By SUSANNAH L. GRIFFEE
A New York Times reporter moved his children from Brooklyn, New York, to Moscow, Russia, and enrolled them in a local school, where all classes were taught in Russian. The three children had no prior knowledge of the Russian language and struggled to learn, but eventually spent five years at the school. How would you react to moving to a foreign country and attending classes taught in a different language? Would you want to try living abroad?
In the article “My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling,”
Clifford J. Levy describes the experiences of his three American children as they first struggled, and then began to excel, in a local Russian school, New Humanitarian:
In those first months, our kids found themselves bewildered and isolated. Danya was a typical oldest child, a coper who rarely lost control. At night, though, she had insomnia. In class, she braced herself for that moment when she was asked for homework. She sometimes did not know whether it had been assigned. During Russian grammar, the words on the blackboard looked like hieroglyphics. She tried to soothe herself by repeating a mantra: “It’s O.K. to feel like an idiot. This is going to take time.” But she felt betrayed. We had assured her that children grasp language effortlessly, and there she was, the dumb foreigner.
Somehow, as the second year was melting into the third and fourth, life at New Humanitarian became normal. Danya was going to the coffee shop with her friends Masha and Dasha. Arden was excelling at Russian grammar, perhaps because she learned the rules from scratch, unlike native speakers. Both girls were at the top of the academic rankings. Emmett, still too young to be rated, was also thriving.
When I dropped them off in the morning, I was amazed as they bantered with other children. They no longer translated from English to Russian in their heads — the right words tumbled out. On the streets of Moscow, they were mistaken for natives.
Students: Tell us how you would feel if you had to attend a local school in a foreign country. How would you adapt? What would be the benefits and drawbacks? Do you think the reporter made the right decision to send his children to a local school, instead of an English-speaking international school? What cultural adjustments do you think you might have to make? If you’ve already had such an experience, what was it like?
Susannah L. Griffee is a New York Times intern and a student at New York University.
Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.
Have you ever travelled abroad for a short holiday and said to yourself: ‘I could really see myself living here someday’? Or ever read about a foreign culture and thought: ‘I belong in a place like that’? Millions of people around the world have taken that big step and are living in a different country to the one that they grew up in. They have jobs, they study, and they even have their own families there. So, what made them take the leap and move abroad?
One of the most significant reasons is that a foreign culture may be more suitable to your personality, attitude, and beliefs than your native one. Many people are attracted to another country because they like the way they do things, their social codes and traditions, for example. It could be to do with the way in which people interact with one another, or the music, the festivals and celebrations, the history, the art, and not forgetting the food! It is wonderful to go and live abroad in order to be immersed in a culture that is extraordinary to you, where you can experience things that wouldn’t be on offer at home.
Another motivation for the move is for work or study opportunities. Your perfect job or degree may just be waiting for you over there, in need of your skills, knowledge and ambition. Speaking another language will more than double your chances of such an opportunity, as more and more employers are looking for bilingual people to send over to their offices abroad. If you are reading this, then you are well on your way to making this dream a reality, as speaking English will open many doors and could mean the path to a life in the UK, USA, Australia, and many other countries.
Moreover, living abroad is an enriching experience because it forces you to adapt to things that are unfamiliar and unusual to you. You become independent and open to new, exciting, or terrifying challenges that you would never have encountered in your home country. And that is the most rewarding of all: the opportunity to learn and develop as a person, because you will discover things about yourself that you may not have known before; your beliefs, your passions, your character. Through interacting within a foreign society, your eyes will be open to all sorts of aspects of life that would be difficult to learn in your native country.
These are just a couple of the many reasons why people choose to buy that one-way ticket and establish themselves in a foreign country. It may be temporary, it may be forever, but one thing that is guaranteed is that you’ll never look back.