Going to an international school is a unique and wonderful experience not many can relate to.
Not only do you get to be exposed to a diverse student body, but also the different lifestyles that your peers are accustomed to.
You may live in a bubble, but in my experience, I made lifelong brothers and friends who I still love dearly. I realized that part of what makes my bond with my best friends so unique is that only they can truly understand a significant portion of my upbringing as a young teenager growing into young adulthood.
Looking back, here are seven distinct aspects I’ve found to be true about the international school experience.
1. YOU STRUGGLE TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF.
“Wow! Why is your English so good?”
“Uhh..I’m from the Philippines, but I received an American education all throughout my life.”
“I went to an international school.”
Can I get an amen from everyone who has experienced this?
During my freshman year in college, I got tired of explaining my whole background – so I decided to play it cool and roll with peoples’ assumptions that I was a Filipino-American who happened to spend time overseas.
What I realized is that if I were to embrace my background and story, I had to take the time to educate people about what international schools are. After all, this is how everyone learns about other cultures – through stories from friends and peers.
Once I embraced it, I found that not only did people become more curious about my story, but I felt lighter when developing my relationships knowing that I had nothing to hide.
2. YOU GET STOKED WHEN YOU MEET OTHER INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL KIDS.
“I went to the International School of ______”
“OMG cool! Do you know ______?”
“Yes!! How do you know her?”
Once I got to college, I rarely met other international school students. Most of the internationals I met went to the local or bi-lingual schools in their native country.
The crazy thing about meeting another international school kid is that you feel an instant connection when you talk. You know that the other person ‘gets it.’
During my freshman year, I met a Taiwanese student who went to the International School of Manila during high school. I myself am a Filipino who went to Kaohsiung American School in Taiwan. It was as if our experiences were flipped. It was neat.
You also realize that when talking to other international school kids, you end up having mutual friends from out of nowhere.
Because it’s a small community, you’re bound to have mutual friends by virtue of summer camps, academic conferences, or sports tournaments.
It’s a small circle scattered throughout the world.
3. YOU ARE A SURVIVOR OF… THE IB PROGRAM.
Jokes aside, the IB (International Baccalaureate) program was tough. And yes, I still had to use auto correct to spell it.
IB is a two-year, college-level program commonly found in international schools. It is mainly recognized in Australia and Europe, but not as much in the United States. I took part in the IB Diploma program from 2013 to 2015. Up to this day, I sometimes argue that it was academically more rigorous than some of my actual classes in college (minus work, extra-curriculars, social life).
You not only have to contribute heavy hours to volunteering, but you have to write essays on essays on essays.
While I hear that AP classes are more focused on test-taking, the IB program was about developing you as a balanced, independent human-being . That doesn’t mean we did not have to take tests though.
During our senior year, we had to take tests that accounted for two years worth of knowledge to pass our classes and obtain the IB Diploma. If we failed any of our IB subjects, two years of work to get the diploma went down the drain.
While the IB program was excruciating at the time, I learned how to write academic papers very well. By the time I was in college, I could crank a five-page paper in an hour without breaking a sweat.
4. YOU TRAVELED TO OTHER COUNTRIES FOR SPORTS TOURNAMENTS.
“You guys are flying to China to play basketball. Don’t take this opportunity for granted.”
I still remember when coach said this.
Because international schools join sports associations or leagues within your region in the world, student-athletes get to travel to nearby countries to compete in tournaments.
Because I played varsity basketball, I was fortunate to have traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing to play the game I loved. This brought some of the most heartbreaking and euphoric moments for me and many of my teammates.
During my junior year, we played against Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) and lost in the finals to a buzzer-beater in our fourth overtime. The next year, we won the championship by two points after a go ahead three in the last 10 seconds of the game.
But really, the best moments came from joking around with teammates in the hotel room, making new friends after games, and playing organized sports with your best friends.
It’s an experience you simply can’t replicate.
5. YOUR ACCENT CHANGES AS YOU SWITCH FROM ONE LANGUAGE TO ANOTHER.
“Yeah I’m taking the troe-llee to school.”
“You mean the trolley?”
“Ohhh so that’s how you say it. I never had to say that word back home.”
Because international school kids are multi-lingual, many of us have no problem switching from one language to another. Here’s the catch though. We also tend to get words and pronunciations mixed up.
Though I’m a native English speaker, I realized that I was mispronouncing words I never had to use back in high school. Sometimes, I would say words in a Filipino accent because that’s what I heard at home. I also couldn’t help but say chao mian when ordering noodles in Panda Express, instead of chao MANE.
It takes some time to adjust, but it’s all fun and laughs at the end of the day.
6. YOU HAVE FRIENDS ALL OVER THE WORLD.
“Sorry I can’t hang out tonight, I’m actually going to catch up with my best friends in Taiwan.”
This can be a blessing and a curse.
While Facebook and Facetime make it possible for us to maintain relationships across the world, it can also be hard to develop deep, long-lasting relationships when you’re consistently on the move.
There are nights when I feel tired of staring at a screen to talk to my best friends and family. Especially during tough times. I miss being a total kid with my best friends – knowing that our reputations are safely protected with each other.
On the other hand, it’s neat knowing that when you travel around the world – there’s always a home willing to welcome you.
More often than not, it really is a blessing.
7. HOME IS WHEREVER YOUR FAMILY IS.
International school kids tend to go to universities outside their native country – mostly in the U.S., UK, or Australia.
That means having to be away from family for around nine months out of the year.
There are still times when I truly ache to be with my family – and the holiday season doesn’t help. When I hear my friends and peers talk about making quick visit to their parents, I sometimes wonder how amazing it would be to feel the embrace of my brother and parents. Just for one minute. Not on Facetime.
But then again, it’s part of the journey we make as adults.
We learn how to fend for ourselves, make new friends, and adjust to a new environment like a chameleon. We learn just how much we appreciate everything our parents did for us, and the things we may have taken for granted.
At the end of the day, the international school experience teaches us to value the most important things in life.
And they’re often the simplest.