To move or not to move – that is a question faced by an increasing number of Indians in the West today, as they weigh the pros and cons of living in India versus elsewhere. Growing opportunities, proximity to family, going back to one’s roots, better quality of life are some of the reasons cited. But for many families the biggest concern remains whether the kids will be able to adjust and cope with the transition. Here’s a personal experience about relocating to India from a US citizen who moved back in 2011.
We moved after 11 years in the US:
Having spent 11 long years in the greater Princeton area and a year in Florida, we relocated from Tampa, FL to Bengaluru, India in July 2011. We have a daughter who had just turned eight when we moved. Since we are natives of Bengaluru, we have technically moved back home for good, at least for now, but - as they say – “Never say never”!
How we prepared our daughter:
We had a honest and open conversation with our then seven year old explaining to her why we were moving. We also took the time to prep her on what to expect when she arrived here. We made a trip to India three months before we actually moved, to take stock of the situation, and that trip helped her a great deal in setting expectations in terms of school, living conditions etc.
Academically, we moved her from a Montessori to an International Baccalaureate (IB) school which in hindsight was a great decision. Even though we are great fans of the Montessori education system, IB prepared her to develop test taking skills while retaining the self-discovery based, conceptual learning she was used to in a Montessori environment. One additional thing we did was to enroll her in Kumon math lessons before we left. This again was to get her acclimatized to time based tests. Looking back, I don’t think we would have done anything additional or different to make things easier.
Factors that we considered in our school search:
- Proximity to home
- Review/referrals from friends and family
- Teacher student ratio
- Flexibility with regard to second language options
How we went about finding the right school:
We first started looking at schools in the vicinity of the area where we owned our apartment. The local schools (CBSE/State syllabus) refused to entertain our application since my daughter could not read/write Hindi. We were left with no choice but to apply to international schools offering ICSE, with second language option of French. In the end, we sent enquiries to a total of eleven schools, and heard back from about six of them. After doing a great deal of research online and talking to friends and relatives in the area, we finally narrowed down to one school.
Details on the admissions process:
The list of documents required by schools is usually available on their websites and might vary slightly from school to school. Most of them required a transfer certificate from the school the child is coming from. In our case, we got a letter from the school stating that she was a student of the school for the duration mentioned. In addition, we had to produce marks cards for the last two years. If you are choosing French as second language, the board will require you to produce documents to prove that your child is a foreign born national, namely passport and birth certificate.
Some of the differences in teaching style:
Having spent a year and a half in Bangalore, I am still a bit unclear about what makes a school 'international'. From experience with our daughter’s school, it seems to be that the school teaches mostly ICSE curriculum and accommodates children from other English speaking nations. The school has all the facilities of a good school, especially for co-curricular activities but does not really have a clear, well defined syllabus or learning goals for those activities. The teachers are generally graduates with a B.Ed. Degree from local colleges but don’t necessarily have any specialized training training to work with children from abroad. The teaching method is still process driven in most schools and it works very well with the current system of entrance exams to undergraduate studies.
Adjusting to changes:
We were lucky in that our daughter was completely on board with respect to our relocation decision. But all said and done, we were all very apprehensive about how it was going to pan out. Academically, she was ahead of the grade level so she had no pressure in that quarter. She never really took to the local way to teaching for a long time. Her refrain was "I am doing a lot of work at school, but I am not learning anything". When she was taught two digit multiplication for example, she was never told the reason behind shifting the second line of products by a place value. Nevertheless, she mastered the process of multiplication, even though the conceptual understanding may not have been addressed.
Outside of academics, she turned out to be more resilient than we thought she was. Having both sets of grandparents who doted on her and pampered her endlessly played a crucial part in her settling down. One and a half years later, she misses the people she grew up with in NJ. She misses Florida as a place (we lived an hour away from Disney World so no guesses there!) We always acknowledge her feelings, and tell her it is perfectly ok to miss the US.
Tips for parents who are looking to move:
- Plan well and talk to the kids well in advance.
- Be patient and understanding.
- Be truthful. Don't paint a rosy picture and add to their disappointments.
- When it comes to schooling, do your research well. If you are here as an expat, for a few years, consider IB seriously. If you are here for the long haul, then it is important to decide what you want out of it and act accordingly.
For more information on International Baccalaureate check our article Educating the Internationally Mobile Child – a look at International Baccalaureate
Visit our India School Guides page to learn more about schools in India.