International schools lead the way on community engagement


International schools really shine when it comes to community engagement, according to Susan Burton, former expat and Classlist’s CEO.

As international school families return to school, many are embarking on their expat journey for the first time. Excited and terrified, they are wondering how their children (and indeed themselves) will adapt to a new culture, language and friends.

My co-founder Clare and I have fond memories of our expat experiences in Bangalore and Brazil. The first few months took some adjustment, looking for a house. With a one year old daughter and sons aged five and seven, we all crammed into a single hotel room, eating chips and pizza for dinner on our bed most nights. Our first house had dodgy electrics with water leaking into the wiring. So dinner sometimes involved cooking by candle light on a camping gas stove.

Luckily we found our kids places at a great international school just outside Bangalore. However the long journey meant little opportunity to hang out in the school yard and connect with other parents. After a while a school bus was introduced and a micro parent community evolved around the bus stop – indeed we are still friends with these amazing families even after we returned to the UK and they headed back to Palo Alto.

Embracing the culture

There is something very special about international school communities. For instance, assignments don’t last long. Everything is new. Endless short-fuse decisions about schools, neighbourhoods, furniture, doctors, dentists and every other household item. You totally rely on existing trail blazers. And in turn after a few months become an expert, able to share intensely valuable knowledge with newcomers. Weekends are opportunities to pack in as many experiences as possible – you don’t want to miss out. And it’s not just about you: an important aspect of international schools is the culture of giving back to their host country.

Outstanding engagement

Out of the thousands of schools using Classlist, international schools stand out as having hugely active, thriving parent communities. We track parent engagement statistics across many types of school. International schools stand out as consistently having more events; attracting more volunteers, and having more folks contribute their wisdom online. Indeed looking at the “contributor consumer ratio”, which shows how broadly parents are involved in their online community, the normal, healthy range is between 10 – 15%. International schools score a whopping 32%!! That means almost a third of parents are actively engaged. Asking questions, solving problems, helping out. Doesn’t sound high? That’s double what we see in many leading schools across the UK.

Expat assignments are short and leaving parties always have that bitter-sweet tinge. Although from a mercenary perspective, new families can pick up plenty of bargains as leavers shed belongings they can’t take back or don’t need. It can be hard to let go – I still have a large box full of saris all these years later. We see Classlist’s marketplace, where parents trade items, is extremely busy for international schools. Whether it’s furniture, cars or even the occasional horse.

Giving back

The level of volunteering within international schools never ceases to impress me. My neighbour in Bangalore was ruthless in recycling. Always giving back as much as she could to others less fortunate than herself. Others worked tirelessly hosting cooking demonstrations, celebrating their culture and raising money to boot. And for the more energetic, organising sponsored marathons late into the night when it was cool enough to run.

International schools are one of the fastest growing segments for Classlist. It brings back wonderful memories to see that generosity, cultural sharing and desire to help others blossoming across the world.

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