"Expatriate Schooling--Coping with Issues and Costs." By William L. Bainbridge and Allan L. Forsythe. Relocation Journal. Winter 1993.



Allan L. Forsythe and William L. Bainbridge

International relocation managers are under pressures from families for maximum service while corporate leaders make efforts to curtail escalating costs.

Significant efforts have been made by some companies to control expenses in areas such as personal transportation, tax reimbursement, moving and storage, furniture, real estate and lease assistance, meals, lodging and auto. Regretfully, since schools are a sensitive issue and very few international relocation managers consider themselves to be school experts, schooling frequently continues to be an area of high cost with little control on the part of the corporation.

Many corporate international relocation policies continue to read like blank checks in the area of schooling for dependents. Typical policies indicate that the company will pay registration fees, tuition, books and local transportation costs reimbursed for children attending grades K-12. Boarding school costs are paid if the family deems local schooling options to be inadequate. While such policies on the surface seem perfectly reasonable, they can be quite costly.

We have examined many situations where families with children enrolled in very average public school systems in the United States expect the company to pick up the tab for the most elite private schools on their new assignment. The numbers can be staggering. We know of many cases where families have submitted and have been granted schooling reimbursement in excess of $60,000 per year. This seems particularly wasteful when in some of the cases a less expensive alternative would have been better for the dependent children in terms of their transition back into U.S. schools and universities.

On the other hand, some families really have special schooling needs. In January, international relocation manager Diane K. Knight told The Wall Street Journal that one manager sent by her firm to Australia didn't mention that his child had learning disabilities - and "we didn't ask." The child's schooling was inadequate after the transfer, she said and "the whole family was struggling."

Now McDonnell Douglas inquires about such issues and contacts schools abroad further in advance in hopes of a successful match. "We've gotten smarter about how we help people," Ms. Knight says.

We have been pleasantly surprised at the interest generated by workshops we have conducted for Runzheimer International, the Foreign Benefits Group and various relocation organizations on the topic of managing dependent schooling.

There are many choices for U.S. families with school-age children involved in an international assignment. They include:

An American Community School

Most community schools were founded by members of the English speaking and diplomatic communities in response to a need for an English language school program for their children. Others may be missionary founded and operated. Some are operated by corporations and the balance by individuals.

These schools are the closest parallel to schools in the United States in curriculum, methods and materials. The basic objective of the program is to facilitate transfer back to schools in the United States. Because they sometimes offer the only choice for an American family in a given region, they tend to be non-competitive in admission requirements but may be restricted to children of employees of a particular company or organization. They are designed to serve a broad range of abilities.

A Multi-National or International School

These schools offer a curriculum that is a blend of more than one country's system of education. Instruction is frequently in more than one language. Many of these schools offer a program leading to the international baccalaureate which affords students ease in transferring credits.

Most of these schools have different sections or divisions, ie, French-speaking, English-speaking, etc. which fulfill curricula and college preparation of specific countries. Private schools in Switzerland are best example of this structure. Usually, English is the most common first language of most students.

For the most part, these schools meet the needs of employees of multi-national corporations or national or international governmental agencies.

A School Native to the Host Country

These schools offer the greatest opportunity for entering into the culture of another country, but they can present obstacles to easy integration back into U.S. schools. In many countries, language and cultural barriers become obstacles.

A Department of Defense Dependents School

These schools were formed to serve the children of U.S. armed forces personnel outside the continental U.S. Eight superintendents oversee the 200+ schools in this system. Faculty are Americans employed by the U.S. government. There are a considerable number of schools in some countries such as Germany (more than than 100) and fewer in countries such as Turkey where there are three.

These schools resemble in every way possible a traditional American public school. The curriculum is specified such that a student whose parent is transferred from one location to another during the school year can walk into a new dependents school and find the same classes on the same page of the same or equivalent textbooks on the same day of the school year.

Priority is given to American armed forces families. Second priority is given to families who work for U.S. agencies such as AID and the Department of State on a space-available basis. The children of American corporate families are given the next priority on a space-available, tuition-paying basis. Finally, some schools are then open to children of other nationalities other than the host country whose parents are in the diplomatic corps or armed forces of those nations. They are not open to citizens of the country in which they are located.

All dependent schools are evaluated on a regular schedule by the North Central Association.

Families need to consult with the Department of Defense to determine the availability of space in the area to which they are relocating.

A Boarding School in the United States

Not to be overlooked in the final analysis are boarding schools in the United States. There are over 450 boarding schools offering a wide variety of programs.

Some adolescents may not adapt well to a completely foreign setting. Attendance at a stateside boarding school may insure greater consistency in a child's educational program.

Private SchoolMatch can conduct boarding school searches for specific geographic areas, regions and special needs anywhere in the U.S.

Staying at Home with Relatives or Friends

This is one possibility that works for some families. The advantages of stability have to be weighed against the loss of immediate family relations.

In the case of foreign nationals and returning expatriate students we believe that our databases confirm a significant number of options at very low costs. Many families are transferred, for example, from New York to Germany and back to Arizona. While the differences between New York and Arizona are no way of the magnitude of the move to Germany, they are significant and should be addressed. For example, Arizona has separate elementary and secondary school systems which is a concept unfamiliar to most New Yorkers. Some options include:

Public schools at U.S. place of residence

Many public schools are anxious to provide special programs for foreign nationals and returning expatriates in the belief that such students will enrich the lives of their new found American-based friends.

Public schools on a tuition or "choice" basis

Some public schools will accept students on a tuition basis from other school systems. In states such as Minnesota and Arkansas with "public school choice" options, the tuition can be minimal or even waived.

Private Schools

Independent and church related schools are often more than willing to accommodate foreign national students and returning expatriates.

Creating programs in schools

Japanese Americans and other ethnic groups have broken new ground in working cooperatively with public and private schools in developing specialized programs for students with language and cultural barriers.

In some cases, we have worked closely with companies with large numbers of foreign national dependent students in a particular geographic area. In such cases, SchoolMatch serves as a communication link between the corporation and the various school systems and private schools in the metropolitan area. Detailed interviews and studies are conducted to reveal opportunities to work with schools in terms of their particular:

  • Educational goals
  • Enrichment programs
  • Educational achievements
  • Advanced placement
  • Assessment system
  • Standardized test policies
  • Academic credentials
  • Cooperative programs with
  • Basic requirements for advancement
  • Local colleges and universities
  • Coursework
  • Tutoring policies
  • Extra curricular activities
  • and ways for dealing with exceptions ranging from student absence to language and handwriting difficulties.

For U.S. nationals and other moving to foreign countries, we have a consulting service and a database service. It is our hope to make the assignment an exciting adventure and growth experience for both the employees and their children.


Allan L. Forsythe and William L. Bainbridge are Vice President for Private Schools and President, respectively, of SchoolMatch, a data-based information and counseling service in Columbus (OH).