World Class

One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children

Teru Clavel

World ClassAn eye-opening firsthand exploration of why Asian students are outpacing their American counterparts, and how to help our children excel in today’s competitive world.

When Teru Clavel had young children, the oldest barely two, she watched as her friends and fellow parents vied to secure a spot in the right New York City preschools. Following a gut feeling that a truly world-class education involves more than the privilege and ennui of elite private schools, Teru and her family moved to Asia, embarking on a ten-year-long journey through the public schools of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

During this time, Teru discovered firsthand why students in China and Japan are far outpacing their American counterparts. In Hong Kong, her children’s school was nicknamed The Prison for its foreboding, austere facilities, yet her three-year-old loved his teachers and his nightly homework. In Shanghai, in a school without flush toilets, the students were kept late not out of punishment but to master the day’s lesson. In Tokyo, her children and their classmates were responsible for school chores, like preparing and serving school lunches—lunches that featured grilled fish, stewed vegetables, and miso soup, not hot dogs and french fries.

These schools were low-tech and bare-bones, with teachers who demanded obedience and order. Yet Teru was shocked to discover that her children thrived in these foreign and academically competitive cultures; they learned to be independent, self-confident, and resilient, and, above all, they developed a deep and abiding love of learning. The true culture shock came when Teru returned to the States and found their top-rated California school woefully ill-prepared to challenge her children. Her kids were passing, but the schools were failing them.

In this revelatory book, Teru shares what she learned during her decade in Asia, providing practical tips and takeaways to bring the best of Asia’s education and parenting philosophies into American homes and schools. Written with warmth and humor, World Class is an insightful guide to set your children on a path towards lifelong learning and success.

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The book is available in hardback, digital, audiobook and Audio CD

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Top 10 Ways to Help New Students Transition at Your International School

This time of year means Back-To-School for most kids, but for internationally mobile children it often means Start-A-New-School. A transition to a new school, country, language, and culture can be overwhelming, and children need time to adjust. Teachers and administrators can contribute to a smooth transition in many meaningful ways. The ten points outlined below can make a significant difference in the emotional and academic well-being of a child who is already dealing with all the challenges of a move. Although these points are meant for primary age children, they can be adjusted as you see fit for older children.

1. Show them where the bathroom is and give them a tour

Show them where the bathroom is within the first ten minutes of meeting them. For obvious reasons, I cannot stress how important this. When we do forget, this can be a huge source of stress for a child the first day of school! On the first day, classmates can give the new students a tour or the school. If you teach the early primary years, some older students could do this. Feeling lost emotionally on your first day at school is one thing, but to be lost literally adds a whole lot of unnecessary anxiety.

2. Find a way for them to express themselves if there is a language barrier

If the new student does not speak English or any other language that you speak, try to find another teacher or student who does. If a student is able to type, you can use Google translate or something similar, but finding a way to communicate with them is key. Also, make sure they immediately receive EAL/ESL. When new students have no previous knowledge of English whatsoever, receiving additional English support from the start provides them with the necessary foundation to begin communicating with those around them.

3. Get to know your new students

Make sure to ask questions about their family, previous home(s), school(s), and how they are experiencing their move. Sometimes the days are over before we know it, so a good alternative to conversing with new students is to give them a small journal they can take home. Every day you can jot down a few questions which they can respond to, in writing or using illustrations, at home. Not only will their responses give you insight to each new student as a person, it will also provide you with some immediate feedback on (some of) their academic strengths/weaknesses. It might also indicate if the move is causing stress. Acknowledge their emotions in a supportive way, but also make sure to communicate any concerns through the appropriate support channels within your school.

4. Learn about their academic background

Should they need learning and/or EAL/ESL support, inform all necessary parties promptly. If nothing is mentioned on their transcript, it never hurts to check with the administration and the parents in the first week of school. Parents with children with special needs may have very useful ideas and tools for modifications that worked well in a previous school. A transition can be challenging for any student, but when a student falls between the cracks academically, it will be even more difficult.

5. Make sure the other kids get to know the new students

A new school year usually means a round of get-to-know-you games. In a bigger school, classes might get mixed around and even though the students already know of each other, many of them do not necessarily know all of their classmates. Finding out they’re not the only one who doesn’t know their classmates can be a relief for a new student. Nevertheless, don’t underestimate how much more a new student needs to adjust in those first days. If a new student is willing to share, encourage them to do a Show & Tell/ or PowerPoint presentation with pictures or other items that help explain where they are from, what their background is, and what their interests are. This will not only give them an opportunity to connect with their classmates, but it could also contribute to the global awareness of all the students, foster open-mindedness, and mutual appreciation.

6. Give the other students a chance to help them

In turn, have the other students make a list of things a new student should know about the school/area/after-school activities. Also, put a buddy system in place. Assign a couple of classmates to each new student and ask them to involve them during playtime at recess, sit with them during lunch, and walk with them to any other classes. Try to gauge if the students you paired up connect in any way. If not, match them with some others the next day. This will also give the new student the opportunity to get to know other classmates a little faster.

7. Explain school rules, procedures, routines, and expectations

Most of the time, these will be reviewed with the whole class at the beginning of the school year. However, some rules, procedures, routines, and expectations that may seem clear to your school culture might not be so obvious to a new student. This could cause some serious misunderstandings, so make sure to be patient with them the first couple of weeks. Also, go over emergency and lock-down procedures early on in the year. Given the change and/or lack of many daily routines during a transition, new students will most likely be grateful for a classroom routines. However, they need to be given clear explanations of what is expected of them and possibly additional time to get used to them.

8. Put up a wall of fame

Create a wall of pictures in your classroom of other people they will be seeing often. For example, the principal, vice-principal, their PE/art/music/drama teachers, the school librarian, the school nurse, and any other support staff they might interact with. So many faces, so many names! A visual reminder without having to ask can be helpful for everyone, even returning students.

9. Connect with the parents

Most likely, the parents are super busy trying to settle in. Should you not see them during the first orientation days or a parent information meeting at the beginning of the year, a friendly line from their child’s teacher usually is very much appreciated. Also, an ‘Open House’ at the beginning of the year gives new parents an opportunity to meet the other parents and often triggers many first play-dates. Should they express any concern about their transition, make them aware of any in-school counseling available.

10. Give new students a story to identify with

It is absolutely wonderful to see a growing list of resources about third culture kids (TCKs) available for parents and educators (please click here for a list). With B at Home: Emma Moves Again, I hope to give younger TCKs (in particular 8-11 age group) a story they can identify with while they experience their own move and search for ‘home’ and ‘belonging’. Also, I would like to encourage them to enjoy a passage in life that can be such a rewarding and enriching journey. By giving your students a story they can identify with and relate to, you can make it easier for them to express themselves about their own experience.

B At Home 72dpiAbout Valérie Besanceney

Over the past nine years, Valérie has been a primary school teacher at five different international schools on four different continents. Valérie is also the author of the recently published children’s book B at Home: Emma Moves Again. It is a fictional “memoir” about the experiences of a ten-year-old girl and her teddy bear who have to move yet again. During the different stages of another relocation, Emma’s search for home takes root. As the chapters alternate between Emma’s and her bear’s point of view, Emma is emotionally torn whereas B serves as the wiser and more experienced voice of reason. For more information on her book and the topic of Third Culture Kids, please visit her website.

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This article was first published in International School Community.



Where to study in the United States? Tips to Help you Decide

If you are considering studying in the USA but have no particular college in mind, then geographic location can, and should, influence your decision. The USA is vast, with diverse climates, cultures and topography, so choosing somewhere that suits your wants and personality is essential for a happy US college experience.

Here are a few ways to make that decision:

  1. Distance from home. As mentioned, the USA is vast; flying from one side to the other takes more than four hours. If you’re coming from the East to a Californian college for example, your journey is much longer and possibly more expensive.  The cost of flights and length of journey can impact the amount of times you are able to fly home – which may or may not be a negative.
  2. Distance of campus from nearest airport – is something you should look at closely. There are many college campuses located “in the middle of nowhere”, which can mean an extra hour or more once you’ve landed at the nearest airport. Many colleges now have buses to shuttle students to and fro, but some don’t. The time and cost to get from airport to campus should be a factor. Information on campus location is found on the individual college web site.
  3. Location of campus. There are city colleges and very rural colleges in the USA. Coming from a small village doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t like an urban location, but it’s something to consider, as is the reverse. Urban campuses may offer better public transport options, but they may also have a higher cost of living. If you are hoping to find work or internships during the summer months, a rural campus may not offer much.
  4. Getting around on campus. Although most large campuses have some sort of transportation to ferry students around, your ability to travel further afield might be limited in very rural situations. Many American students on such campuses have their own car, but as an international student, this might not be an option for you.
  5. Weather. The weather across the USA differs enormously and can make you miserable if you’re not used to it. The northern states typically get very cold in winter and the winters are long. Southern states can be very hot and humid, but this only becomes challenging if you’re staying at college during the summer, which some students do. The US Climate Data web site gives monthly averages for each state, together with average precipitation and hours of sunshine.
  6. International Student presence. Although there’s not much point in studying abroad and mixing only with people from your own country, there is also something to be said for not being the only foreigner on campus. According to the US government’s data, California, Texas and New York have the largest numbers of international students. Individual college web sites will also give information on the number of international students on campus, together with the services the college offers, such as help with applications, visas and assistance once you arrive. Very small colleges with few international students may not be able to offer as much support as colleges with an established International Students Office.

Web sites such as Top Universities offer helpful information about many US colleges, as well as descriptions of their locations.

Stress-Free-Guide-to-Studying-USAToni Summers Hargis

author of The Stress-free Guide to Studying in the States. Also find Toni on…

Mind the Gap | Expat Mum


Studying in the USA – A viable option?

Although US tuition fees are some of the highest in the world, ($20,000-$60,000 annually), – it’s not quite the insurmountable hurdle you’d imagine. There are ways to afford the fees.

Most US colleges have to raise funds through charitable donations from current and past students, as well as large corporations and government subsidies. Many therefore, have large endowment funds and can offer financial aid to international applicants. There isn’t an over-arching organization governing these scholarships, but there are many web sites with information, and individual college web sites give details on what they offer. (The term “bursaries” is rarely used by US colleges.)

The US education and college “app” (application) system is very different from what many international students may be used to. Experts advise international students to allow 18-24 months working back from the date they want to start college. Although it seems like a lot of time, applicants need to-

Research the colleges that might suit them. (I strongly advise widening the net and looking at more than just the well-known Harvard/Yale/MIT options). There is no over-arching body such as the UK’s UCAS so students must wade through individual college web sites.

  • Look for financial aid, if needed. As mentioned, it is out there but finding it and submitting the paperwork adds a considerable amount of time and effort.
  • Take the standardized test (ACT or SAT) that most colleges require of international students. This is a timed, multiple-choice test and is quite different from anything British students are used to. British applicants compete against American high schoolers who have been practicing these tests for months, so test prep is a must.
  • Have test scores sent to the colleges they are applying to, which can take a month or more.
  • Have high school information sent to colleges. Teachers are asked for fairly in-depth reports* on applicants and some US colleges require applicants to use a Credential Evaluation service to compare foreign academic scores.
  • Have financial (ie. bank) information sent to colleges to prove ability to pay for the first year. (This would include any scholarships that are awarded.)
  • Fill out the application form(s). This takes more time than most foreign students realize. Most colleges require at least two personal essays, which should be proofed by at least one other person. Students are selling themselves to colleges so this essay cannot be rushed off in one draft.
  • Apply for a visa. Students can only apply for a US student visa once they have finally committed to one college. This college initiates the paperwork for the visa request so students holding multiple offers cannot proceed until they make a decision.
  • Apply for housing, send in doctor’s form etc. Once a student has a confirmed place at a US college there are many steps to complete before being able to attend. Choose and pay for housing, submit physical reports from the local doctor, register for classes and, in most cases, attend the International orientation session.

*Because of the amount of input required from teachers and other school staff, I strongly suggest that students with “sketchy” relationships start mending some fences, pronto!

It can be daunting to even consider applying to a US college, and expensive if you feel the need to hire a consultant. However, with sufficient time, it is possible for students (and their families) to undertake the whole process themselves.

Stress-Free-Guide-to-Studying-in-the-StatesTo help international applicants manage the US application process (including deciding whether it’s even feasible in the first place), I have written ‘The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students’, which also has a Facebook page for questions and further information.