Are UK Schools Welcoming to Overseas Students?Tweet
With the new regulations for BN(O) passport holders, many Hong Kong students are thinking about moving to the UK. This is a great opportunity to experience a different culture and access world-famous schools. But many parents worry about the effects of a big move, especially one a child makes alone when going to a boarding school.
Feedback from students at a variety of UK schools helps i-Learner Overseas Education Services know which place is right for your child. We’ve shared some of their thoughts about overseas students below to help you make an informed decision on this exciting journey.
Home-away-from-home or an immersive experience?
The UK is a popular destination for Hong Kong students, which can be great if your child isn’t ready to step out of their comfort zone. Hannah Patient is a former student at Colchester Royal Grammar School (CRGS), and her sixth form had ‘thirty boarders in total split across Year 12 and 13, and most of them came from Hong Kong or Macau.’
Choosing schools with large populations of familiar peers can ensure a strong support network in a new country. The school is also able to cater well to the needs and interests of a child like yours and settle them in with events they’ll enjoy. At CRGS, Hannah says, ‘The school runs lots of trips and social events at the weekend (e.g. to Thorpe Park, London and Cambridge), and boarders have access to all the facilities outside of school hours.’
Schools with smaller international populations give your child an immersion into local life. Ryan Wightman went to Sale Grammar School, which ‘had a few international students, and they quickly became a part of the school team…All students made an active effort to include international students in their groups and to hear their stories; they were treated very well and thrived in the school!’
Over a third of boarding school residents in the UK come from overseas. These numbers vary from school to school, and many places are popular with those from certain countries. Make sure to ask about the student body of schools you’re interested in to find the right fit for your child.
Avoid lonely weekends
Schools like CRGS, with plenty of week-round boarders, make sure to pack the weekends with fun activities. However, this isn’t the case at all schools. Those with mostly day-students or week-day boarders can be lonely places at weekends. Get statistics on who stays at the school at weekends, and ensure your child isn’t left to fend for themselves for two long days out of every week.
Of course, it isn’t just the other boarders who help create a support network. A strong population of local residents can be fantastic at the right school. At Dwight School London (formerly North London International School), Clare Males got to share her neighbourhood with her international peers: ‘About 30% of the students were from London originally and 70% were born elsewhere… Many teachers were also international, which helped them make connections with international students. It was nice to have some Londoners too, who gained a stronger appreciation for their city as they shared it with their classmates.’
Be realistic about language levels
Expats in Hong Kong rarely become fluent in Cantonese. At best, they pick up a few essential phrases, and they mainly communicate in their native language with the large populations here from overseas. Learning Cantonese from scratch is very difficult, even in an immersive environment, and the same is true with English.
If your child can’t communicate confidently in English, they’ll seek out Cantonese speakers and stick close to them. To truly benefit from the immersive environment in England, children should boost their English before arrival so that they’re able to make local friends. This doesn’t mean they need to be completely fluent though. Many schools provide support for second-language speakers, and you should make sure this is sufficient for your child’s needs. Ryan Wightman from Sale Grammar School said overseas students there were ‘provided with additional English support if they needed it.’ And at Dwight School London, Clare Males was pleased to see that ‘The school provided ESOL lessons for those with weaker English so they could catch up quickly.’
Speaking to current and former students about their experiences is a great way to learn more about what a school is really like. At i-Learner Overseas Education Services, we find it an important reminder that it’s not just about the school, but how it fits with your child’s needs.