Adapting: Education and International Schools in the Netherlands

By: Farrah Ritter

"Would you like some more chocolate milk?"

-blank stare-

"Sweetie, some more of this?"

-continue blank stare-

"I'm sorry- can you ask him what he'd like? I don't think he understands me". <------ me to my four year old regarding a classmate.

Classroom for Queen's Day
Classroom for Queen's Day


And so began the day I helped out at school for the first time. It was a day of festivities celebrating 'Queen's Day' and I was completely and totally useless. I remember thinking "Oh my god. If this is how I feel being here, how does my child?"

I have to admit- this is actually an improvement on where I've been when it comes to the boys' school. At first- the traditional Dutch school we enrolled our 2 year old twins (peuterspeelzaal) and and 4 year old completely overwhelmed me. Looking back- (we just hit the expat 6 month mark) I felt fairly comfortable with the peuterspeelzaal since they were all in the same class at the time and the size was much smaller. But now, with my oldest in the 'real school' setting at the ripe age of 4, I occasionally find myself bewildered with my ineptitude.

For a while, I struggled with the fact that I have three boys in school here in the Netherlands. My husband and I chose to forego the International school option because we thought at such a young age- it was best for them to just jump right in, however it never occured to me that I was going to have my own adaptations to make within the process. We live in a small city/village (that we love) but for the most part are the only Americans here. In the community overall I have done well- but with what's going on at school I tend to completely flake out.

I feel out of place.

I don't know how to help.

I worry about my 4 year old struggling, not knowing, being confused.

But they're doing just fine. They're picking up language and words that I don't understand- and while it causes me to stop and compute what they're saying- this is a positive thing for THEM and it isn't about ME. Above all, they're happy. They love their school and it makes life a little easier. Sure I might have missed the memo on the class field trip day- only to learn about it from a parent a day later- but those goof ups are less common now. They happened and I learned from them and now I know who to ask about what's going on since a 4 year old in any language isn't the most helpful when it comes to relaying vital informaiton.

At first I was too afraid to ask questions- to reach out and go to someone to tell me what I was missing. I didn't know what they needed in their lunches- 'fruit' time was an alien concept, and day after day my oldest came home with several items untouched in his lunchbox.

I finally got the nerve up to go into the classroom and help on that special day. I was astonished. There in a room with over 30 other kids, a teacher and a few other moms- I was the one out of place and not knowing where to jump in. I used to be a teacher- I knew the ins and out of education. I understood where I could assist and where I was needed. Here I couldn't even figure out if a child wanted more chocolate milk.

But in the process of this strange all-Dutch speaking school people make an effort. Their teachers are more than willing to cooperate and clarify questions and concerns that I might have- while pointing me in the direction of resources that might be helpful.

Choosing the right school is such a big deal to parents everywhere (expat or not). We often choose where we live based on the school for our kids- and to an expat it is almost too much to think about when taken into consideration along with every other detail. Some key things I've tried to remember:

  • Trust myself, trust my kids- and be willing to ask questions.
  • Don't give up until I'm clear.
  • Make sure people know who I am and that I might need some extra clarificaiton.
  • Be involved. The only way I'm going to learn about the school and feel more comfortable within it is to not be an outsider.


Overall I have had to remember that it's ok to make mistakes. I don't know their culture that well, so I'm learning. I adapt. It's what we as expats become masters of, right? Adaption? Perhaps I need to take a lesson from my boys who seem to be doing extremely well in that department.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingFarrah Ritter is an American expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: Twins + One and Everything Else... I have 2 year old twins and a 4 year old. We just packed up and moved overseas to try our hand at living in Europe. Parenting/humor/Europe travel included.
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Contest Comments » There is 1 comment

Mary Lawlor wrote 6 years ago:

Adapting was THE issue for me as a teen daughter in an expat military family that moved many times. I wrote about the experience (& my mother's as well) in "Fighter Pilot's Daughter." Mary Lawlor

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