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Culture,  International Student

International Schools: Expanding Your World View in a Bubble?

A few weeks ago, I talked to two of my best friends about the topic of episode #1 for our podcast: international school life

These were two guys I had grown up with since 7th grade, when we all attended an international school in southern Taiwan.

We joked, laughed, and reminisced about old memories of high school – the time before we packed our suitcases and went our separate ways across the Pacific.

We admitted that only we knew each other inside and out; our cultural identities, upbringing, and even our families. (For those who grew up in international schools, you know exactly what I mean).

We started off our rehearsal with surface-level questions on what it meant to go to international schools.

  • Did you think you were cool because you spoke English in town?
  • Would you intentionally mix English with your native language?
  • How do you qualify to attend international school?

But then we started getting more serious, and realized that there were so many sociological and economic factors to consider.

  • What pressures do international school kids face when trying to ‘fit in’ elite society?
  • Is your worldview really expanded when most of your friends are well-off or rich?
  • How much pressure did you face to get into a top 10 university to protect the family name?
  • How did we try to fit in the United States with our backgrounds being so different?

We could have gone on forever. But what stuck with me was the idea of being in a bubble.

International schools are private, accredited, institutions that provide western-education curricula. Think of American, British, and Australian schools but placed abroad with hefty tuition prices. We’re talking over $15,000 a year. Most state schools in the states cost $7,000 a year or less.

In addition, students need to possess a foreign passport to attend these schools. This means you are either a foreigner or dual citizen (many were born in the US but raised in Asia). This immediately creates an environment of privilege.

Growing up, we were culturally caught between feeling Asian-American, Taiwanese, or Filipino (in my case).

We were also caught inside the bubble of elite society (white-collar parents, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, etc). As a result, I didn’t get to appreciate the immense privilege I had because I measured it against the wealthiest families in the country.

Before, I’ve always thought that going to an international school broadens your worldview.

But is it expanded only within the confines of a bubble?

Do we get to see the struggles of everyday people? The fact that millions of students enter college with dreams but leave dreaming only about paying off their debts?

Not really.

And that’s okay. That’s why college and life experiences teach us to have perspective.

For the three of us, it was during college where we were exposed to these realities. We talked about meeting friends who owed $50,000 in student loans, friends who were first-generation college students, and friends who never breathed in the air of a foreign country.

At the same time however, we faced our own new challenges outside of our bubble in college.

Racial discrimination, fitting in with white society, and being completely alone – to name a few.

We realized that in college, we barely met people who truly understood our culture; a mixed breed between eastern and western society; taught to go with the flow of society, and to get the best grades possible.

Some of us grew so frustrated in not being understood that we began to avoid socializing. We didn’t want to have to speak about our homes like it was from another planet. Why keep fitting in when we can never truly fit anywhere?

What do you think? How has your transition from the international school world to college or the real world been?

On the bright side, we all agreed on one thing.

We would never take our experiences back. And I’m proud of that. We all should be. It’s what made us who we are.

In the end, as we acknowledged our individual privileges, I guess we did expand our worldview.

And that’s the lesson we all learned along the way.


Marjon is the Creator of Third-Culture Thoughts. A political nerd and basketball enthusiast at heart, he writes about everything related to culture and the international experience.