If you have moved to the Netherlands with children, the question of whether to send them to a local or an international school will be very pertinent for you. Of course, it is very important for expat kids to integrate into their new country. Still, it is crucial that they keep sight of their roots, and receive a good education too! On this page, we will highlight some of the key issues to take into consideration when making the decision. Plus, we will offer you a few nougats of advice on helping your kids to feel at home in the Netherlands.
Choosing a school in NL
There are two significant factors that must be taken into account when deciding whether to send children to local or international school. These factors are: Belonging and continuity.
1. Belonging in the Netherlands
When children reach elementary school age, it is so important for them to have a feeling of belonging within their local, or at least their local international, community. This will help them to maintain a basic sense of security in later life. How can you help them to feel part of the community in the Netherlands?
- Your children must get to know their neighborhood and their neighbors
- If your neighborhood is safe, let them to ride their bikes around it
- Encourage them to communicate with as many local schoolchildren, shop owners and parents as possible
Belonging at School in NL
- In principle, the best way to help kids foster community in the Netherlands is by sending them to a Dutch school. This way, they will learn to speak the local language, and play with the local children
- However, this does not mean you will be doing your children a disservice if you send them to an international school
- Your kids will be able to achieve a sense of belonging among students there as well. This can be expanded, outside of the classroom, through extracurricular activities, and by living near to other international children
- Essentially, it all depends on your child, your circumstances and the options available in your locality!
Keep the Native Language Alive
- If you decide to send your children to a local school, we advise you to continue to speak your native language with them
- This will encourage them to continue to communicate with their family and friends back home
- The community in their native country is, of course, essential to their sense of belonging and identity too
If your move to Holland is one in a chain of transfers, and you want to give your children continuity, you will most likely end up placing your them in an international school.
2. Continuity for Teenagers in NL
Raging hormones, rapidly changing bodies, daring new wardrobes, the desperate need to be ‘cool’: teenagers have a lot to deal with. When they are having to acclimatize to life in a new country as well, their lives become even more complicated. This is why ‘continuity’ is so important for expat teens. By ‘continuity’ we mean maintaining elements of the life they were used to in their home country, in their new country. Here is our advice:
Helping Teens to Feel at Home
- Teenaged children will typically find it much harder to integrate into a new community, and learn a new language, compared with elementary school-aged children
- So, it might be easier for them to be placed in a foreign national school, if there is one available to you in your new area of the Netherlands
- If you expect to go back to your home country after a relatively short stint here, a foreign national school is an even more advisable course of action
- If you do not have access to such a school, then perhaps your best option would be to send your teens to an international school
- At international school, they are likely to meet companions who are in a similar position to them
- International schools also tend to offer special immersion courses for children who do not speak the English language well
Is local Dutch school out of the question for teenagers?
- Sending your teen to a Dutch international school or a local Dutch school has its merits as well. You can find an explanation of ‘Dutch international schools’ on our page about International Schools in the Netherlands
- For some teenagers, this will be a real adventure and a fantastic learning experience
- Some would say that learning to integrate into a new culture as a teen will make a you a better rounded person. It can give young people skills in adapting to new situations and connecting with new kinds of people
- Such characteristics could be invaluable to them in later life, especially when they begin to make a career
- It really depends on what your children are like as individuals!
Deciding what’s Best for your Kids
We advise you to take the following matters into account when making your decision:
- Your location and your proximity to various different types of school
- Your children’s scholastic and language aptitude
- How much you want your family become a part of the local Dutch community
- Whether, and where, your children want to study after completing high school
- How long you plan to live in the Netherlands for
Your International Movements
If your move to the Netherlands is one in a chain of transfers, we recommend that you place your children in an international school. Or, if you are confident that you will find national schools (of your home nation) in the subsequent countries you plan to move to, continuity will be best-achieved by sending your kids to a national school in the Netherlands.
Your child's identity in NL
Many expat parents start to perceive changes in their children, as they begin to settle into their new life abroad. They might, for example, see their kids acting differently in social interactions or adopting different principles and views on life. This can be a big shock to mums and dads, and can cause tension at home. Rest assured that, if you are witnessing this in your own household, it is very normal. Here are our tips:
Accept the Changes
- Try not to oppose your children’s shift in identity too much
- Do not ask your kids to stick to who and how they were before you moved to the Netherlands
- Understand that moving to a new country is a huge shift for young people. Your children may well be going through an internal struggle themselves
- Understand that they are experimenting with ways in which they can navigate and find a place in their new world
- Perhaps you can remind yourself that what your children are going through is a very valuable experience. They are learning one of life’s most important lessons: the relative value of a culture’s norms. They will benefit from this lesson for the rest of their lives.
It is ok to create boundaries as well:
- Of course, you do not have to accept everything they do, just because they are going through an assimilation process!
- Another, key part of the experience for them is learning how to compromise. They must find a happy medium between two cultures
- By making it clear what is and is not acceptable to you and your family, you can help them find their way
National Identity for Kids in NL
- It is, of course, extremely important that your children retain their national identity and do not forget their cultural roots
- Some expat parents attempt to circumvent the culture clash problem by sending their children to one of their home countries ‘National schools’ in the Netherlands. You can read more about these schools in our page on ‘International school in the Netherlands‘
- Naturally, the chances that your children will retain their, say, French identity is greater if they go to a French school
- Yet, let’s imagine that rather than moving from France to the Netherlands you moved from Bordeaux to Arras. The culture that so defines Bordeaux will not be found in Arras. The dialect, the colloquialisms and rules of interaction will be foreign. You would have to send your children to a new school, and they would have to adapt and change in order to integrate
- In short, wherever you live, a degree of change is unavoidable
- It is very important for parents to understand this, when deciding where to send their kids to school
Adjustments are always Messy
Here are a few parting tips:
1. Embrace the changes
Remember that total continuity is not possible for your children! Without a doubt, international schools and nationality-based schools will differ from one another from country to country. It is just part and parcel of moving country
Whichever type school you choose to send your child to in the Netherlands, your kids will have a hard time achieving a sense of belonging and continuity if you live far away from their school. If it is possible for you, try to choose a school near by so that they do not become socially isolated. Living near their school will make it so much easier for them to meet up with their classmates outside of school hours and partake in extracurricular activities with them
- THIRD CULTURE KIDS: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds
By David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken
- RAISING GLOBAL NOMADS: Parenting in an On-Demand World
Published by Expatriate Press
By Robin Pascoe
- Dutch International Schools
- SIO: A list of all international schools in the Netherlands
- The Dutch Education System