ISKL’s PTA President, Annie Gillis shares her insights on the benefits of getting involved in your school community.
When a family makes the decision to move for work-related reasons it brings with it many exciting opportunities. A major focus of families with school-aged children in an expat move is the options for schooling in the new location. In addition to the academic credentials of the school it’s important to find out about volunteering opportunities, parent involvement and community building opportunities available within the school as these can also play an important role in a happy and grounded expat experience. A diversity of cultures at the school should also be an important consideration - as a side benefit to expat life is meeting families from all over the world.
Often expat families find themselves in a brand new city with few to no connections. Jumping into school involvement and joining the PTA as soon as the dust settles (or even before) will make the transition easier for everyone.
Many PTA members report that volunteering for committees that support community building events, cultural days, International Festivals or United Nations days help connect the family and parent to the school community. Volunteering is an easy way to feel part of the extended expat community and the benefits are not only direct to the volunteer in terms of fulfillment and friendship but also help the rest of the family build social connections across the school. Children seeing their parent or parents on campus will also have the reassurance of knowing that, even though they are in a new city and new school, that they are supported.
Personally I have found, as I have a non-working visa, that school involvement in each of our expat postings, has been an invaluable way to get involved, meet people and quickly hit the ground running. There have been endless opportunities I can credit, both personally and to our expat experience as a family, that are directly tied to school volunteering and participation from the start. I have never looked back and regretted the volunteering roles I took on, was talked into, or happened upon accidentally - and each role gave me chances to learn from the people and cultures around me in my new expat location. My family also benefited as we learned more about the new location and new school via word of mouth and access to the greater school community. I will always be grateful for the volunteer experiences I have had as they not only kept my head in the game but also elevated my expat experience.
The challenges of an expat move, whether it is your first or fifth, can be daunting - especially for those with school-aged children. I truly believe that finding a welcoming, diverse and active parent-school partnership eases the transition from day one. I’m confident that when looking back someday on their expat adventure many PTA volunteers will know that the choices they made to get involved in their school’s community improved and extended their expat experience not just for them but for their entire family.