Author Archives: Liz Perelstein

Localization: Impact on Children’s Education

Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

Localization of expatriates is becoming more and more common, as companies try to reduce the numbers of assignees and control costs.  Many companies wrestle with the question of dependent education when dealing with localization.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of localization policies oversimplify the issues and therefore do not adequately address employee or employer needs.

Most often, there is either an immediate cut-off of education assistance, or a phasing out of tuition assistance; in either case, the family either has to fund the private school themselves or transition their children into local public or state-funded schools.  Both approaches assume that the local alternative will be adequate for the needs of the family, but there can often be complicating factors.

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Five Facts About International Schooling


Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

Most companies sending employees overseas offer some kind of cross-cultural training.  But we rarely think of cross- cultural training for school children, even though education can be a make or break issue for many families considering an overseas assignment.

As you can see from the facts below, even expats who send their children to international schools encounter cultural differences that may be significant, and may clash with family customs.  Schools – local and even international – are a microcosm of the culture they inhabit.  Without understanding the host country’s educational system children can be disadvantaged in the admissions arena, in academic performance and in the ease of transition.

Consider these facts:

1) Did you know that 8th graders in Belgium, Korea and Japan do not use calculators in math classes?

Curriculum differences like these make it hard for children trained on calculators to adapt to local mathematics instruction in these countries.

2) Did you know that German parents give their children a Schultuete, or a cone filled with treats on the day they start first grade?

Children unfamiliar with local customs can feel awkward or embarrassed, affecting the transition to their new school.

3) Did you know that in Brazil children either go to school in the morning OR in the afternoon?

Spouses may find it difficult to work in countries with a school schedule alien to them.

4) Did you know that Saudi Arabia is enforcing a law that requires expat children to attend a school of their own nationality?

Many families choose a curriculum other than their national curriculum, often to preserve curriculum continuity with former or future schooling.

5) Did you know that admissions for 4-to-10 year olds for New York City independent schools requires an entrance examination that is ONLY administered in New York City?

Admissions opportunities may be limited for children if parents are unaware of requirements.

To learn more about educational customs in different parts of the world, visit our School Choice International blog or our Fact of the Week Collection.

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Impact of Assignments to Remote Locations on Children’s Education

Photo Liz Perelstein (2) Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

As businesses expand more and more into developing markets, companies are often facing new challenges in finding appropriate schools for the children of their international assignees.  In some locations, schools haven’t caught up with demand for international education; in others, there simply might not be any international schooling options at all.  Now more than ever, local schools are an option, but you need to be well-prepared for such an approach to work.

Schooling is a Top Priority
Assignees often state that having access to good quality schools for their children is the most important factor in deciding to accept an assignment.  Parents are more uneasy than ever about relocating with children when international schools are not available.  By gaining some understanding of the local educational system and curriculum differences in countries where you send employees, you will be in a better position to create policies that provide children with access to reasonable education.

Consider these facts:
Some local schools in India consider handwriting so important that teachers may not consider content if handwriting falls short of expectations.

  1. A study by the University of New Hampshire indicates in many European countries, parental involvement is not permitted.
  2. So-called “International Schools” may not be truly international.  Instead, they may be targeted towards local children to help them acquire language and other skills to promote attendance at US universities and/or may exist for children whose parents do not want them to attend local schools.
  3. In some countries, schools “stream” students into tracks as early as 12 years old, and this could affect the ability to gain admission to universities in other countries.  Admissions decisions based on an “entry examination” or prerequisites make this a clear challenge for those who do not have the language or curriculum background.
  4. Religious education is a fundamental part of national curriculum in many countries, such as Ireland.  This may meet an unenthusiastic response from families not accustomed to such arrangements, or those that practice a different religion.  And, even if considered acceptable, students may not have the religious background to fit in.
  5. Special education is handled in varied ways throughout the world, from mainstream educational options in the United States, to China, where few schools have an open-minded approach, and few teachers are taught to teach children with learning or other disabilities.

Language is the main obstacle that many companies are aware of when evaluating local school choices, but integrating families into a local educational system where goals, philosophies and methods are so dissimilar requires a different type of preparation on the part of the family, and a more flexible policy on the part of the company.

Tips for Success:
Here is a short checklist which is useful to help companies and assignees examine educational options for any overseas assignment, as well as for their eventual return home:

  • Before moving a family, allow them time and means to review curriculum of the school in the host country, and discuss it with teachers back home.  Evaluating where a child may be ahead or behind enables parents and schools to develop programs that assist in entry as well as re-entry.
  • Recommend that families bring along books, course outlines and any other aids to maintaining academic skills required at home so that kids can keep abreast of knowledge required for repatriation.
  • Find out the exit requirements for schools in the home country before leaving.  These, in particular, will determine curriculum to continue studying while abroad.   Can these be satisfied on assignment, and if so, what kind of policy do you need to support these additional costs?
  • Decide what kinds of supplemental or alternative education your company will allow to reduce hardship for children whose families are sent on assignment, particularly at key grade levels.  These may include tutoring, on-line courses, summer school, home schooling or boarding schools.
  • If schooling is totally incompatible, is it possible for the employee or the family to repatriate either a year earlier or later, as appropriate to facilitate the transition?
  • Provide opportunity for students to become proficient in reading and writing as well as speaking of the new language well before the move; in fact, as soon as the move is announced is best.
  • Engage a professional who understands discrepancies in curriculum as well as culture to recommend individualized support so that students can be prepared before returning home.
  • Repatriation is always difficult for children, since even international schools teach different curriculum, have different course sequences, and offer different languages and promote different viewpoints when teaching history.   Children who have attended local schools in remote areas may be more significantly unprepared to attend school back home or enroll in university in their home country.  Be sure to pay careful attention to home country requirements before assignments begin.

School choices for expatriate children are always challenging, and even more so in locations where the traditional choices are limited or non-existent.  Families who have overcome these obstacles and successfully educated their children in local schools find the rewards to be significant.  Children truly learn new languages, cultures and curricular subjects and enjoy an unprecedented window into the customs of a different country.  As schools are a microcosm of the cultures they inhabit, children raised in local schools abroad can be our true ambassadors in the global world of the next generation.

Providing support in the form of tutoring, on-line learning and language instruction is a key consideration companies should consider when developing policies to support your employees in remote locations.  Inviting parents to reframe their definition of education as learning rather than schooling is the key to promoting the right attitude for a successful assignment.

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Abrupt Repatriation: Tips to Pass on to Parents

Photo Liz Perelstein (2)Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

Although the merits of sending families home before scheduled repatriation dates are a topic of continuous debate, we know that some companies are resorting to this course of action.  Where children are involved, the situation is understandably more sensitive, and companies are struggling to come up with cost-effective, yet fair and reasonable solutions.

If you find you have to make or implement difficult decisions when it comes to children and their education, preparing yourselves, and helping parents prepare, is the most effective way to handle the delicate task at hand.  Three things that parents should keep in mind are:

  • The resilience of children
  • Opportunities that come from change
  • Thoughtful communication

First, anxious parents need reassurance that children are extremely resilient and don’t, as a matter of course, suffer long-term as a result of transition, although the anticipation of change and the early stages in a new school are challenging for everyone.  In typical circumstances, the children who find change most difficult are those whose parents do.  So it is important that parents make every attempt to recognize and convey the opportunities the family has had and will have, and to address any problems as a family.  Any concerns that children cannot comprehend should be saved until after bedtime.  Parents should share as much about the circumstances as children want to know and are able to absorb, using their questions as a guide.  It is essential that they are told that neither they nor their parents have done anything wrong, and that the current economic circumstances are something that the world is confronting together.  Parents can explain that many of their friends also have been making life changes as a result of the recession.  Some have moved homes, and others have switched schools.  Different families will make different kinds of choices, but sacrifices are now common among friends and family members.

These are some additional tips that can be shared with parents to provide them with peace of mind:

  • Be available to speak with children and to answer any question they may have.
  • Make thoughtful choices about the new school, reflecting on academic and social characteristics of children and how they have fared in their current school, in addition to family values and logistical circumstances.  Gather lots of information and ask many questions about matters important to children, rather than focusing on factors more important to adults.
  • Before starting the new school, engage the head and/or teacher in a conversation about the child so that good class placement decisions are made and the new teacher understands the child, his/her needs as well as current transitional circumstances.
  • Address curriculum differences through tutoring or outside enrichment, but first clarify that there are likely to be discrepancies between performance in their new and former schools; parents should explain that each school teaches different material so that the child is not at fault if s/he struggles at the outset.

Communication, both with the school and with the child, is the key to a successful transition.  When families are calm and thoughtful, a change of schools can give children an opportunity to learn essential life skills such as making new friends and dealing with uncertainty, which is an invaluable part of any education.

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Recalling Expats? Handle with Care

Photo Liz Perelstein (2)Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

“In recent months, companies have begun recalling expats from multiyear assignments up to 12 months early… The CEO of a Pacific Northwest manufacturer (who requested his publicly traded company’s name not be used) is pulling his European division manager home after only eight months of a two-year assignment because the business can’t continue to foot the $500,000 annual bill for his salary and living expenses.”  –, March 16, 2009

Education is a top priority for middle class families in every culture worldwide, and always has been.  This is true of 32,200 Tamil school girls praying before entering examinations in Madurai, Chinese families who have pinned all of their hopes and dreams on their sole child, and parents in the Northeastern part of the United States who are still, according to The New York Times blog The Choice (July 18), willing to spend $40,000 on college placement counselors for their children despite the economy.  This results in scarcity of suitable school options in major cities globally.  Even if there are vacancies in less popular schools, those that are generally considered “top tier” are overbooked no matter what the economic situation.

As a result, repatriation, which always is difficult, brings additional challenges when it is sudden and forces families to seek schooling for their children mid-year, particularly under rushed and stressful circumstances.  In addition to the logistical challenges involved in gaining admission to schools, children are excluded from extracurricular activities – the cricket team already has been chosen, as has the cast of the play – essential aspects of re-entry if they are to successfully make friends and reintegrate into their home cultures. Repatriation to one’s former home is particularly difficult, according to The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti, because expectations and reality clash.  When employees are moved home without sufficient notice, they, and their families, do not have sufficient time to process the emotional aspects of the repatriation so it is all the more important that they receive assistance with the logistics of the school search and transition, as together both aspects are quite overwhelming.

Regardless of the country of repatriation, employers can provide:

  • Accurate and easy to use information in the form of books, research, websites and web based tools;
  • Transition assistance so that families understand that the former school may no longer be the best school for a child given the wealth of experiences s/he has had overseas as well as the curricular differences;
  • Expert help in identifying and getting into schools that meet the unique needs of each child at this point in time;
  • Specialized assistance for children with special needs, gifted children, and those seeking schools in particularly competitive locations.

This is something that companies must think about if their goal is to develop policies that will serve them in good times as well as bad.  Benefits of good support when employees with children are recalled are rapid employee productivity, increased loyalty, talent retention, willingness to take future assignments, and improved morale, which includes encouraging other employees to undertake assignments when needed.

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Accurately Measuring the Price of a New Location

Photo Liz Perelstein (2)Author:
Liz Perelstein –  School Choice International

One of our clients identified a new emerging economy where operating their business would save considerable money.  In this new region property, local labor, and running the plant promised to cost only a fraction of the price of similar variables in their current location.  In order to get the new plant operating successfully, they needed to move 100 families for up to three years to train local employees on their processes and corporate culture.

About to embark upon a group move of the initial families, unanticipated costs surfaced.  The company had previously implemented a policy where it moved families as locals rather than as expats.  As a result, international schools were not budgeted for the current move.  This was a good decision in the previous location. However, in the new country, local residents use private schools whenever possible.  While local private schools may not be as expensive as international schools, they are still a significant expense for a move of 100 families.

Before moving into a new country, learn about the culture of schooling and the impact to your budget.

In some countries, public schools educate the “top” local talent – only students with “problems,” or those who are unlikely to succeed in the public sector attend private school. In others, public schools have poor records of educating students. They may even have chronic union problems, facilities issues, or other structural troubles that deplete the government run educational system on an ongoing basis.  In these areas, parents may use private schools when possible and send their children to public schools only if no alternatives are available.

To identify your educational costs for a group move, picking a location where state schools are viable for local middle class (and higher) residents is a good first step.  However, it is still important to ascertain whether these will be appropriate for non-native families.  Once you have determined the overall culture of public vs. private schooling in your proposed location, compare the school systems that your families are coming from with those they are going.  Are the curricula similar or will children have a hard time adjusting in the new location – as well as repatriating – if they do not attend home national schools?  And finally, are the schools familiar with overseas children so that the transition is reasonable?  Do they work with new families to ensure that the experience will be both academically and socially worthwhile?

If schools are aware, willing, and able, a local education in expatriate destinations can be immensely profitable for many children.  But if you do not ask the right questions before the move, you may find that you have grossly underestimated your costs, or otherwise find yourself with many failed assignments.

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International Schooling – At a Glance

Photo Liz Perelstein (2)Author:
Liz Perelstein –  School Choice International

Educational concerns and the details surrounding them are sometimes overlooked when structuring an expatriate package, but to families moving with children there is no greater obstacle to taking on an assignment or to the potential success of a move.  Here are some examples of information that may make a big difference, either to the employee or employer.

Did you know that private school fees in the UK have risen by 43% since 2003?  (Source found here.)

The best place for raising expat children is:

  • UAE 
  • France 
  • Spain 
  • UK 

Viva España!  In a recent survey conducted by HSBC based on five categories, including the cost of raising children and how much time they spend outdoors, Spain comes first.

Did you know that Canada ranks among the world’s leaders in per capita spending on public education?

Did you know that Cuba spends 9.8% of its GDP on education and the US 5.8%? (Source found here.)

Did you know that 27% of children in India are privately educated?

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Cutting Costs and Relocating Families With Children – An Optimistic View

Liz Perelstein –  School Choice International

 When companies are faced with the need to cut costs, education allowances are always an area of sensitivity.  Historically it was not uncommon for families to forgo an assignment unless their children got into the “right” schools, and the assumption was that companies would foot the bill for the entire education.  Often allowances included everything from school tuition and fees to transportation, meals and uniforms.  Assignees had no hesitation asking for exceptions for music lessons, exotic field trips to other countries, and it was not uncommon, certainly not unheard of, for a company to acquiesce.In today’s economic climate, when expatriate packages have diminished and localization is an increasingly popular approach when sending families overseas, there is a great deal of confusion about whether education allowances can be subject to the same type of austerity.  Localization plus packages usually continue to support schooling on assignment; for families otherwise being localized, support for schooling may be withdrawn more gradually or in stages.

While education has long been a sacred cow, it is not impossible to reduce corporate spending on education, and, in fact, local schooling may be desirable if we are to think about the real purpose of education, and the opportunity that a global assignment offers children.  In some communities overseas, children attending international schools are so sheltered from their host country that they never encounter a local person except for their maid and their driver.  To really learn about a country, many children may benefit tremendously from genuinely opening their minds to new cultures, languages and world views.

The key to including localization in corporate education programs is to do so thoughtfully, offering different approaches in different countries depending on whether or not local education is viable for an expatriate child, and it should depend on the country s/he comes from as well as the one s/he is going to.  An analysis of the local curriculum, customs surrounding education, as well as assessments should be compared with similar information from the home country at various age levels to ensure that children are not placed in a precarious situation.  Of course, exceptions for children with academic, physical or other special needs do need to be considered on an exception basis.

School Choice International has developed a web based tool called Global Education Explorer  which enables companies to compare this critical educational information across countries to ensure that policy decisions are grounded in research and information and not simply made in a vacuum.  If cuts in corporate education support are made thoughtfully and appropriately, our children can be our genuine future ambassadors in our quest for true globalization.

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