international school

Delayed Visas, Culture Shock, and Distance Learning: The beginning of a new adventure

Delayed Visas

My husband, in Saudi Arabia, with his Iqama. The aquisition of this document is a significant step in getting us there.

We were supposed to be in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia by August 12. However, it’s early September and I remain at home with our 13-year old son awaiting visas. A week ago my husband departed for Saudi Arabia to secure proper documentation to bring us over. We have no idea when we will be able to fly.

The 24th of August marked the first day of our new school in Jeddah while schools locally began two weeks prior. Since the time-line of our visas was unknown, we made the decision to enroll our 13-year old in a local middle school.

Culture Shock (In the U.S.A.)

My son looks up at me with wide eyes in disbelief. He holds in his hand a bright orange piece of paper titled “Weapons Agreement." “It even tells you what items are considered to be weapons, like a pen!” he muses.  As we’re processing the contents of this friendly coloured paper, a 7th grade boy, eyes brimming with tears, walks into the office with his skateboard: all four wheels have been stolen. Our son looks at us with a look that clearly questions our judgment of bringing him here.

He adds his signature to the orange piece of paper and then flounders as everyone rises to say the pledge of allegiance. An 8th grader appears and escorts our son to his classes.

Skyler comes home with questions like “What is a quart and is the plural of it spelled with a ‘z’? And why aren’t they using the metric system?” His mechanical pencil is stolen the first day he uses it. He is stunned by a heated conversation between a boy and a girl and even more shocked when, following the departure of the girl, the boy says, “Yeah, she’s my ex”. 

Skyler’s accustomed to playing a full soccer game with this peers after lunch. However, here no one does that. They rush to eat and than hang out for a few minutes before returning to class.

Our son manages but he’s eager for the processing of our visas and the return to what he considers “normal education” 

Distance Learning

So where does this leave me as a teacher of Chemistry, Physical Science, Robotics, and Basic Applications? Well, I’m engaging in a “distance learning” experience. All of my lesson plans are submitted to a substitute. Instructions, discussion, and assignments for the students are posted on Schoology, a “learning management system” that works quite well. Each day I post daily activities and students upload their assignments as well as responses to the discussions.

Thus, I manage my classes from afar and it’s going as well as it could, I guess. I can't worry too much about it because I'm doing all I can do.  Being 13000 km and 9 hours in time difference away is, indeed, interesting. My thoughts and posts and classes are taking place on a Thursday while I'm living in Wednesday. It's a bit brain bungling. I wake up to read what my students have done and there's nothing I can do to rectify any problems that occurred during the school day. I just have to work with what happened. For example, I woke up one Friday and all the robotics students posted that they couldn't begin building their robots as planned because there weren't enough parts. In fact, they couldn't even build ONE ROBOT for the entire class because there weren't enough parts. So, I momentarily panicked thinking that there aren't robot kits as promised (supposedly one per student) and that the robot program couldn't work. However, after communicating with my sub (who taught the class last year) it became apparent that he had been sick and HIS sub didn't look in the closet to find the robot kits and the students were trying to build robots from the spare parts bin!!! Oh well. So, they began building on Monday instead of Thursday. I did have a good laugh about that one though!

Through their discussions and posts I’m slowly getting to know my students a little bit.  I Skype regularly with a colleague with whom I share a course with. Thankfully she’s a collaborator and we’re already working as a team despite our distance! I can’t wait to meet her, other colleges, and my students in person.

Thus begins our adventure! We are looking forward to the arrival of visas, flight arrangements, and meeting our new school family in Jeddah!

Small School Benefits

My son and I in front of the school.  The wonderful bike paths here in the Netherlands allow us to roller blade  anywhere . However, he chose the school.  Partly, I think, because he  really  likes it there.  

My son and I in front of the school.  The wonderful bike paths here in the Netherlands allow us to roller blade anywhere. However, he chose the school.  Partly, I think, because he really likes it there.  

Today we had a prospective student visit the school.  By the end of the day she had determined that she “was definitely coming”.  When students visit the school, they always choose our small, family-like environment over the larger international schools in the area (there are three within a one hour radius of us).  I wonder why they consistently forgo the impressive facades, extensive course offerings, and large social scene for our little school.  So, I’ve been thinking about it.  There are clearly some benefits to being in a class of ten students.  And when I say class, I mean the entire grade.  I think I can summarize as follows:

Participation in School Sports

Basically, everyone in middle and high school participates in all the sports.  Even if you’re not into athletics you are recruited to the teams because it’s part of the school culture to be a team member.  No one is excluded.  Of course, this also means that we aren’t the strongest teams on the courts and fields, however, true team spirit is developed as the students struggle for every win and fight hard in every loss.  The students bond and because everyone is playing, it creates a real sense of unity at the school.

Family Atmosphere

I’ve overheard our students explain to prospective students, “Well, we are a family here.  We all know each other and we all care about each other”.   There is amazing acceptance of differences, frequent offers and acts of students helping each other out, and genuine celebration of successes and sorrow for losses.  A couple of years ago we had a student, who has returned to his home country, who really struggled in science and then was absent due to an illness for a long period of time.  One student came up to me and said she’d be willing to stay after school and do all the labs with him that he had missed. Daily I see students reaching out to each other through little acts of kindness to long-term committed service to a friend in need.  It is really cool to see.  When I mention the words "family environment" to prospective parents they all nod vigorously adding, "Oh, I can feel that!"

Global Mindedness.

Many of the other bigger international schools still carry a very American cultural high school experience.  However, at our little school no one nationality dominates.  The students truly come from all over the world and are fairly represented.  It is so commonplace to have friends with entirely different family traditions, thus broadening acceptance of and appreciation of other cultures.  In the classroom this brings a vast diversity in perspective and approaches to learning.  As a teacher, I delight in the different mindsets and I see the world literally opening up to my students. 

Personalized Education.

For me as a teacher, this is one of my favorite aspects of the school.  First of all, there are almost no discipline issues.  And with such small class sizes, I can truly attend to the individual needs of each of my students. 

For example, today, in one class, a student was out for illness, a learning support teacher aided one student, and the rest of the students were working independently on their science fair project.  There was one student who had just not grasped the “big idea” of her project, was struggling to comprehend some of the research articles and generally needed some help.  I was basically able to sit down with her for the entire block and work 1:1 with her.  Afterwards she beamed and exclaimed, “Thank you so much.  Now I get it.  Now I really get it”.   And that feels good.

Equally, I am able to provide accelerated material for those students eager for more.

If a student wants a course not offered, we have a very structured access to online courses – some ridiculous amount of course offerings, like 50 or so.  I know of students taking IB Economics and IB Mandarin through the online program. 

An amazing accomplishment is that we have a 100% success pass rate for the IB diploma.  There are students who receive the diploma who probably wouldn’t have been admitted to other IB programs.  However, because of the individualized attention, they succeed at our school.

All of our students are accepted into colleges, universities and other programs of their choice. They move on to have productive and successful lives. 


Our school is a joyful place.  The students are upbeat and the teachers are cheerful.  The other day a new transfer student said, “I like it here because the teachers are so happy and they always smile at me”. 

Choosing A School

A small school environment is not necessarily the best decision for everyone.  However, if you’re moving to a new place and considering several schools, it might be worth your while to have your children visit the schools and allow them to be part of the decision making process.  It may take you on an unexpected and wonderful journey!