Choosing a boarding school for your children is an important decision wherever you’re based. Whilst many of AFF’s enquiries relate to allowances, there are other costs and benefits that you ought to consider to help make it a successful journey for all involved, especially if you’re posted abroad.
Esther Thomas, AFF Overseas Manager, chatted to a couple of families about their experiences…
Currently half-way through their two-year posting to Kenya, the Thompsons (main photo) have two children, Harrison – aged 14 – and Grace, 12, who are boarding in the UK, whilst their youngest Elijah, ten, attends a local school.
Whilst the two eldest have been boarding for several years, mum Sharon has noticed the difference being overseas has made, as she is no longer able to see them over the six exeat weekends. Instead, they have to rely on a very good friend to support the children.
Sharon explains: “The distance means we often feel disconnected. Attending parent-teacher meetings and other school events such as sports matches and plays is almost impossible. As much as technology can help, we do feel detached and slightly out of the loop.”
As parents they are reassured that both children are enjoying boarding life and have no concerns with the care and support from the school. Sharon’s advice to others is: “Keep in regular contact with tutors and teachers. No question is too small and communication is the key. Set up regular times for your children to be in touch each week.
“We often assumed the children were trouble-free because they weren’t phoning as often. Then we would hear that something negative had happened that could have easily been sorted if they had shared the matter with us sooner.” On a more positive note, Sharon adds: “The children love flying using the unaccompanied minor service and it has given them a taste of the world beyond our shores.”
Lindsay and Nathan are a year into their posting to SHAPE, Belgium and have three children at different stages of their boarding life. Sam, 18, who has just finished sixth form, Lucy, 16, and Jamie, 12.
This is the family’s first overseas posting and Lindsay reported that the older two were not worried about their parents being overseas, although having finished his A-levels, Sam has felt very disadvantaged when looking for work in the UK as he has no home base.
Lindsay feels that the eldest two haven’t been able to enjoy Belgium: “As parents we haven’t been able to give them the full support because of distance (emotional and educational). During the two school holidays here they have had to revise for exams, so have had little opportunity to meet others. Additionally, we don’t live on a patch so we are not local to other British children – this has been a huge issue and it has proven difficult for them to break into friendship groups when home.”
Lindsay also admitted that their youngest, Jamie, took at least eight months to settle. She explains: “You don’t know how kids will be affected until it happens. Our youngest son struggled with us being ‘far away’ which made it emotionally hard for myself and Nathan as we just wanted to be there for him.” Her advice to others is to stay connected via FaceTime or WhatsApp. “Ask siblings to check in on each other; share lots of photos of things they can do when they are home; get them to talk to other overseas boarders as shared experiences may help.”
The family have taken a hefty financial hit too, with the costs of travelling back to the UK for exeats and half terms not insignificant. “We often find ourselves doing additional unfunded trips to support our children where we can to attend events like sports and speech days.” In one month they did three trips back to the UK but were only able to claim for one.
The Webbers do say that they love the expat lifestyle and sense of community in Belgium, with lots of social activities, both British and multinational. “For the kids it’s a great experience when they come over,” they explain. “A stepping stone to other European countries and simply something different for them to talk about with their friends.”