If you're planning long term travel or the increasingly popular 'family gap year' a big consideration will be your children's schooling. It's worth considering enrolling them for a month or two in international school, as we have done at Green Shoots International in Hoi An Vietnam. It will be fab for them, and may also save your sanity - like it did for me.
SUMMARY: Why international school has been great for us.
- It’s given me a break from trying to teach Emmie on the road.
- Emmie is catching up on her schooling.
- Emmie is making friendships - with local and international kids - that she will keep for life.
- The quality of schooling is fabulous. The teachers are lovely and kind and I couldn’t ask for a better environment for Emmie to be in each day.
- As we're traveling for two years it's been fabulous to have a small break from being together all the time and to have space and time to do our own thing.
- I've met some wonderful people and spent time in a small community with people who are here for a year or more on a break, working or volunteering in Vietnam.
Before we left to travel on our family gap year (which has now turned into two) I enrolled Emmie into the NSW Distance Education Primary School, but after eight months of travel and forcing her to do schoolwork I was ready for a rest and to hand the teaching role to someone else.
Our morning school sessions had gotten so bad that I was in tears during almost every lesson and had given up trying on many days. She just refused to do work for me, purposely did the opposite to what was needed or pretended to not know answers or how to read simple words. It was frustrating and really hurtful - I had been so excited about us working and learning together.
Thankfully she was well behaved for her teacher, Mr Brown, during their Skype lessons. I often wondered if he thought I was making up all the problems we were having when I explained why all the work wasn't completed. She loved doing lessons with Mr Brown but rated me a one out of 10 as a teacher. Between you and me, I give her about the same as a student!
But as we usually do, we stumbled upon a solution.
I had no idea that there were international schools in Asia where I could enrol Emmie for a term - or even a month! But while we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand I was messaging with Kylie who I knew from highschool. She was living in Hoi An, Vietnam and she suggested we come over and send Emmie to Green Shoots International for a month while we were there. Her kids went to school there and loved it. She was sure Emmie would too.
It sounded like heaven. Emmie would be in a physical class of her peers rather than a virtual one, she would be learning with a qualified teacher (who she would probably love) and the pressure would be off me. And I would get some free time while she was at school. What bliss. I emailed the principal, an Aussie lady, Sue from Brisbane, and we arranged for Emmie to start the following Monday.
This is why I was so excited:
- She didn’t need a uniform.
- The kids go barefoot.
- They have music, dance, sport and Vietnamese classes each week.
- Her teacher, Miss Belinda, was a young Australian.
- The school was small - about 120 kids
- The Green Shoots vision fit perfectly with how I want to bring Emmie up:
Green Shoots students are passionate, independent, life-long learners who strive for personal best and are responsible global citizens. Ours is an inspirational learning community that fosters happy, mindful and creative thinkers committed to the sustainable development of our world.
- There were only 12 kids in her class.
But, the best ever…
ALL MEALS DURING SCHOOL WOULD BE PROVIDED!!! I didn't even have to make lunch!
What a huge difference from school in Australia. At home there were 32 kids in Emmie’s class, and while there was a teachers aide, that's just a really huge class size. At Green Shoots the class sizes are small and intimate, the children are like a small gang of friends and they all get enough teacher-time to keep them happy and feeling special.
I loved everything I was learning about this school. I really felt like I deserved this. And so did Emmie. It would be good for her to be with other kids her age, make friends that she could keep for longer than a few days and catch up with the schooling she had fallen behind on because we just couldn't work together. And I realised that we had been on the road without a good break for seven months. It was time for a rest.
We booked flights and rooms at the Botanic Gardens guesthouse just a few streets away from school and left Chiang Mai a few days later.
Emmie spent five weeks at Green Shoots from the end of August until the beginning of October when we left to continue our travels for another three months. She absolutely loved it .
She made wonderful friends - some lovely local girls and children from France, Germany and Australia. She caught up on her schoolwork. She made relationships with teachers and teachers aids.
And so we decided we would come back in the new year and stay for a bit longer. This time Emmie is in class from January to the April term break, when we will start traveling again, and hopefully have more success with the Distance Education Program. And we will probably come back to Green Shoots and Hoi An at the end of the year.
Our time here is very precious as Emmie learns in a small and caring environment with a little bunch of kids she adores and teachers she loves and respects. We are so happy.
I love that the kids wear their own clothes and run around barefoot. It just seems so natural and less restrictive than at home where Emmie would wear a very formal uniform and even on a day when it was 40 degrees and they were still in winter uniform calendar, they were not allowed to wear their summer uniform to school. I still get so upset when I think of sending her off in her heavy blouse and tunic to sweat through the day. At Green Shoots kids dress for the weather. There are guidelines of course, and there is a sports uniform for long-term kids, plus they must wear closed toe shoes for sport. But Emmie loves running around in her shorts and top, barefoot and playing with her friends.
It’s a beautiful small school, with lovely classrooms and nice green play areas. There’s a main office area, a library, the Bamboo Rooms where dance, performance and other activities are undertaken. There’s a kindy playground with climbing structures and a sandpit, a small primary playground and a huge grass area of the older kids to play. The students tend to an organic garden and look after chickens - Emmie is so excited when it is her turn to collect the eggs. Learn more about the school's commitment to sustainability here.
PICK UP AND DROP OFF:
It’s so cool! I take Emmie to school on the back of a pushbike. Our guest house, Botanic Gardens, is less than five minutes away on the bike so it’s an easy ride each morning and afternoon. And it’s so much fun, we sing songs and chat and Emmie puts her arms around my waist.
EXTRA CIRRCULAR ACTIVITIES:
There is a full program of after school classes including Spanish, arts and craft, sport, performance, zumba and minecraft. Sessions run for an hour straight after school and are often followed by a playdate.
The small class sizes are so great. There are 16 kids in Emmies’ class this term, up from 12 last year, which means four tables of four and a calm class environment. At the moment they don't have permanent seats and so the kids can choose where to sit each day, although of course they end up sitting next to their friends.
Emmie enjoys the food as much as a fussy eater can. The teachers are really strict with her (which I love) and she can’t play until she eats all her meals. There’s a big variety of food from western faves like spag bol and chicken wraps to local dishes like pho and cao lau. And they have meat free Mondays which I also like. The weekly menu is sent to parents via email in advance.
DISCIPLINE & RESPONSIVENESS:
A few weeks ago we had a small issue at school that I mentioned to Emmie's teacher in the morning. I received an email that afternoon outlining the steps that had been taken to resolve the concern and the steps that would be taken to ensure it didn't happen again (and this was by no means huge drama - probably a 4/10 on the concern scale). I havent seen this kind of responsivness and care before. But that is the kind of school Green Shoots is - they hit potential issues on the head straight away and follow up with education and discussion with all kids in the class and school. And I really admire that and it gives me great confidence in how Emmie is being cared for.
Emmie’s favourite things about Green Shoots:
- My new friends
- Doing maths
- Mindfulness colouring in
- Earning class Dojo points
- When Miss Elissa asks me to stand in front of the class and do something
My favourite things about Greenshoots.
I double Emmie on the back of my pushbike to get there.
It feels like a little family.
There are no airs and graces as parents wave to each other in the mornings from pushbikes or catch up hot and sweaty in the humid air, waiting at the school gate.
The level of professionalism and teacher expertise is outstanding.
Emmie is being taught how to be an open-minded, caring and contributing global citizen who treasures our environment. What more could I ask for? [And I don't have to make lunch]
International school the fees can be considerable, but I am happy to pay the extra for a short term stay while we are traveling. I justify it cause Em loves it - there is never any whinging about going to school - and it literally saves my sanity. I know it’s good for her and for me. You can see the fee structure here.
Meanwhile I get work done, I have joined a gym at Sunrise Resort and I do some exercise and spend a bit of time working by the pool or swimming laps, and then I catch up on writing stories like this and figuring out how to earn some money so we can keep traveling!
So if you’re traveling or planning long term travel or even want to get away for a while and chill while your kids are in school then this is a fabulous option. It seems there are many international schools that allow short term enrolments - I am looking at one in Galle, Sri Lanka at the moment. One of the ways o find them is to look on Facebook for Expat groups in the areas you're interested in or to ask in travel family groups. Google searching can also find them for you.
We are heading off traveling again in April but it’s likely we will be back at the end of the year, we love it so much.
Evie & Emmie