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Helping International Students Settle Into School Life: Why a Good Beginning Is Vital

By Mark Wilson
Helping International Students Settle Into School Life: Why a Good Beginning Is Vital

In 2022, the United Kingdom (UK) had more than 675,000 international students, the second highest number in the world behind the United States of America. As educators, we need to ensure that students, and their families, are given the best possible support from the minute they land here so that they can flourish into future leaders and global thinkers. 

At ACS International School Egham, we educate students from nearly every continent in the world and recognize that every family’s relocation experience and situation is different. Some students and their families will be regular, confident movers and could have lived in five or more countries before they choose to come to the UK. For others, this may be their first move, and as a result, can be anxious about settling in a new and unfamiliar country with a different culture, language, and societal norms.

Schools should not adopt a one size fits all approach to onboarding international families. It is counterproductive in both the short and long term. That’s why we first meet each of our international students and families to establish what level of support is needed, identify how we can best deliver it, and develop a plan so that we can continue our care throughout the academic year and beyond.

The next stage in our onboarding journey is to offer students and their families a menu of social opportunities and initiatives. These range from structured events to more informal, low-key gatherings, and our families are able to pick and choose what suits them best. By providing this induction mix, we ensure that our families don’t feel overwhelmed during what can already be a daunting time for them.

One example of our structured events is our popular ice cream social, which is organized by our admissions team during the summer break so that students’ feel settled by the term time. This gives families the opportunity to come back onto campus and meet other families over ice cream. It sounds simple, but it gives families and students the opportunity to connect with each other, establish friendships, and ask any questions they may have in an informal environment. Our admissions team also selects current students and families who may be from the same country, or part of the same culture, so that they can form a relationship and “buddy up” with the new family, guiding them through the process.

We also offer something called a “Hopes and Dreams Day” for new international students where we invite them and their family members into school and ask: What are you looking to get out of the year? What are you excited about? Are you worried about anything? It is all about understanding them on a personal level and ensuring that we offer the best possible support. Throughout the year, advisors will then check in with students, referring back to their discussions on “Hopes and Dreams Day,” to see if they are still happy, engaged, and being supported.  

When a student does join the school from a different country, it is vital to provide holistic support to the other family members, as well as individual students. At ACS Egham, we use volunteer parents from our Parents’ School Organization (PSO), to act as designated “Welcome Reps” and offer new families the opportunity to connect and ask questions. This ranges from academic and schooling questions through to: Where are the good supermarkets? What is the National Health Service? How do I pay council tax? And what is a TV license? The group also arranges dog walks, trips to London, and informal drop-in coffee mornings at our campus. The group is a huge asset to ACS Egham and helps make a big difference to the whole family experience.

I firmly believe that student success hinges on their first experiences at a new school; making sure they are comfortable and feel part of the community is vital. All too often, schools focus solely on achieving the end goal of academic results, but students will never flourish into exceptional global citizens if they and their families do not feel welcome, safe, and secure. A good beginning normally provides the best possible chance for an effective educational experience.


Mark Wilson is Head of School at ACS International School Egham.

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