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Old 26.06.2012, 10:51
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International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

Having lived in Switzerand for the past 3.5 years and sent my kids to local school after agonizing over the decision, I have come to the conclusion that the choice between the two really comes down to one thing: what kind of lifestyle do you wish to have?
If you want to integrate with the Swiss and need to feel part of the community, your only choice is to send them to local school if the children are young enough. It's not like living in London or New York etc.., where lots of kids go to private school and it doesn't really matter, because very few Swiss families -- even the rich ones -- choose this option. Your children simply won't be accepted by the local community unless you take this step. I can speak only for the German side, but if your kids can't communicate in Swiss German, making local friends will be pretty much impossible, regardless of how many football or scouts classes you enroll them in. Their social circle will be limited to kids who go to their school, and they are unlikely to live nearby.
Obviously, there are exceptions, and probably some people have made it work but I, for one, would be exhausted by all the effort. Frankly, the Swiss are tough nuts to crack at the best of times, and it has taken us this long just to get invited to birthday parties etc...
And yes, it will require at least one parent to learn some form of German and to try to integrate, as difficult as it sometimes is. And it will require you to get a handle on how the Swiss educational system operates and yes, it is very different from the Anglo-Saxon system and yes, being the foreign kid is tough educationally and socially. But if you're not willing to make that effort, your child is unlikely to feel accepted because other parents will shun you. It's not fair, but there you go. What you put into it is what you get out.
If you don't care about getting to know the Swiss and don't care if your kids have local friends, then international school is an option. But at this point, you really have to ask yourself if a permanent or semi-permanent move to Switzerland is really such a great idea.
Obviously, if you're only going to be here for a couple of years, and you can afford the fees, don't think twice about international school. Local school is simply not worth the gargantuan effort, and by all accounts, the international schools are warm, nuturing environments.
A couple of caveats: 1) if you both plan on working full time and send them to local school, you will have a hell of a time trying to stop up all the holes in the schedule. Swiss schools pretty much rely on one parent being available a good part of the time. 2) if your children are older than 10, they had better be pretty motivated. The pressure and the streaming starts early. Not sure if my kids could have handled it.
Frankly, my biggest issue -- and one that I would really like someone with older children to write about --is what happens when they hit high school? Only a quarter of Swiss-educated kids make it to University and I'm wondering if it is possible for children whose parents are non-native speakers to make it that far. It is very difficult to get a good job outside of Switzerland without at least a BA or BSc. What then? Will their English really be good enough for US/Canada/UK?
Good luck to all of you making this choice
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Old 26.06.2012, 11:56
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

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Frankly, my biggest issue -- and one that I would really like someone with older children to write about --is what happens when they hit high school? Only a quarter of Swiss-educated kids make it to University and I'm wondering if it is possible for children whose parents are non-native speakers to make it that far. It is very difficult to get a good job outside of Switzerland without at least a BA or BSc. What then? Will their English really be good enough for US/Canada/UK?
Good luck to all of you making this choice

I think having private tutions for the local language (French in our case) is the BEST way to help the children cope with demands of the state school system. A lot of emphasis is placed on Language in the streaming process, and in our case, our daughter joined the General stream in CO, and was transferred to the PG stream within a year, based on her grade AS WELL AS PROGRESS. The teachers were confident that she will be able to keep up. Interestingly though, her first few months in PG were extremely difficult - due to the language mainly - and private tutions were a huge help. Currently we have tapered off the tutions from 10 hrs / wk to 4 hrs / wk.

My son - who is currently in 4th grade - has also now started scoring well - (5.0 in the recent Cantonal Exam) - and we'll be tapering off the tutions for him too.
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Old 26.06.2012, 12:41
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

I agree with all what you say but most of the Swiss are happy with their lot, so going to University is not the be all and end all here, you can still have a good job here and earn a good salary without going to University and have a high standard of living, so is going to University a fools paradise. Is it not better to do an apprenticeship and learn a trade. Thinking in Switzerland is different. It all depends on whether you stay here short term or long term. Also there are possibilities in your home countries to send children to University, distance learning like the Open University www.open.ac.uk courses etc. The problem I see is that Switzerland looks at many things from a Swiss perspective which is fine, however the world is there and in my view often, they are missing a global perspective on things, but I guess why should they care. The point is expats are needed to fill global positions within Switzerland because the Swiss (not all) are not world wise and globally minded. To be more globally minded you need an International school perspective. I think the answer is to mix and match the schooling, finish of with International Schooling if you can, but this is outside our price range for three children.

Last edited by telandy; 26.06.2012 at 15:10.
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Old 26.06.2012, 14:39
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

Hankag,
You make an interesting point about kids in international schools not being accepted by locals, I think you are right . sending my kids to local activities but not school has backfired on them. The local kids are really quite nasty to them , or at best ignore and exclude them, so much so that I have withdrawn them from these activities, which means they are very isolated. Not a good thing but I couldn't force them to keep going to activities they hate becuase other kids pick on them ( only name calling, but hurtful for any kid to be called a dirty forgeigner, pig etc.). The teachers/ group leaders seem to be oblivious to this. I don't know if they would have faced the same problems if they went to the local school, perhaps at the beginning and then less as they are more accepted. if I had been aware of this, I would not have been so enthusiastically signing them up for activities in the happy/naive belief that everything will be fine provided I make the effort. Based on my experience, it's not easy being a foreign kid here. I should say that my kids are 10 and 12 though, which is possibly the worst age for bullying, so maybe I am seeing the worst side of things now.
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Old 26.06.2012, 14:47
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

Spot on hankag !!!

That summary hankag is spot on. Anyone who is tied up trying to decide which school is best can read the said post and take note.
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Old 26.06.2012, 15:21
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

In the first six months of our stay in CH, we were sending our kids to International School, later we shifted both kids to local schools for two reasons:
1. COST - huge difference, as everyone knows
2. UNIVERSITY - upon checking admission requirements at ETH as well as EPFL, I realised that the students from the state run schools stand a much better chance than IB especially. f.ex. EPFL needs just 'maturite' for local school students (no minimum grade), but an IB student need 38/42 OR an entrance exam. http://bachelor.epfl.ch/admission-requirements

hankag's point re English good enough for US/UK/Canada is very valid though, and does cause me some worry.
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Old 26.06.2012, 16:05
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

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The local kids are really quite nasty to them , or at best ignore and exclude them, so much so that I have withdrawn them from these activities, which means they are very isolated. Not a good thing but I couldn't force them to keep going to activities they hate becuase other kids pick on them ( only name calling, but hurtful for any kid to be called a dirty forgeigner, pig etc.). The teachers/ group leaders seem to be oblivious to this..
Kids here can be quite nasty but to be fair, they can be equally wretched to other Swiss children as well. Even when they are "best friends." The concept of self-reliance is a huge influence within society (it's one of the basic societal building blocks), and children here are very much pushed to work things out among themselves and stand up on your own two feet. There's a very fine line between bullying and just being immature. Adults do no get involved at all (obviously, within reason) in kiddy spats. Frankly, this is not such a bad thing and it's not too different from the way I was raised (am 44). But if you throw in lack of language, it can get pretty toxic. But it might be worth your time to check out things like church youth groups. I'm not at all religious, but there's a brilliant one here in Rapperswil starting from age 10. They're much more likely to make the effort to get to know the child and introduce them around.
With the right leader, martial arts can also be an option as it doesn't rely on speaking so much and it provides the rather useful lessons in self protection. In my experience, local football teams are a very tough crowd to please.
In case anyone leaves nearby, the Rapperswil Bandits junion baseball team is always looking for members and they are quite a friendly lot. If you can throw, hit or even know where first base is, you'll be a superstar. Training is on Wednesday afternoons. PM me if you want details as my older two boys attend (my husband plays for the regular team.)
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Old 26.06.2012, 16:15
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

All our three children attend an international bilingual school, haut-lac, in vevey. Our son, completed the IB and received a scholarship to all the universities he applied for in the states..he is off in september to study engineering in New York. our daughter will be in her last year of schooling as from this September and our youngest will be moving up into myp2. They have all enjoyed every single aspect of their school life. Beyond the academics, the school has opened their eyes to so many different cultures and beliefs. They have travelled to many different countries on field trips ( Morocco, Spain, England , France, Brussels) . The older two went on a habitat for humanity build in Macedonia and have also taken part in the international award.
They have taken on charity fundraising events for causes abroad and in the local community.
I have seen some of their friends move from Haut-lac to the local schools and apart from the academics being different ( I couldn't say harder or easier as the IB is in my opinion incomparable to the Swiss system) their friends have missed out on the diversity, tolerance, open mindedness and acceptance of different learning styles and abilities.. features that are so strong at the international school ( again, we have only experienced haut-lac so I can't speak for any other school ). Many of these friends seem to have lost the more outgoing and independent vibe that I see in the kids that study at haut-lac.
I feel that the international schools are for internationally minded people, if you plan to stay here in switzerland, then go local but if you want to give your child a broad minded education coupled with a deep understanding of who they are and what they can achieve and you can afford it...then go international!
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Old 28.06.2012, 01:37
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

Aaaaagh this is my big problem at the moment can anybody help? We are relocating in August with 2 bright boys aged 12 and 14 who have no French at all. I know Le Mail school has a transition year but it looks like it will be full of children who struggle with school and are not looking to progress to higher education and University which is not their situation at all. It also restricts our rental to a very small area around Neuchatel and the market for houses is very small (we'll be no good in an apartment as we are all musicians and practice a lot- I believe the Swiss quite like things quiet!). Does any one know if other schools are helpful to English speaking children or have experience with the transition class at Le Mail?
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Old 28.06.2012, 09:18
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

I think at their ages it will be really tough to settle in local school (which I assume is what you are talking about). If you can manage to budget it I would suggest looking at international school. As you will have read the Swiss system is very different to the UK and selection for the different secondary streams is early, I'm pretty sure before 14 years old.
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Old 28.06.2012, 09:29
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

Has anyone put their older children (10+) into local schools? What has been your experience?

Honestly, I haven't heard too many real success stories. Most kids were happy to go back to their native country again or never really integrated due to the private lifestyle being 100% English (including friends).
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Old 28.06.2012, 09:39
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

I switched languages and culture at 10 and my sister at 14 and it was quite traumatic for her. She did make it to University but especially on the social front, it was a long, hard slog. But she did manage. The big difference is we started speaking English at home from day one. Unless you are prepared to do the same, it will be very difficult for her to cope. My advice to you is to get as much information about what 14 year-olds do at the school and how the whole system operates. Ask the school to give her a "buddy" who is willing to explain to her the various teenage social nonsense that is usually unique to a school or a country. There is always some keener willing to take on the job. And she will also probably need a teacher whom she can turn to for help and guidance when things get rough. My sister, for example, was utterly baffled by "study hall" and "cafeteria" "phys ed" and other American things that people take for granted.
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Old 28.06.2012, 11:26
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

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Has anyone put their older children (10+) into local schools? What has been your experience?

Honestly, I haven't heard too many real success stories. Most kids were happy to go back to their native country again or never really integrated due to the private lifestyle being 100% English (including friends).
I started at 15 and am friends with several people who arrived aged 13-15, and pretty much all of us did fine. Kids who are smart and motivated pull ahead right away, in my experience at least. The transition class certainly had a few unmotivated people, but the kids who pushed for Collège and Uni, and put the work in, almost all achieved their goals.

I think I integrated pretty well, getting Swiss nationality 10 years later.
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I think at their ages it will be really tough to settle in local school (which I assume is what you are talking about). If you can manage to budget it I would suggest looking at international school. As you will have read the Swiss system is very different to the UK and selection for the different secondary streams is early, I'm pretty sure before 14 years old.
The choice is usually made around 15, but it's not like there's a cut off age. You can take your time and start Collège at 16 like I did.
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Old 28.06.2012, 11:43
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

Round by our place there are a few international kids going to international school and, to be fair, the kids all play out together and there never seems to be any distinction between the private vs state school kids or any related nastiness (apart from the usual occasional name-calling and dust-ups which you find anywhere with any kids).

The parents of these kids are already quite involved in the community, sending their kids to the same out of hours classes as the local school kids (swimming, athletics, woodwork, etc) and they themselves are often at the community centre using the grill, attending events and generally just being part of the neighbourhood. Also, if you live in a block with loads of kids, they naturally gravitate towards each other.

It's hard because some of these parents work long hours but I think they've put a massive effort into integration.

If you are expecting just the kids to integrate I think you are on a loser but if the whole family throws itself in there is a higher chance of success. My son is in the local state school but he's got friends who are at an international school. They all twitter along in Swiss German or English or a mixed up version of whatever languages. Very funny, very unique and I wish I'd had that when I was a kid...
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Old 28.06.2012, 15:45
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

I think this is an entirely fair point to make. My British babysitter joined our local brass band and presto -- she had a whole load of local friends who shared her interest. And she was committed to making the whole integration thing work. That's the key.
I, for one, have no hobbies to speak of and if I didn't have the dubious benefit of a non-English speaking Kindergarten teacher breathing down my neck, I'm not sure I would have learned much German. If my kids went to international school, I'm sure I would have been a fully-commited member of Expatlandia and be done with Swiss society other than the most tangental and superficial relationships. But that's just me.
If you want to make the whole integration thing work, you will, regardless of the situation. You just have to be honest with yourself and figure out what you really want.
The thing about sending them to local school is you will have an instant bond with people you probably wouldn't associate with normally. Much like new mothers will happily talk about the colour and consistancy of baby poo, the same goes with fretting parents of school-age children. Swiss people bitch about the educational system just as much as foreigners. And over a couple of glasses of wine at parents' evening, the differences tend to melt away. But this can be achieved in other ways. Its just harder.
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Old 28.06.2012, 16:18
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

Yes I was wondering of music would help, he's very musical and plays lots of instruments- including trumpet ( so a brass band would be perfect). Community is very important to us as a family and we're all involved with lot's of stuff here at home, though to be fair it's a bit hard not to be on the Isle of Man. On the face of it I feel we should be fine but there's always that nagging fear of disaster, once the first set of friends are made it will all be less stressful I'm sure. It's been fabulous to hear of other teens who have moved successfully and that's reassured me a lot. Knowing my boys and how quickly they make friends, I suspect it will be fine for them too. Xx
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Old 28.06.2012, 16:46
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

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Aaaaagh this is my big problem at the moment can anybody help? We are relocating in August with 2 bright boys aged 12 and 14 who have no French at all. I know Le Mail school has a transition year but it looks like it will be full of children who struggle with school and are not looking to progress to higher education and University which is not their situation at all. It also restricts our rental to a very small area around Neuchatel and the market for houses is very small (we'll be no good in an apartment as we are all musicians and practice a lot- I believe the Swiss quite like things quiet!). Does any one know if other schools are helpful to English speaking children or have experience with the transition class at Le Mail?
Hello Christabelle - our boys were 11 and 13 when we moved here and put them in to Swiss public school. My older boy thrives with languages and within just a few months he was having conversations on the street with the locals. The first year was tough, even though they were in an integration class. The second year they took some "normal" classes and supplemented them with integration classes for German. Starting their third year they will be treated just like the others and be required to handle all the subjects.

Funny thing, at the start of their second year, they both had to begin French. They both hated it, even the older one. If your kids don't speak French yet, I recommend investigating languages and frequencies. There is no overlap between French language frequencies and English language frequencies. It's pretty interesting. Good luck!
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Old 28.06.2012, 19:18
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

Thanks Sybry, I'm a linguistics major so I've just been reading some articles on frequency, it was excellent advice and really does make things clearer. I passed your words on to my boys and they grunted OK in a no longer worried way. I'm starting to relax more about the local school especially as the website is very friendly and the children and teachers look happy to be there. It'll still come down to a visit I'm sure but it is soooooo good to hear from others who have worried through this decision too and made the right choice for them and their children.
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Old 29.06.2012, 10:06
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

We have been living in Switzerland for a year and our 3 kids (aged 11, 8 and 6) have attended local school since August 2011. They have all integrated really well, both in school and in local activities. Yes, we had a tough couple of months at the start, but that soon passed. They are all speaking german (and some Swiss german) and have lots of local friends, go to birthday parties, play dates etc. We are very happy with the local school. My advice is to learn the language yourself and make an effort to be involved. There are lots of happy stories about kids integrating in local school here. C
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Old 29.06.2012, 10:13
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Re: International school vs local: it's a question of lifestyle

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I feel that the international schools are for internationally minded people, if you plan to stay here in switzerland, then go local but if you want to give your child a broad minded education coupled with a deep understanding of who they are and what they can achieve and you can afford it...then go international!
I have to disagree, I think it is a parent's responsibility to open his/her child's eyes to the world and not leave it to the school. It is great that your kids are doing so well and that your eldest got scholarships to universities in the US but that also brings the questions, where would your children pursue a career?
If my kids were to follow my career path in Medicine, I would be delighted to have them study here as Medical Education is great for instance.
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