Starting a new school year can bring a bundle of mixed emotions. There’s a new teacher, new workload, the emptiness of friends lost and the uncertainty of new friendships. There’s an excitement in the belly but also a bucketload of butterflies. So how do you get through the jitters and cruise into a new year with style? These tips will help make your year a real winner.
1. So what if they are different
Starting a new school in Beijing means dipping your toe into a large cultural melting pot, with students from all over the world. A great way to settle in quickly is to introduce yourself to other kids. Don’t be afraid to make friends with people you might find different from those back home.
Emma Croxford,10, is new to Beijing and has entered Year 6 at the British School of Beijing. “I like starting a new school,” she says. “You get a new environment and can try new things.” Having moved around a lot, Emma thinks making friends is a great way to settle in, and she suggests asking questions if you want to get to know other kids. “Tell them about you, but ask them questions, too. Ask their name. Ask them what they like and don’t like,” she says. Emma also thinks that well-established kids should try to welcome new students. “Talk to them so they feel comfortable,” she advises. Who knows – if you do this, you might also find a new best friend.
2. Don’t fall for the “cool group”
The pressure to “fit in” at an international school is even tougher because of the cultural divides that add to (but also enrich) the balance. While it’s tempting to be someone you’re not – just to fit into the “cool group” – you’ll soon find yourself struggling to keep up the game.
Being true to yourself, however, will attract the perfect friends, every time. Caroline Golding, mom to Emma, feels it’s vital for kids to be themselves so they can make true friendships from the get-go. “Friendships are a huge part of school life for kids. When Emma first meets people, I tell her to smile and be herself,” says Golding. “If she can do this, the relationships will just unfold naturally.” Golding also believes in leaving social circles open so kids aren’t stuck in cliques.
Everyone enjoys doing something different for fun, so making friends outside your group means you get to express other sides of your personality and interests as well as widen friendship circles.
3. Get uncomfortable
Pushing yourself to try new things – even if it can be scary at the start – strengthens you, making you better able to cope with challenges at school. Thomas Page-McCowan,15, remembers stepping outside his comfort zone and loving it. “When I was younger, I went to school camp and was expected to go abseiling,” a way to descend a slope or cliff by sliding down a rope, he said. “I didn’t want to do it, but in the end I did it and I really enjoyed it and felt so proud,” says Thomas, who is in Year 11 at Dulwich College. “Since then, I’ve tried many things I thought I was unable to do.” Having the courage to try new things can give you the sense of confidence you need for a great school year. For high school students, the right attitude is part of the leadership quality that universities look for in admissions applicants. “Look at all the activities available,” says Thomas, “And try things outside your comfort zone.” You never know, you might just love it!
4. Be smart, seek help
Starting at a new school can be an overwhelming experience, from the new workload to social issues, or just finding your way around campus. Don’t be shy about talking to your teachers and administrators; some schools provide buddy systems. “It’s a very normal thing to feel overwhelmed by the workload at a new school,” says Lisa Rheinberger, a Year 1 teacher at the British School. As international schools can be up to 18 months ahead of the curriculums in other countries, children may enter a grade in Beijing with math or literacy levels they haven’t even begun at home. Thankfully, Beijing’s schools provide the resources for kids to cope.
Getting started early is a good idea even if you’re not starting a new school. Thanks to their mom, the Schiff brothers – Tyler, 7, and Kaden, 4, – use the summer to bone up on their weaker subjects before the fall semester starts at the British School of Beijing. “Some new students may take a while to fit into the new school curriculum, but with a little help and direction, they soon catch up. If students are struggling in any way, it’s really important that they ask for help,” says Rheinberger. Of course, Mom and Dad are great for help, too.
5. Don’t forget: Have fun
There’s no question kids should work hard at school, but work can also be fun. If you’re struggling with a particular subject, it’s even more important to find a way to make studying enjoyable. Talk to your teacher and parents about ways to make learning more interesting – for example, if you struggle with math, search online for a fun math music CD that can make multiplication tables a snap. Set up study sessions with friends. Learn languages using visuals. “Team activities, sharing skills and making friends also require as much dedicated time,” he says. And friends are always fun.
Hot Tips for Parents
• Consider which grade is most appropriate for your child, as academic levels may be different from home.
• Keep up a daily dialogue with your children, their teacher and friends.
• Get involved with the school and network with other parents.
• Encourage playdates with other children, especially Mandarin speakers.
• Keep things positive and relaxed when it comes to school issues.