International/American Schools Around the World
By contrast to the relatively homogenous community of the Australian school, the international/American schools had more diversity in nationality. They were used to a regular ebb and flow of students from around the world. But even they each had their own unique community and ambiance.
In Mexico, there was a strong influence and presence of the Mexican culture and of Spanish. In elementary/lower school, when we were in more advanced Spanish levels, we did half of our day in English and the other half in Spanish. I remember doing math, history, reading and other subjects in both languages. We learned global history but we also studied Mexican history – contemporary and ancient. We sang the Mexican national anthem and celebrated Mexican festivities and traditions. Even the school was mostly Americans and Mexicans. There were other nationalities, but far less than in other international/American schools I attended.
In the Philippines there were a lot of Americans and Filipinos, as well as quite a few other nationalities, from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America. However, in sharp contrast to the immersion in Mexico, there was little teaching of the local culture in the Philippines. Although the members of faculty were culturally diverse (including locals), there was no particular emphasis on teaching/transmitting the local culture to the students.
In France, the high school community was highly multicultural, with students and faculty from around the world. It was not unusual to hear 3-4 languages being spoken in the hallways, often in the same conversation. Like in Mexico and the Philippines, there was a great deal of respect for other cultures and traditions, but again the cultural immersion was handled differently. Although there were obligatory French classes, most of the immersion efforts came from individual teachers, who strived to teach their students about local culture, traditions and history.
It’s More Than Just Academics
My age in each location, as well as my cultural background, obviously colored each experience differently. I was aware of culture, race and ethnicity early on because of my name and background, so it was never something I could ignore. As I grew older, I paid closer attention to how culture (local and international) was dealt with and how that impacted interactions – both inside and outside school walls.
Over time I learned it really came down to individuals and how they chose to immerse themselves or not in their host country. There were many who chose to step outside of their expat bubble and really learn the language and explore the city/country as locals. But there were also others who remained closed off, never learning the language, only attending expat events or typically expat restaurants, ordering everything through embassy stores etc.
Thankfully my parents always wanted us to learn languages, to understand different cultures and to think outside the expat bubble. They didn’t want us to be spoilt, arrogant or out of touch with the world we were living in. A lot of the cultural education and immersion in our host countries was thanks to them. They made sure we visited different parts of the countries we lived in, tasted local foods, learned about local traditions and saw beyond the typical expat experience.
I will be forever grateful that my parents opened our minds to all the different cultures we lived in. They taught us to look beyond (but not disregard) color, race, privilege, language and any other ‘barriers’. Their way of teaching us about the world made us into curious, well-rounded and accepting individuals. I realize now that is the greatest education I could have ever received.