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The Hidden Compliances in Global Mobility

Ensuring School Success for Repatriating Children

children and flagsMany families repatriate over the summer so that children may begin school at the start of the new academic year – either in their former home or in a new community. While conventional wisdom suggests that repatriation means going home, which inherently can’t be hard, in many cases re-entry into former schools can be the most difficult part of an overseas assignment for children. Like adults, children have changed while abroad, as have their friends back home in their absence. So fitting in with the old group isn’t easy, and may not be possible. Yet, expectations of returning to old friends typically are high. Some children wait for this date for the entire assignment. These hopes may be shattered if the former school doesn’t meet a child’s expectations.

Beyond developmental changes that repatriating children and their former friends experience while apart, there are many reasons for disappointment:

1.Teachers rarely understand the needs of children who have lived abroad. Public schools, in particular, teach to the mainstream and repatriating children are never mainstream at this time in their lives.

2. Curriculum differences between the school abroad and the school back home may result in academic gaps or overlaps. Kids may be required to repeat content or can be unprepared for the work they are expected to do.

3. Birthday cut-off dates can differ, possibly affecting grade placement, perhaps jumping a year ahead or repeating. Moving from Southern to Northern hemisphere – or the reverse – will mean a different academic year, so children must be placed ahead or held back.

4. Teenagers may have missed prerequisites for classes and therefore may be placed into a less challenging academic track that they otherwise would be equipped to handle.

5. Public schools often have exit requirements that returning children haven’t met.

6. Sports played in school may be different from those offered abroad. Even the most able athlete may not make the cut for the baseball team returning to the USA from the UK.

To help your assignees help their children with their repatriation, here are some ideas to promote success.

Prior to Departure, at school abroad:

Upon Repatriation, at school back home:

Encourage parents to request a meeting with the head of school for primary school aged children, or with the guidance counsellor for older children. During this meeting parents can explain that their children have been educated in a different system and may be ahead in some academic areas and behind in others; and that they may have played different sports or participated in different extracurricular activities.

Parents should be prepared to share some of their children’s experiences abroad, and ask the principal’s advice about the best teacher and classmates for each child. (Telling a teacher that their child is ahead in reading and needs extra challenge will almost certainly backfire.) Ask the school to provide buddies for their children, or even the whole family, to ease the integration.

Suggest that parents inquire whether arrangements can be made to compensate for curriculum differences. Possibilities include tutoring, distance learning, enrichment, or even acceleration.

If children have not taken courses that are requirements for graduation at home, parents should ask about “placing out” of, or taking substitute classes, so that a child attending public school is able to graduate despite different academic preparation.

Encourage parents to advocate for their children or help older children advocate for themselves. Administrators, teachers or friends may not have experience with repatriating children. So parents may need to explain the sequence of courses or classes that their children have taken abroad, if necessary bringing in examples of work that illustrate what their child has learned. Ideally, school personnel will be able to adjust rules and place children in appropriate classes and extracurricular offerings. If teachers, heads of school, or guidance counselors are inflexible, it is possible to speak to school superintendent or Board of Education.

Manage Children’s Expectations:

Even if parents understand that transitions between schools may not be seamless, kids may not be aware that their school abroad may not have taught the same material as their school back home. Parents may need to explain that they have taken a different educational path than their peers and that a transitional period is natural – if they feel they’re behind or are uncomfortable with the material, it is not their fault. Parents should let their children know that they will provide their children with the help they need to make things easier.


When working with a family that is repatriating, HR should remind the assignee not to leave anything to chance. Parents shouldn’t assume that everything will fall into place. Encourage parents to be deliberate in crafting the experience their children will have when moving home. Most importantly, anxious parents need reassurance that children are extremely resilient.  Although repatriation with school-aged children is bound to be difficult, with appropriate preparation, reentry can go smoothly.


By Elizabeth Perelstein, The School Choice Group

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