There are things in life that I have never found intimidating. Specifically with my own education. I come from a family where I was the first to go on to college and eventually graduate. I filled out my paperwork, I applied for student loans, and I made sure that everything I had to do was taken care of, either in person (waiting outside of the counselor’s office for hours on end) or through mindless games of guess-that-phone-extension with the registrar. My parents didn’t know how to help me and that was OK.
In light of this over self-confidence when it came to taking care of myself and my education- I never thought much about the education of my children. Back in the States my oldest started a toddler program two years ago- three days a week for a couple of hours just so that his new twin brothers and I didn’t suck the life out of him. Finding the right school (easy, it was a friend’s suggestion), enrolling, and becoming a part of the program was no big thing.
In essence- everything has been easy with regard to early education up until now. My family and I moved from South Carolina to The Netherlands in November of last year. I wasn’t in a ‘rush’ per say, to get the boys into a preschool program, but I feared expat isolation, lack of friends and exposure to their new culture.
When we went house hunting, our biggest concern was what kind of schools were in the area. It had to be very close to home (walking distance) and they had to welcome us. Outsiders. Americans in this small Netherlands village.
I seemed to have unbelievable luck with our choice. All three boys started at a peuterspeelzaal, which is a playgroup. It starts around ages 2 1/2 and children ‘graduate’ to the next level in the ‘real school’ at age 4. All three boys went- the twins two days a week for two hours- and my 3 year year old four days a week for extra language exposure. This playgroup has been wonderful- small, intimate, and my boys love it there. I felt like I could figure things out- I asked questions and took pictures of parental notices on the white board to translate later. It wasn’t easy, but I made my way.
Last month my son turned 4 and everything’s changed. I feel like I don’t understand anything and I am a mess.
I don’t know how to fill out the paperwork, I mark the emails to translate another day. I don’t send the right foods or drinks with him to school and I didn’t even know where to get the correct ‘gymschoenen‘ for him. I’ve misunderstood the pick up times, what needs to be signed and returned- and even the criteria on his vaccinations. I become overwhelmed and feel like a bother.
I used to be so together when it came to dotting i’s and crossing t’s when it came to school. In this very small community- which we adore- I am the American flake and can’t seem to get a grip on what I am and am not supposed to be doing.
I stressed about the length of the day because it is an all day program where the children are in a class with 4, 5 and 6 year olds until 3:00 in the afternoon. They were lenient with allowing me to ‘ease’ him into the system, but I also didn’t want to make him feel like an outcast or ‘not like the other kids’. It’s hard enough on him I’m sure that this is an all Dutch-speaking school and he has been thrown into the tank.
We chose this road. We decided to forgo the International School option for some reason and try out full-immersion in the culture and language because he is so young. No one forced me to put him here, it’s no one’s idea but ours.
As big as a flake that I am, however, each day when I pick him up he is smiling, happy to see me and chatters on about his day. He likes his teacher and his classmates even though there are 36 of them, he doesn’t seem to get lost in the madness- unlike me.
I need to get a grip on the understanding part of this new world with him. At 4, he doesn’t notice if I mess up but I do. I don’t want to be the one that fails him here or anywhere else.
Have you ever experienced this unknown feeling when it comes to your child’s school in a new country? What resources did you seek to help you better understand it?
This is an original guest post to World Moms Blog by Farrah in the Netherlands. Farrah is an American mom to 2 year old twin boys and their 4 year old brother living as new expats in The Netherlands. Because life in the States wasn’t crazy enough- they wanted to take their family to Europe and experience a whole new twist on what it was like to have more than enough to handle. She blogs their adventures on her site The Three Under and contributes monthly to Travel Mamas. You can find her on Twitter and her newest love- Instagram as @Momofthreeunder.
Photo credit to the author.