Back to school is a tricky time of the year. The footwear companies and supermarkets start it as soon as the summer holidays begin but, in reality, it begins the day before school starts. The kids have usually had 6 weeks off (this summer mine have had 4) and are ready to get back into routines and are more than ready to get back to their friends, even if that does mean that maths and assemblies get in the way of their play. However, the excitement of the new is tempered by a healthy dose of anxiety about the unknown.
I always remember the squiggly tummy that started the night before returning to school. The weather was invariably warm and sunny – Mother Nature always knowing when school began and always delivering beautiful late summer sunshine. Stiff new shirts, jumpers with sleeves rolled back (two sizes too big so they lasted) and shiny new shoes needing to be broken in filled by unwilling limbs. Breakfast was forced down and the slight sensation of nausea that remained with you until the tutor groups had been registered and new timetables issued, aggravated by the unseasonably warm weather and winter uniform.
This September, 20 years since I left school, we are again the new kids on the block but, no, we’re not singing and dancing our way to class. As the day got closer Tilly and Joshua asked questions about the teachers, about the classrooms, about the children. None of which we could answer. The unknown causing anxiety and concern for Tilly, excitement and thrill for Joshua, worry and trepidation for me. Why couldn’t we answer them? Because this school is an International School, in a multicultural country. A country with 3 official languages and so many different nationalities living in it I doubt even the authorities know how many are here. The school follows a curriculum that makes little sense to us Brits – where is the structure and the progression charts? The International Baccalaureate is a system that teaches lateral thinking, putting learning into context, discovering and illustrating all the different methods that can be used to arrive at a conclusion. It will teach a mature way of thinking at a very young age. This International School of Zug and Luzern, in this tiny country of Switzerland, will expose our kids to all four corners of the globe. It will allow them to become ‘global citizens’.
So, this Back to School is not back to the familiar for any of us – there isn’t even a uniform! This is starting school again and it’s not just the children whose tummies are wiggly and who are forcing a bravado that just can’t cut through the nausea. All four of us are the new kids, and it is scary as hell.
For expat life to be successful one of the key things we must all do is make friends. Tilly and Joshua actually have it easy. They get to spend all day, 5 days a week, with their peers figuring out who they like best. Steve and I? not so easy. You turn up to the coffee mornings, the welcome fairs and orientation days and, if you’re lucky, you meet someone you can chat to, that shares similar backgrounds, that you have a connection with. Then slowly you find you have someone to talk to at pick up, to have coffee with when the house gets so unbearably quiet.
We have just completed our first fortnight at ISZL and I think we have all started to build new friendships. How these relationships will develop only time will tell, but Switzerland is starting to feel a little warmer this Autumn.