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Settling international students from more than 30 different countries into an unfamiliar international boarding school is a complicated and sometimes delicate process. It needs careful planning and thoughtful attention to detail so students settle in quickly and are happy away from home for the first time. Ensuring a successful transition from their home country with all the different social norms and educational systems involves creating a welcoming environment where students are encouraged to be brave, try new things, and make mistakes. Fostering cultural understanding among staff and students, with robust support systems during initial transition and beyond for academic and personal development are also key. Here are a few strategies I have used in the past 15 years to achieve this:

Creating a welcoming environment for international students

  1. The importance of a well-planned orientation: Comprehensive orientation programmes introducing students to the school’s facilities, staff, routines, values, and expectations are paramount. Strong programmes include guided tours, informational sessions and interactive social activities to help students acclimatise to their new surroundings, feel comfortable asking for help, and make new friends. A buddy system can help students settle in quickly too. Ensuring boarding staff are involved in planning and implementing the induction programme ensures school and boarding are joined up and helps a student feel secure in their new setting.
  2. Cultural integration: At d’Overbroecks, we celebrate every student’s national day and encourage students to share their traditions, food and customs, fostering an environment of mutual respect and appreciation. We celebrate our students’ diverse cultural backgrounds by organising multicultural events such as international arts festivals and International Day. These are highlights in our calendar where students can showcase their home countries. We also celebrate World Book Day, European Day of Languages, International Mother Language Day, wider learning days, Sports Day, and promote integration with British students.

Fostering cultural understanding

  1. Cultural sensitivity: Offer cultural sensitivity training for staff and students. This should focus on understanding and respecting different cultural norms, avoiding stereotypes, and promoting inclusivity and a sense of belonging.
  2. Curriculum: It is important to offer a curriculum reflecting global perspectives. We offer a TRACK (Theory of Research, Active Citizenship and Knowledge) programme to all year groups so students gain a broad understanding of the world, fostering their critical thinking to challenge stereotypes, and encouraging them to consider their social impact and opportunities to help others. Our Wider Reading Programme, reading and literature classes across all years, and holistic EAL provision (exam prep, skills, and cultural understanding) also enrich students’ perspectives. We use CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) as our pedagogical tool, incorporating cultural exposure to alternative viewpoints and shared understandings, and promote translanguaging and multilingualism.

Providing Robust Support Systems

  1. Counselling services: Increasingly, I am keenly aware of the need for a strong counselling programme that addresses the emotional and psychological needs of international students studying far from home. This should include individual counselling and workshops on developing coping skills and resilience.
  2. Buddy programmes: Pairing new students with older buddies who can provide insight into their new school and guidance, support, and friendship helps new students navigate the challenges of boarding school life and fosters a sense of belonging. Integration activities with British students during World Book Day, where Year 12 students read books to Year 10 students, help bridge the gap between different year groups and cultural backgrounds.

Parental Involvement

Welcoming parents to school during the orientation period also helps to answer their questions and helps make those all-important home/school connections, especially if it is over a typically British afternoon tea or cheese and wine event! It is then easier to maintain open lines of communication with parents, keeping them informed about their child’s progress and wellbeing or, at times, having difficult conversations. We have periodic visits from our local ice cream seller, after which we send photos home of their child enjoying the treat. Other strategies include weekly bulletins, parents’ evenings online, and webinars.

By implementing these strategies, an international boarding school can create a nurturing and inclusive community where students from different nationalities feel welcomed, supported, and empowered to succeed both academically and personally.

Ted McGrath, Head of the International School, d’Overbroeck’s