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Reconnaissance

Soon after we
decided to take the plunge, we made our initial reconnaissance trip to Zurich.
We are relatively familiar with the city, having visited several times over the
past few years, but now we would be seeing it with different eyes. The
main goal of this trip was not to get a feel for the city we would be spending
the next few years exploring, but a more practical one: to look at prospective schools
for the children and, ideally, to make a decision. The children’s education was
our first priority and finding the right schools was (at least for me) a “make
or break” condition for moving. Finding a home would come next, since it would depend
to a large extent on where the school(s) would be located.

We decided to take
the two older kids with us on this day-trip. It might have been simpler logistically
to make the choice for them, but we wanted to involve them and also thought it would
help make the move more real. Notice I say “involve,” not “let them decide.” Even
though we made it clear to them from the beginning that we would be the ones
making the ultimate decision, it still proved to be a bit tricky. Eventually we
came to a good compromise.

We took off very
early on a Monday morning of a school-free week. The kids were very excited. It
was an adventure for them, but I think they also felt important to be part of this
trip and of the school search. We had made appointments to visit three
different bilingual schools that were highly recommended to us. Since we had decided
a few years ago that we wanted our children to pursue a bilingual (English-German)
education, we wanted to keep them in that system not only for reasons of
continuity, but also because we believe it is a solid education for them. So
even though there are plenty of good international/American (English-speaking) or
Swiss (German-speaking) schools in Zurich, we did not consider those.
The structure of
the Swiss school system – six years Primary School and six years High School (Gymnasium)
– is slightly different from that of the Austrian one – four years Primary/eight
years Gymnasium. For Alexia, the choice was clear – she goes to third grade
Primary. For Philip it is a bit more complicated, since he is currently in his
fifth year – already in Gymnasium in Austria. In Switzerland he has the choice
of either entering Primary School for one last year (sixth grade) or doing a
pre-Gymnasium preparatory class – at the bilingual Gymnasium.
The latter is, of course, much more rigorous than Primary School, but it has
the advantage that it would save him the tough Gymnasium entry exam one has to take
at the end of sixth grade. We tended to lean towards that option.
We toured all
three schools – two Primary and one Gymnasium – and got very good impressions
from all three. We also drove around a bit to get a feel for potential neighbourhoods.
Finally, we paid a visit to our good friends who live in Zurich and
Philip and Alexia were thrilled to see their kids. Needless to say, their presence
there is a major incentive for this move – for all of us.

On our journey
home, we talked about our impressions and preferences. I was surprised,
initially, to hear that the school both children liked the most was the
smallest of the three. They did not say it explicitly but we got the sense that
they liked the fact that it was cosy and “compact” enough for them to learn to get around
easily. It makes sense. New school, new environment – of course they will prefer
the one that’s more “manageable” for them.

The only problem
with that school is that it is very far from the areas where we would
look for a place to live. We much preferred the other Primary School we visited,
which was as good, but more conveniently located. For our eldest son, there was
also the issue of Primary School vs. Gymnasium on which he was very clear: he
did not want to go to Gymnasium yet. After having gone through the not-so-easy
Gymnasium transition once already and at a very young age, he realised that he was being
given the opportunity to take it a bit easier for a year – and he wanted to
take it. For once, he wanted to be in a school where he was not the youngest!
We could not argue with that. The move would be overwhelming enough and we did
not want to add to that by throwing him into a very challenging environment right
from the start. Alexia was thrilled to have her brother in the same school as
her, even for one year, and we thought this would also help make the transition
smoother for both of them. The convenience of having both older kids in one school
was less crucial in our decision, but a pleasant by-product.

In the end, we were
all happy with the compromise we reached. Philip gets to enjoy one hopefully less
intense year before entering a more demanding school; Alexia gets to go to the
same school as her brother; and we get to choose which Primary School that is.
They don’t get their first choice of school, but they do get a taste of the
value of negotiation J.

I would love to hear about your experiences choosing schools when moving abroad. Were your children involved in the process and/or the final decision?

Have a good week!

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