Why International School?

We have been asked quite often why we chose International School for our kids. Even our friends didn’t quite understand our choice. What’s wrong with the “lähikoulu”? Lähikoulu is the school city/town shows to the family and most of the time families are ok with that. All schools are generally ok in Finland, so there is no need to choose. Public opinion is also somewhat against parents choosing different school than the “lähikoulu”. It’s causing inequality between the children they say.

But we didn’t let the city decide for us. There isn’t anything wrong with our lähikoulu, but we wanted our kids to go to the international school. Of course it wasn’t only what we wanted, kids had to pass the entrance examination to get in, which luckily they did. Although the day of the examination was the longest one in my whole life. We got the results on the same day, because the test was for the kids moved to Finland after actual examination day, which had been few months earlier. There were very few open places left and many applicants trying to get in. But it was not until 9pm before we got the phone call from the school. They were both in, even our son, who had come out from the class room half an hour earlier than anybody else. We were sure that was it, he would not pass. But he did.

So why International school? There were many reason. The most obvious one was that moving back would be easier for the kids if they could continue to study in English, to continue to use English as their normal everyday language. That way at least something would stay the same for them. English language was and still is very big part of their identity. They still do think English is their first language, even after three and half years back in Finland. But it is not only because of the school. We don’t listen Finnish music at all and we watch very few Finnish TV-programs, only news and some quality discussion programs. Other than us speaking Finnish, we have kept our home pretty much Finnish free, our own English speaking bubble. It is not so much because of the language, but we really don’t like Finnish music and TV shows are terrible around the world nowadays being mainly bizarre and shallow reality shows. When Finns re-do these shows they are even more horrible and there are lots of crappy reality shows and lets all cry together music shows in the Finnish tv. I don’t even start with the Finnish movies… So no thank you to that. Grand Design and it’s Australian counterpart (only reality we ever watch) is one of our favourite among BBC and iTV drama, crime etc and the Big Bang Theory of course… How did I end up writing about our preferences what to watch from the TV.. oh yeah, not much Finnish at home either. Other than what we speak.

But choosing the school was more than a language thing. When we moved back kids felt they were at least half Australian, our son still thinks he’s more of an Australian than he is a Finn. He does not like it here. Australia and English language were very big part of their identity and how they felt about themselves. If they had gone to a normal Finnish school, to lähikoulu, they would not have been able to keep their identity alive. School would not have recognized their background in anyway, they would have been Finnish, nothing more nothing less. They look very Finnish and they have very Finnish names, so they’re Finnish. They would have been only Finnish for their peers as well, unable to tell about their experiences, to share feelings and just to be who they were and still are. In international school almost every kid who has born in Finland have lived abroad at some point of their lives and others have moved to Finland from somewhere else, so there is nothing odd if one speaks Finnish little funny, if speaks it at all. Kids having different backgrounds is a matter of fact that affects on everything and nothing. Colorful, international buzz, only way we want it to be. It would have been horribly suffocating if kids had gone to the “lähikoulu”. It would have been a good school but it would have dismissed a big part of what our kids were, what we were as a family.

I remember one time when our daughter had her three best friends over. They were all sitting by the kitchen table talking about their experiences. Other girls had lived in UK for three to eight years. Our daughter was telling them about one time we went to Sydney and after that how she loved swimming with the stingrays and sharks in Bora Bora. And others joined in by telling about London and trips around UK and Europe. It went on and on. I felt so happy for my daughter. She didn’t have to hide anything about her very significant past and she could share. She could be herself.

And for us parents it was important too to be able to be around other families who have shared the hardships of coming back to Finland. We were able to find people who thought same about Finland (it sucks here). Being back here was a huge shock. Our friends were ok for awhile to listen us feeling sad but we had to stop it quite quickly (we wanted them to stay our friends). Our families were just so happy to get us back home while we were heartbroken because we had to leave our home behind. And in general: nobody is very interested about to hear other people experiences living in abroad, unless you have the same experience or are planning or hoping to do the same (like one of our neighbours, God thank for them). So we would have felt very lonely if we’d put our kids to the lähikoulu. Of course because we are in Finland we don’t actually meet other families in the school as parents aren’t part of their kids school life here. But when we quickly meet some father or mother when picking up kids from some birthday party or on the Christmas concert, we can share: “Yeah, we would go back right away too, if we could”, “This weather sucks””How do you find this general attitude here?”… There were at least some people we could talk to and relate to. So it was and still is a big thing for us as a whole family too.

We are hoping to get our third child to the same school too. She would be ok in Lähikoulu I think, but we want her to have the same English skills as her siblings have. She is bilingual too, but she needs to continue to use the language staying so. She’s been in a English language day care for almost four years now. If she does not get it to the International School then we hope she gets in bilingual school. We’ll know by the end of April.

But in everything there are pros and cons. The downside of going to the International School is kids Finnish skills. The possibilities to continue to study in English are quite limited here and one needs to be very academically oriented to get in to English language upper secondary school (or what ever it is called). Changing language at that point might be a bit of a challenge. They could do it, but it needs extra motivation. Big question is would they have it then? So there are risks in that sense. Of course they don’t need to stay in Finland and the kids in the International school seems to often have plans for studying abroad. We are all open for that too. It certainly was our idea when we first came back, definitely not staying here.

And of course there is that kids friends don’t live near by. Well our youngest one has one very good friend in our neighborhood, but our schoolgoers just haven’t befriended with the kids close to our home (with one exception) because they go to the different school. They did try at first but school seems to play very important role in making friends especially for the girls. We won’t mind driving them around the city and they’ve started to be quite independent too, very able to move around on their own with public transportation. Good side in this is that they won’t end up hanging around in the near “mall” which isn’t a good place for the young kids. We do see quite lot of small kids there.  Of course everyday life would be easier, if kids went to the lähikoulu. There’s no denying that. Their school is quite far away when compared to the lähikoulu.

So what I’m actually writing is a story about not wanting to settle in the Finnish community. International school has helped us with that, made it more possible. But time has made it inevitable work and being separate seems more and more impossible to achieve. We’ve heard that it takes four years to settle. We’re getting dangerously close to the four years. If we had to choose the school for our kids now, after being back this time, we might not be so unquestioning in our choice. But we are definitely happy kids are in the International School. Life would be too narrowed in this little area if we hadn’t. And the school is absolutely great. It gives kids great future prospects and I feel greater understanding about the world and people living in it. More open and tolerant.

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8 thoughts on “Why International School?

  1. Thank you for writing a post on this! It has been very interesting to see your perspective and the ideas behind your decision.

    Do you think that the education style is much different in the international school compared to regular schools? I know they do the IB program but are there any other major differences in the curriculum and teaching style?

    And what is that bilingual school you mentioned? Is it a regular Finnish school that has an English language stream within it? I have heard of that in ylä-aste but not ala-aste.

    This is a very interesting topic for me :)

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    1. You’re welcome. To understand our perspective in any my writings one has to know that our return to Finland was a shock, we came unwillingly, leaving Australia really was the saddest thing we as a family has ever encountered. So keeping things as much the same as possible (impossible of course) has been the main focus not to settle or liking it here in Finland. And I talk about us adults of course, kids are happy, they have friends and hobbies and things are pretty much as they should. Well, our middle one would not think twice if we could move back to Newcastle, he hasn’t settled back here very well but he is doing ok too. But for him it would be better if we lived back in Newcastle, there is no doubt about that.

      About IB schools. I’m not an expert in this field. I’m not too familiar with the pedagogics and curriculums (because they weren’t the reasons for our choice) but I know that our kids school follows the basic Finnish core curriculum in grades 1 to 6 and the middle school (7-9) follows IB Middle Years Program MYP. From the school pages: The aim of MYP is to develop internationally-minded people who, recognising their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world. IB learners strive to be:
      – reflective
      – balanced
      – knowledgeable
      – open-minded
      – principled
      – caring
      – risk-takers
      – thinkers
      – communicators and – inquirers

      The Finnish basic core curriculum has gone through big changes last years and the new curriculum started in the schools around the country in the beginning of this academical year. I think it is the way of teaching that takes it closer to the ideas and ways of learning in IB. But I might be wrong. And in the end it really comes to the individual teachers. They can have very different teaching styles even in the same school, which makes me think that how can it be that one teacher can make learning boring as hell where as other one can take all the individuals into consideration and make learning interesting and give the kids understanding why they are learning (not only for the grades, actually it should not be about the grades at all). Our kids have had the both ends in this school.

      Bilingual school offers education both in English and Finnish (of course there are other languages as well like Swedish-Finnish, Spanish-Finnish). I don’t know if it is the same everywhere in the country but where we live the first years emphasis in teaching is in English and gradually towards the 6th grade the emphasis turns to Finnish. This might have been the better choice for our kids if we have thought only about the language, but the Finnish is the main language in bilingual schools, because kids talk Finnish between themselves, where as in International school English is used all the time. In bilingual schools kids are also mainly Finnish too. Bilingual school is our second choice for our youngest one. It would be better than plain Finnish even if the lähikoulu is there only a stone throw away.

      Sorry that I can’t be any more specific. Our choices wasn’t based on the curriculum and pedagogics. But we have been very happy about the school. Although it is demanding, I might say more demanding that plain Finnish school. One thing is that they get more homework there, well this depends on the teacher as well, but if you have heard this tale that Finnish schools don’t have homework, it is not true. Don’t know who has told that story. There are less than in the other countries and I think this is partly the reason why in the International school there are more homework because it is expected by the international families and international teachers.

      I hope this helps and ask more I try to answer if I can.
      You might find interesting this blog written by an american young teacher living in Finland,
      if you don’t already know it.

      http://taughtbyfinland.com

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      1. It’s interesting to compare with you, because in our case we are moving to Finland because we want to and because we want the Finnish way of life. So even though our daughter doesn’t speak much Finnish yet, our first preference is for a regular Finnish school so that she can be immersed in Finnish language and culture and be as “normal” as she can be as a half-Finn born abroad. I guess it’s similar to your idea of keeping your children in touch with their Australian/English speaking side – but in our case we are trying to connect our daughter with her Finnish side :)

        I actually went to an IB school from year 6 onwards (although I did the local education certificate for the last 2 years of high school because it was less restrictive and less work than IB). I think I had a fairly good education over all, but it was definitely a high workload and a lot of pressure. I can’t wait to see what the Finnish school system will be like for our daughter. I’m especially interested in the outcomes of the new curriculum as some things sound quite experimental and cutting edge.

        That kind of bilingual school sounds really good for helping immigrant children adjust to Finnish school and language. I will have to do some Googling but I don’t think they have those kinds of schools in Oulu. Which might be a good thing, because our daughter will learn Finnish much faster in the “deep end”, although it will be very tiring in the beginning. We are hoping to get her into a school that offers the 1 year program for immigrant children – it will help to ease her in and she won’t be the only child new to Finland :)

        How are you managing with keeping uo your older kids’ skills in academic Finnish? I know they have äidinkieli classes but is it enough for them to develop good reading and writing skills in Finnish? Do you have to work with them at home on it?

        I ask because I’m wondering how our daughter is going to go with keeping up her academic English skills. I hope she will so that she will have the opportunity to study in English at university in the future if that is what she wants. I want to keep opportunities open to her, just as you are doing with your kids :)

        It’s great to have someone to discuss these things at length with!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It is definitely a challenge to our older kids to get good enough academic Finnish while studying in the International School. They were loosing their Finnish quite fast while we were in Australia. It does not help a lot that parents talk Finnish if everything else is in English. I do remember saying to the kids: “We speak Finnish at home”. :) And there came the time it was useless, they talked and still talk English between themselves. This is a topic we discuss at home quite often since there are very limited places to English language schools after Year 9. And then there is always the University (if they decide to go there). This is something we actually have to talk about with the kids’s teachers too. I think this is a worrying topic to all the parents whose kids go to the international school especially international families who don’t speak Finnish themselves. City makes new big International school where are more kids than used to be in the old ones, but no more places to study in English after year 9. That is a problem.

        Going to normal local public school was the best thing for our kids in Australia. We didn’t even think about any other possibilities. And there wasn’t any international schools around either. And as the school had relatively low workload and was very relaxed and stressless but still a good school, IB school is now definitely quite much. The difference would not have been so big if they’ve gone to a normal school here. But the language and the international buzz was the reason for our choice and IB is the only option for that, unfortunately.

        Learning new languages as early as possible is the best for the kids I think. It is amazing to see how fast they absorb it. Beginning is hard but it gets easier quite quickly, well it did with our kids anyway.

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  2. I can nearly imagine what International school is. My children son and daughter went to French school in Helsinki at the age of five years, I happy that they also graduated in this excellent school. Now they speak French like native and many more languages.

    I think that I am international, although being Finn and that is why my blog is in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

    Happy Sunday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How interesting is that! Have your kids found their places after graduation? It is great that you and your kids know many languages. Our kids have the problem that English is so dominant language and while we lived in Australia we almost forgot that there are other languages as well. This is third year our daughter studies French but unfortunately she does not like it (very difficult language). My son would have been interested in German but the school did offer only French and Spanish. So he hasn’t taken any extra languages. On the 6th grade they start Swedish, which should be easy for them being so strong in English.

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      1. Yes, they have. There are companies, which need persons speaking many languages. For example, my daughter learnt Spanish also in school and one company employed her to teach one Computer program in Chile (three months) which was used in the Company.

        Languages are easy to learn. For example, I learnt French by reading 10 books using dictionary; I wore out one. After 10 books, I have had very seldom need to use dictionary.

        Spanish I learnt when working in Spain 4½ months.

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      2. You are very skill full and determined. Learning languages doesn’t come as easy to everybody. If you don’t mind me asking, did your children study in Finnish at all. Did they go to the university?

        Like

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