Thursday, February 19, 2015

Third Culture Child.

 A Third Culture Child is defined as "a child who was raised in a culture outside their parents culture for a significant part of their developmental years." If that's correct then my third daughter is not only a third culture child but a 4th culture child.
 When I was growing up in England in the 70's I took French in high school and was fascinated by the thought of traveling there but I never got the opportunity to go to France until I was 21! I believe if I had been able to go to France and stay there for length of time my experience of French culture and ability to speak French would have been so different and so much better. I look back on my time growing up in England and realized that I wanted to be the type of mother who gave her children every opportunity to experience other cultures if it was within my power. So when the time came for us to decide to move to Germany with my husband's job I wouldn't have turned it down for any reason.

With the move to Germany in 2006 my 11 and 16 year old daughters were to attend a school called Frankfurt international School in the town of Oberursel about a seven minute drive from my house in Konigstein. I know the 16 year old was very excited and saw the possibilities but I don't think the younger daughter was so fond of the idea as she was being pulled away from all her friends who she would have gone to middle school with. So instead of starting middle school in Birmingham Michigan where there was hardly any diversity in the population she started at an international school with children from about 50 different countries.
Frankfurt International school was founded in 1961 and is an English language day school located in Oberursel, near Frankfurt am Main. There are about 1800 students from over fifty countries. There
is anther campus in Weisbaden where there are a further 200 students. The faculty of FIS comes from 30 countries.Becoming a part of an international community of students opened up worlds for both my daughters in previously unimagined ways. For example through the extra curricular orchestra program my oldest daughter met Japanese, Scandinavian, Korean and English students. Her perspective went from Michigan to encompass the entire world and her way of thinking about her future was utterly changed.
In what ways you may ask? Unless people take time to travel or have the opportunities to travel it doesn't matter how many text book you read, experience and first hand encounters are the best way to learn about any thing. My older daughter was studying for the International Baccalaureate in Art and they were given the task of having a focus for the ultimate project and end result which was an exhibition. As we were about 7 hours drive from Italy we decided to go to Florence on the children's first school holiday in October.

We went on a week long driving tour of Italy and were able to visit the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia    
museum along with a myriad of other art and cultural monuments in Florence. What an amazing privilege for us all to experience one of the greatest cities in the world famous for its history, Art and culture! I think my daughters were aware of the enormity of this. The younger one had a conversation with an Israeli lady in the Accademia about the naked David statue. I think she was a little overwhelmed and over loaded with the amount of art she saw and seeing Michelangelo's David at the Accademia was the masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture. It was created between 1501 and 1504 by Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet Michelangelo. American children are not used to seeing giant statues of naked men right in front of their eyes.

My older daughter was especially interested in Renaissance portrait artists and we were able to see the works of artists such as Botticelli, Andrea del Sarto, Fillipino Lippi,  Tintoretto, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mantegna, Raphael, to name a few. She was able see how portrait artists evolved, influenced and grew to leave their immense legacy on the world of art which influenced so many things in European life and culture even today.
Uffizzi Art Museum Florence
This may have inspired the beautiful portraits of her family and best friend which my daughter later went  on to produce for her final IB exam exhibition which eventually lead to her getting a place at the university   where she went on to do her Fine Art degree. I believe the visit to Florence was part of her destiny and she remains an artistic and inspired person because of this experience. She also decided to take a year out and work as an Au pair for a French family and lived in Versailles in Paris. It was pretty certain that had she stayed in Michigan and graduated high school from her Birmingham Public school she would not have lived in one of the greatest cities in the world for a year before going to university.

Our next move was to Seoul, South Korea so my younger daughter went from FIS to another International school along with children from all over the world whose parents were in South Korea working for International and Korean companies. The school she attended was Seoul Foreign School which is a Christian International school in Yonhuidong. Although SFS is a Christian school the students are from all international communities from the Saudi Arabian ambassador's children, the Kuwaiti Ambassador's children, Europeans, Israelis, and Americans.
I met a young man at SFS registration who had attended the German School in Seoul but his mother decided to transfer him for his last two years  to Seoul Foreign School because by the time the students were in the upper grades at the German school there were only 100 students left. I asked him how he felt about Seoul and Korea. His answer worried me a little because he was the son of a German Diplomatic father and East Asian mother and had lived in many places also because of his father's work. He stated that Seoul was boring and he couldn't wait to leave! Oh dear! Another friend of mine also told me her son hated Seoul and was not looking forward to living there. I thought to myself well"life is what you make it and if you're bored it's you not your environment!"

Seoul Foreign School was founded in 1912 by seven foreign missionaries and today there are 3 parts to the school with about 1400 students.  There is a British school which begins at Reception to year 9 and is based on the English National Curriculum. The American School begins at Pre K and goes to 5th Grade. The middle school covers grades 6 to 8.  The High school goes from grade 9 to graduation. International General Certificate of Secondary Education is offered as well as the International Baccalaureate. Graduates from SFS are qualified to attend universities all over the world.
 It is the 7th oldest International school in the world. My daughter had 5 years at SFS started out in 2008 as an middle school 8th grader to graduating from the American high school in 2013.

Throughout these 5 years there were so many opportunities that were available to her. Apart from the excellent academic education she would receive through SFS there were many extra curricular educational experience which were available for her broader education. Each autumn all the high school students would be given the chance to take part in Discovery Week courses in Seoul, or travel to different countries throughout the world to take part in trips, service oriented projects, educational, physical and activity trips. In her first year of high school my daughter travelled to South Africa with her school and this trip was one that changed her life. The second discovery week she did a project in Seoul called Cooking and Serving where she learned to cook, prepare and serve food to homeless people. In the third year she travelled to Vietnam and worked with orphan children.

Although SFS is a Christian school the students are from all international communities from the Saudi Arabian ambassador's children, the Kuwaiti Ambassador's children, Europeans, Israelis, and Americans to name just a few nationalities. The parents of SFS students are American and foreign corporate executives, high ranking US army officials,  Foreign Ambassadors, Military Attaches, Korean businessmen who had resided abroad and some Christian missionaries to South Korea.

Many of the students had also lived all over the world and told my daughter stories of their experiences for example one of her best friends was the child of an Ambassador from a Scandinavian country. She had previously lived in Japan where because of her blond hair she had been a famous child model. Many people in the community were envious that my daughters friend was the beautiful daughter of a high ranking European diplomat but to my child it was just her dear friend.
Seoul Foreign School

Another consideration was the fact that this child's formative years were in Seoul. Her influences were K Pop, Korean fashion, her hang outs were Apgujeong, Hongdae and Meyongdong. Amongst her dearest friends were young Koreans who remain her friends and confidantes to this day. One thing I noticed at SFS was that the Expat children,no mater where they were from, and the Korean children socialized together. A vast majority of the Korean children had been born abroad, mostly in the USA and had foreign passports.

Judging from experience with other international schools in Seoul I believe no matter how enthusiastic the staff is and how much money rolls in it is the parents and the students that make the school a positive or negative experience. If the parents are controlling and think they can some how bully the staff into doing exactly what they  think is best for their child and the school gives in there is no way the school will be successful. A school has to think about all of it's students and to carry out it's ultimate goal of educating the whole school it cannot pander to the wishes of particular parents. Also if a school is to call itself truly international the head and management has to be open minded about who the teachers are. How can you call yourself international if a majority of  the teachers are from one country? There should be diversity in the staff even if it means you train them with the particular educational philosophy of the school.

Also there is no easy way for a school to be successful overnight as evidenced in the case of SFS  which was established 102 years ago. It takes time to establish your reputation as a school and the exam results alone do not show how a school will perform in years to come. and what kind of people will come from this school? There are at least 6 other International schools in Seoul and some are newly established. Although SFS is thought to be the best International school in Seoul  and the hardest to get into there were some negative comments being floated around about the school but as a parent I believe the proof is in the end results.

One example were new International schools springing up overnight in the highly competitive International school scene in Seoul. The impression was that because they were offshoots of famous schools from London or New York they would be successful overnight and it would mean the end of SFS. Quoting an article from TES Connect talking about famous UK schools setting up in Korea, Hong Kong and Mainland China with the title "How the gold rush failed to materialize for the UK elites". This article shows that just setting yourself up as a clone of famous schools in the UK or anywhere else in the world does not guarantee success. A school should not be about pleasing local developers and boosting profits. SFS is a not for profit establishment but these new schools which are springing up are based on a premise that if you turn up with a famous name you will be an instant success in the education world. The TES article goes on to say, "A report has poured cold water on the idea that all this country's famous schools had to do was turn up and wait for the pupils to flood through the gates". Only time will tell what will happen to the competition in the international school market but SFS has stood the test of time.
Graduation Ceremony
Going back to my own child's experience at SFS was definitely a positive one filled with struggles of a student studying for her IB's, preparing for the SAT exams but also happy fulfilling and fun times as a teenager in Seoul. I believe when she looks back at her time there she will remember it with great fondness and the benefits of being a student there seem to continue into her university years. She constantly runs into her old school mates from Seoul Foreign School and Frankfurt international school where ever she goes. Also having lived in one of the busiest cities in the world for 5 years of her life meant when she got to New York City for university she adjust with ease into her student life there.
Graduation Day

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