and German for the 6th grader…when we came back to the USA she had not lost any time in Spanish instruction (in fact, the spanish instruction in Germany was at a faster pace than in the USA)

Leave a Reply