Relocating to Switzerland with a middle schooler needs careful consideration. Here is what you need to know before making the move with your middle schooler:
1. International or local school?
Before settling on a location, you should check carefully what schooling options are available for your middle schooler. An increasing number of international companies are located further away from the main urban areas and there might not be any international schools in the area. Even if there are available schools, it is not always easy to secure a place in a good international school, especially if your child is not fully proficient in English.
If you look into local school options, bear in mind that there can be significant regional differences in school systems and structures as well as in the provision of additional support!
Whether international, bilingual or local school: Language skills are absolutely central for learning in middle school. While local schools have to admit children of compulsory school age, regardless of their language level, not all secondary schools in Switzerland are equally good at accommodating newcomers who do not speak the national language.
Also, students entering local middle school in Switzerland not only need to learn the national language but at least one additional languages. Depending on where in Switzerland you are moving to, this could be French or German, rather than English. For example, in Basel students start learning French from grade 3 all the way through to secondary school. Private bilingual or international schools, on the other hand, might refuse admission if your child is not fully fluent in the school language (s).
While local schools around the main business hubs are used to integrating international school kids, be aware that incoming students are expected to assimilate and to adapt to the local school culture, not the other way round! Also, do not assume that all Swiss schools offer the same level of integration support for incoming students.
4. Curriculum differences
Before you make the move, consider the impact of a school change on the academic performance of your middle-schooler, especially if he has to content with a new language and a curriculum that is likely to be different from the one in his old school. Teaching methods and goals might also significantly differ. It is equally vital to fully understand what pathways and qualifications local or international schools offer and whether these are recognised in other countries.
5. School culture
Schools often mirror the values of a society and Switzerland is no exception. Your middle-schooler will have to find her feet in what could be a quite different school culture. Is your teenager prepared to embrace cultural norms that might differ from her own (and can you) ?
Read more on teenagers and school culture here: