This month our Bangkok Faces feature introduces Melissa Stonehouse, the resident Primary School counsellor at Bangkok Prep Primary campus.
Melissa is the resident Primary School Counsellor at Bangkok Prep. She has an MSc in Psychology, a diploma in Counselling, and a BSc in Geography with qualified teacher status. Being an educator for 20 years, Melissa is from the UK and having lived abroad for 7 years in the Middle East, she knows what it’s like for an expatriate family moving to South East Asia as her family moved to Thailand 7 years ago. Families often seek advice in settling down to talk about the transition to Bangkok life, especially coming from another country or moving from another school.
What is the Most Frequent Issue You Deal With for New Expatriate Families Relocating to Bangkok?
Relocating to a new country as an expatriate family is an exciting experience, however there are times when it can feel overwhelming. This is particularly true when you consider changing jobs, moving to a new house and changing children’s schools are often cited individually as potentially stress-inducing experiences. The typical expatriate family is dealing with these issues simultaneously whilst coping with adapting to a new culture, perhaps a new climate and moving away from their established support networks. Even though usually months of preparation have gone into the details of the move, when you arrive in the new country there is the need to hit the ground running and completely reorganise family life.
Many parents would link their own feelings of wellbeing to the positive wellbeing of their children. Focusing on settling the children in their new school and home life promotes their feelings of safety and belonging which are vital for them to feel comfortable in their new environment. Change inevitably brings about feelings of loss. This loss relates to what they have left behind and also their sense of personal control. Finding ways to empower children in this new situation can be beneficial to help them settle for example getting them to take the lead on organising their new bedroom, a desk space for their homework and planning family trips to explore their new city.
Connecting with other families is really helpful to aid settling in. The new school is an excellent way of facilitating this, offering an amazing opportunity to meet families with similar aged children that have already experienced and survived the highs and lows of settling into their new life. Personal recommendations are invaluable at the beginning to help with where to find the things that you need efficiently without trawling the city.
What is The Most Challenging Thing for Expat Kids When They Move to a New Country?
Starting school in a new country can be a daunting prospect for a child. Outside of their home it will be the environment where they spend most of their time. When supporting children with change, it is important to start open conversations when you know that the move is definitely going to happen. This gives time for them to begin to process the upcoming changes and ask any questions. Addressing questions as they arise can prevent small worries escalating and can give vital reassurance. Within my role I am always very happy to answer any questions from new families and encourage parents to send me any questions their children have in the lead up to the start of school.
It is a great idea to give the children some control and ownership of the situation. Taking them on the school tour, looking through the school website together and choosing their preferred extracurricular activities, will help them foster a positive attitude towards the change.
At Bangkok Prep, we have an orientation session for new students where they spend time at school, before the term begins, meeting their teachers and looking around the school in preparation for the return of the existing pupils. This gives them a great opportunity to focus on the environment and things that may potentially worry them such as finding the bathroom, where they keep their belongings and what does their teacher look like before the first day. We also carefully select and assign new children a buddy to help them settle in and answer their questions.
Continued communication between home and school is vital to regularly check on how children are feeling and if there is any additional support that can be provided. We encourage children and parents to share with us the highs and lows of settling in, and we organise individualised phone calls home to ensure the ongoing support for children’s wellbeing throughout their transition.
What Advice Would You Give to New Families When Looking for a School for Their Kids?
Choosing a school for your child is obviously a big and very personal decision. There are many schools in Bangkok to choose from, so from the outset I would advise that you make a list of the qualities that are important to your child and your family to help narrow down the search. Here is a list of points to consider:
● Does the school place a high priority on pastoral care and the wellbeing of their pupils? This is important for both transition and ongoing support for your child and family.
● Does the school offer a broad and balanced curriculum and range of Extra Curricular activities? Is there a balanced focus of academic, creative and sporting opportunities? The transition into a new school offers lots of exciting new opportunities for children but it is also important to keep things that they love consistent. If they can continue their preferred sports or musical instruments this can ease the transition.
● Which curriculum does the school offer and does this suit the needs, interests and learning style of your child? Each child has a distinct learning style so matching the curriculum to their needs increases the opportunity for them to flourish.
● Is the school well established and has a track record of sustained success? Connecting with existing families will give you a feel for the school’s community.
● What is the school’s homework policy? This will impact on family life depending on the school’s expectations. Is it in-line with your philosophy?
● Does the location of the school suit your family? Bangkok can be a challenging city to navigate so it is important to make the school run as stress free as possible.
As a family, we have thoroughly enjoyed our expatriate experience and I feel my children have truly broadened their horizons to become global citizens. I can wholeheartedly recommend it with the highs definitely outweighing the stresses of moving.