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Schooling Options for TCKs

Making the decision to move overseas is a big one, especially when considering moving as a family. But that big decision is followed by many other smaller decisions. These decisions relate to what it will be like not only to work or do ministry in a new country, but also what life will be like for the whole family. For the children, the main consideration will be their schooling. Between the ages of six and eighteen (sometimes younger depending on the country), children spend most of their time at school. Families moving overseas typically have three options for schooling for their children: local schools, homeschooling, or international schools. Each type of schooling has its own benefits and drawbacks.

The determining factor for choosing a schooling option is the unique needs of the family.

Sending TCKs to a local school allows for better integration but can present challenges that are not worth it for some families. 

The benefits of sending TCKs to a local school include better language learning and cultural integration. Typically, young children are able to learn a new language quickly and easily, and attending a local school allows them to be immersed in the new language. When children attend a local school, they learn about the host country culture through classroom lessons and interactions with classmates and teachers. These academic and social interactions provide a rich first-hand experience for the children. It also gives the parents an opportunity to learn about the local culture. By being involved with the school, meeting other parents, and attending school functions, the parents have more opportunities to build relationships with those in the local community.

The drawbacks of attending a local school are more visible when students are older. Students who are beyond elementary school will have a harder time adjusting to going to a school that follows a different system and is in a new language. Different countries have different educational systems that affect student expectations for homework, studying, and test-taking. For example, changing from a school system that puts emphasis on critical thinking to a school system that focuses on rote memorization would be a difficult adjustment at a later age. It also would be difficult to try and learn a new language on top of learning a new system, especially when considering how much more is expected academically in the later school years. Trying to meet those academic expectations while learning the new language could cause stress and frustration for older students..

Homeschooling allows for flexibility and more oversight in the students’ academic development but it is not always a viable option for families. 

Families who homeschool can do so by having parents teach the material. Several online schools are also available for students in all grades and provide quality instruction. A major point to consider with homeschooling is the amount of work it takes on the part of the parents. Some families need to consider the expectations of their work or ministry and decide if they will be able to dedicate the necessary time and oversight required for homeschooling. In order to homeschool well, at least one parent would need to be considered as a full-time teacher. Even with online schooling, the parents have the responsibility of making sure their children are staying on task and completing their work in a timely manner, and they will be responsible for proctoring tests and quizzes. Another consideration is that some countries do not recognize homeschooling as an acceptable alternative to attending a school. Visas granted to expats can include the requirement of having the children enrolled in a national school. If homeschooling is not accepted as a fulfillment of this requirement, the family’s visas may be in jeopardy.

International schools are a good fit for students who plan to attend university in their passport country and/or families who are looking for a Christian education. 

International schools can be recognized by the local government while also being accredited by an organization in another country. This dual recognition allows families not to have to worry about educational requirements for residency, and it gives students the opportunity to study in an educational system that is in line with the educational system of the universities in their home country. For example, students who attend an international school that is American accredited and follows the American curriculum are better prepared for attending university in the United States. Their high school transcript and diploma will be just like those of their American counterparts, which will be helpful when it comes time to apply to universities. They will also graduate from high school familiar with the American way of teaching and learning, so their main adjustment in university will be to the academic level rather than the academic approach. Another benefit of attending an international school is that many of them have a Christian focus. Christian expat families often find it relieving to send their children to a Christian school where the teaching is done through a Christian worldview, especially when there are no local schools that have a Christian focus. An additional benefit for the student is being in a community with other TCKs, providing friendships with peers who are experiencing the same unique way of growing up.

Attending an international school does have drawbacks, particularly when it comes to integrating into the local culture. International schools can be a bubble for their students where the majority of their social interactions are with other expats. Their experience with the local culture is limited to activities outside of school, which may not happen often since school takes up most of a child’s time. Students may have foreign language classes where they are learning the local language, but they may not learn it well if they spend most of their time using English. Even with history classes, activities, and events dedicated to learning about or celebrating the local culture, international schools do not provide many opportunities for learning about and interacting with the local culture.

Another consideration related to international schools is the option of boarding school. Typically, boarding schools offer all of the same benefits and drawbacks as an international school. The added benefit is the opportunity for very close relationships with dormmates, house parents, and other residence workers. Boarding schools foster a close-knit community amongst its students and the support staff, providing a caring environment for students. The drawbacks, however, can pose a major challenge depending on the personality and temperament of both the parents and the children. Being separated for long periods of time can have an adverse effect on family relationships. Parents and children have less opportunities to bond and share experiences when the children are only home during school breaks and holidays rather than living at home year-round. Sending children to boarding school also means that the parents are less aware of what their children are learning and how well they are doing academically, spiritually, socially, and emotionally.

The determining factor for choosing a schooling option is the unique needs of the family. Some families may have a focus on cultural integration and are located in a country where the local schools have positive educational systems. Some families may only have the option to homeschool because they live in a remote area, the local school options are poor, or there are no nearby international schools. Some families may have older students who need the familiarity that an international school could bring. Families should take careful consideration of their options, and maybe even visit the local or international schools before moving, to choose a schooling option that best fits their needs. This consideration should be given upon moving, but it should also continue after arrival and enrollment, even years into the future. The initial schooling option may need to change as the children grow older or as the situation changes for the family. Making a change during a child’s schooling years is not uncommon and is often encouraged, provided that it’s in the child’s best interest.


Angela Bredeman is an adult TCK who grew up in Lima, Peru, as the child of missionaries. She attended an international school there that influenced her decision to become a guidance counselor. She is now a missionary herself and serves as a guidance counselor at an international school in Madrid, Spain.

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