The hidden currents of cross cultural education

Cross cultural schooling happens when a child’s education is conducted in a language their parent is not a native speaker of, or is based in a culture their parent did not grow up in.

There are several ways that this can happen. A family (whether local or expatriate) may enrol their child in an international school that follows the curriculum of a different country, or conducts classes in a language the parents are not familiar with.

When local families enrol in international schools, they create Educational CCKs (EdCCKs). EdCCKs live in their passport country but attend a school of a different language/culture. Educational CCKs cross cultures every day. They operate in one culture at home, and a different culture at school.

Alternatively, an expatriate family may enrol their child in a local school, in the local culture and language. (This was my experience as an Australian teenager in the US.)

22% of the 750 TCKs I surveyed for Misunderstood were educated in a language they did not speak natively; 7% were educated in a language their parents did not speak. Those figures double, to 40% and 15%, for TCKs who attended local schools.*

“I attended local school at a young age, and adapted well. Studies were more difficult compared to local students as my parents didn’t know the language – homework took longer etc. I did essentially keep up with the class for the two and a half years I was there.”
– Jeremy, as quoted in Misunderstood

There can certainly be linguistics difficulties when it comes to cross cultural schooling. Some families (and schools) do a better job than others at supporting students with this. Language is an aspect of cross-cultural education that is more obvious on the outside – but it is only part of the equation.

Adaptation to school culture

Schools teach more than academic information – they teach values and worldview. In a cross cultural educational setting the teachers and/or school administration may hold very different educational values than students or parents.

At the start, a new student must pick up a new school culture. In a cross cultural school, both obvious and hidden cultural expectations may be very different from the CCK’s last school. Over time, however, the child adapts to the school’s cultural expectations. And since the child spends more time in the school, and in its worldview, than the parents – a gap may begin to develop between parent and child.

The student may have to translate school expectations according to a parent’s different cultural expectations – even if they speak the school’s language.

Parents may be surprised by a child’s changing attitude, as they absorb elements of the school culture.

But these changes are natural, and perhaps inevitable. Cross cultural schooling means your child is being trained to see the world differently than you do.

Impact of cross cultural schooling on families

Many parents enrol their children in cross cultural schools for practical reasons. Perhaps there are no good school options in the family’s language/culture. Perhaps the family shares the schools values, even if they are not in line with norms of the family’s native culture. Perhaps the parents see the school as a pathway toward better educational and vocational options for their child. Whatever the reason, few parents are prepared for the long term impact cross cultural schooling will have on their family life.

Values are not always taught in obvious ways; often we simply absorb them as what is “normal”. Children in cross cultural education are absorbing more than academics when they are at school – they are absorbing values. Most children spend more waking hours in school than with their parents. In addition, if an expat they may not be exposed to their home culture at all in daily life outside the home. It’s possible that the school’s cultural values may become what feels most “natural” to the child.

Down the track, this can result in conflict between parent and child. Each judges the other according to their cultural values – and when the child has absorbed the cultural values of the school, this leads to a culture gap.

A child may perceive their parent’s expectations as unreasonable.
A parent may perceive their child’s actions as rebellious.
A child may perceive their parent as uncaring about their education – or too involved.
A parent may perceive their child as lacking in scholarly ambition – or outside interests.

These misunderstandings can lead to much heartache – both for parents and for their children. They stem from a parent judging the child by the parent’s cultural values – not knowing the child has been trained to see a different value system as the “norm”. This can be extremely frustrating for a child, who is only doing what their school has taught them to do in order to succeed.

So what next? I’m planning to write a series of posts considering different aspects of cross cultural schooling experiences. There is so much to consider! So stay tuned for more thoughts – and please, share your own, too.

Click here to read my advice to parents dealing with cross-cultural education

3 thoughts on “The hidden currents of cross cultural education

  1. I’d also be interested to know more about middle school and high school students who leave their families to study in another country. This has an even larger impact on family relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Cross-cultural education: advice for parents | MISUNDERSTOOD

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