“Moving Families Well Is Extremely Important”

At Relocate Global’s recent Think Relocate Awards in London, the International School of London (ISL) won the 2019 Relocate Award for the School Providing Outstanding Relocation Support. The award recognized the school’s significant contribution to the successful relocation of learners, their families, as well as faculty members.

Claudine Hakim, who is Head of Admissions, Transitions, and External Relations at ISL, shares her expertise on how to support expats and why creating a sense of community and belonging for them is so important.

1. As winner of the 2019 Relocate Award for the School Providing Outstanding Relocation Support, how do you define “outstanding” relocation support?

The award was open to state, independent, and international schools. We received it because the judges felt that our school is dedicated to supporting its staff, students, and families — providing excellent outcomes for both students and parents, and demonstrating a genuine sensitivity to cultural differences.

The bottom line is quite simple: If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, everyone has a need to feel they belong and if this need is not met, individuals cannot function optimally. Therefore, we ensure a smooth transition for our students, families, and staff.

We also look at relocation support as supporting the whole journey — paying attention to pre-departure, settling in, as well as repatriation.

2. What are your key focus areas when it comes to providing support for a smooth transition and integration abroad?

We have a 360-degree focus when supporting our students, their families, and our staff, because every stage of the expat lifecycle has a critical part. Prior to arrival, we support families and staff in any way we can to alleviate the stress that comes with moving abroad. Moving families well is extremely important. The most vital thing is that they have a soft landing when they arrive and good support for the children. When the children are happy, the parents are happy. Support during their stay abroad is important too as the honeymoon period may quickly wear off.

An example is the 27 languages that we offer as part of our curriculum so that our students can maintain their cultural identity while abroad by being able to keep learning and speaking their native language.

Equally, planning for the next move and having a ‘good goodbye’ is vital.

3. You have been quoted saying: “We’re committed to making sure everyone in our community belongs”. How do you do this and why is it so important?

Relocating across the country or around the world can be an exciting time for any family, but the ongoing success of that transition frequently depends on the support and welcome from the new community. Moving to a new school and culture influences a child’s well-being and learning capacity. Our school’s community has a part to play in supporting the challenges whilst highlighting the positive aspects of being an expat. Children who are emotionally secure will adapt to school life faster, yet children can only feel balanced and secure if the key people in their lives feel settled and involved as well.

Regardless of whether one is a student, a parent, or a teacher, and regardless of whether one is moving or being left behind, turnover affects everyone in an educational community. Research by John Hattie clearly demonstrates that emotional safety and a sense of belonging are key to optimal learning.

Our ISL Crossroads Transitions Programme endeavors to support students, parents, and staff with their transitions to, from, and during their stay at ISL. Some examples of our activities include a dedicated transitions team, induction protocols, pre-arrival contact from the mother tongue teachers in the family’s own language, a dedicated individual to welcome and support new families throughout their transition, community information covering everything from understanding the school curriculum to finding a vet, hairdresser or driving lessons, cross-cultural work-shops, as well as social events and parent clubs.

Creating a sense of community and belonging through these kinds of initiatives and activities are crucial.

4. What is your take on peer-to-peer support within the expat context and the contribution it can make to better social integration abroad?

It plays a crucial role to successful acculturation and integration. Everyone thrives on connections and strong attachments. Therefore, we encourage this in our community and always seek to find other networks and opportunities for this to happen. It’s great to get people with a common interest to come together. Most people want affirmations from peers that have experienced similar things. Having a community where expats can bounce ideas off one another and have a safe space for exchange is extremely valuable.

5. What is the positive effect of well-balanced relocation support — and the negative effect when lacking?

In our case, the negative effect is turnover at schools, because this erodes the sense of safety and belonging, which is fundamental to educational success. On the positive side, well-balanced relocation support creates a positive experience overall, because the emotional well-being of expats is also taken care of. The honeymoon phase will pass for all expats and to have a support network that will hold them up when they face that dip will help them to bounce back and be happier and more productive. The new opportunities can be very exciting with each move.

6. You have over 15 years of experience in international education and a passion for inclusion. What drives your passion for this field of work?

It is our duty as educators to ensure that the well-being of our learners comes first. This can be achieved if their basic needs are met and they feel they belong in our community. The same applies to our staff and parents. This leaves us with the responsibility to ensure that we put initiatives in place to support our community. I truly believe the support should be provided beyond our school and schools should work together to ensure a smooth transition to each other’s schools. I am inspired by Doug Ota, Ruth Van Reken, and David Pollock who are experts in this field.

7. Finally, what food for thought do you have for global mobility and HR teams managing global employees and their families?

The most common reason for assignment failure is the negative reaction from the assignee’s spouse and children — according to research by INSEAD. The experience of the spouse and children is a critical element of a global employee’s success.

Even so, companies don’t provide spouses and families with adequate support — such as spouse interviews, spouse training initiatives or cross-cultural training. In fact, companies are doing less and less on this front — mainly due to budget and organizational challenges. In some instances, very important people in the company may receive additional support such as spouse support, but in most cases it’s just a lump-sum payment. There’s a real disconnect.

On an emotional level, no two people are the same and companies can’t meet the needs of everybody, but there needs to be support in place. Global employees and their spouses should be able to reach out to as many people as possible when they feel anxious or want to cross-reference with someone else. Global mobility and HR teams, therefore, need to facilitate this type of exchange.

Claudine Hakim International School of LondonAbout the Expert: Claudine Hakim is Head of Admissions, Transitions and External Relations at the International School of London (ISL) UK schools. She joined ISL Surrey in 2009 as one of the founding heads and is the leader of the award-winning Crossroads Transitions Programme. Claudine also heads the school’s Student Support Services. Having lived on three continents, she is passionate about fostering well-balanced and inclusive international communities. Claudine is a member of the ECIS Admissions Special Interest Committee and is on the Board of Safe Passage Across Networks. She holds a master’s degree in educational leadership and management, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and counselling.

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