Filling in the Gaps:

Ideas on Home-Country Supplements to Curriculum

Collected by Bob Pittman

Taking your children overseas and still meeting their educational needs in such a way as to prepare them to return to their passport country can sometimes be difficult. Each family and each country are different and the parents need to be the ones to take responsibility to prepare their children for their choice for post-secondary education. In an attempt to help families do this, a list of ideas has been compiled. While returning to one’s original country seems like home to the parents, it feels strange to the TCK. Because of this, we often use the term “passport country” instead of “home country.”

Assignment Considerations

Co-workers ― It may be helpful to look for an assignment where there are others from the same home country. This way, families can work together to help meet special needs and may even be able to get a teacher from the home country to come help.

Home-country Schools ― It may be helpful to look for an assignment in a location where there is a home-country school.

Distance from Home Country ― If the assignment is not too far from the home country, it would facilitate more frequent visits to the home country.

Part of Job ― It would be worth asking the entity to make supplementing the schooling option part of one’s assignment.

Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue Review ― one family, whose children study in the national language, goes over the lessons of the day with the children in their mother tongue, and then the children do the homework in the national language. This helps to build technical vocabulary in the mother tongue while helping the students to understand the material. It also gives parents the opportunity to give the Christian perspective on the non-Christian curriculum.

Mother-Tongue Reading ― One family has asked family and supporters to send books and magazines in the mother tongue at the appropriate reading level of their children. This helps to build vocabulary, familiarize the child with home-country literature, folktales, culture, cultural values, and even current events. Often the embassy will have books you can borrow. Sometimes comic books in the mother tongue are helpful and have a high interest level for kids as well as a vocabulary at their level.

Schools could be asked to allow the student to read a book in their mother tongue and write a book report in English for the teacher in fulfillment of class assignments. Parents could check the report to ensure it was an accurate report on the book. The teacher could evaluate the written report in English.

Mother-Tongue Videos ― Asking family and supporters to send videos in the mother tongue would also help students in hearing the language. Well-chosen videos could also familiarize the student with history, art, culture, and many other areas from the home country. If the family sent family home videos, it could also help the student to know their family in their home country. News reports from the home country can also be very helpful:


Holidays ― It is important to establish some family traditions. Some of these may center on “passport country” holidays. Thanksgiving for those from Canada and the US is one that often slides by without much notice. This is an opportunity not only to inform your children about these holidays and their significance, but also to affirm their cultural identity. Even holidays that may not be appreciated, such as Halloween, can be discussed so that when students return to their passport country, they are not totally ignorant of them. It also gives parents an opportunity to discuss why they do not want to celebrate the holiday.

Learning Money ― Parents are encouraged to bring currency from their home country for their children to become familiar with. A number of methods could be used to familiarize the children with the money. For example, they may “play store” or give the kids money each week to “buy” snacks from the parents.

Other Educational Opportunities

Summer School ― One Korean family found a Korean school in the capital city of the country where they worked. They were able to make arrangements for their children to attend during the summer. They even found a Christian Korean family who allowed their children to live with them during this time.

Saturday School ― Many Korean families send their children to Korean school on Saturday (or after school).

Home Visits ― Often it is possible for older students to go to their passport country for short (1-2 months) visits. Some are even able to attend school during this time. Special requests should be made to ask that reasonable expectations be placed on the student. Perhaps the student would not take tests or at least not be graded. Learning the language and culture are the important things, not earning credit.

Last Two Years of High School ― In some cases, returning to the passport country for the last two years of high school may be enough for the student to fit back into that culture.

An Extra Year ― It may be helpful for the student to plan to take an extra year in the passport country after high school (possibly not even attending school) to fill in some of the gaps they may have.

Boarding in Home Country ― In some cases it may work out for high school students to board in their passport country, either in a boarding school or with friends or family. However, a commitment must be made by the parents to have good communication with the student (e-mail, texting, and Skype are great for this) and to ensure a good support network for the student. It would even be better if the parents were on furlough the year before this so a child could get some of the adjustments taken care of with the support of the parents.

Correspondence Courses ― It may be that a student could supplement his or her school program by taking well-chosen correspondence courses in the mother tongue. (A list is kept in the left column > Home Study Programs.) Many schools will help facilitate this.

Sub-School ― If there are enough students, it may be possible to develop a sub-school within a school. Certain subjects could be taught in the mother tongue specific to the home country, while other subjects could be taken with the entire school. For example, history and language could be taught in the mother tongue in the sub-school, while mathematics and specialty courses like PE, art, and music could be taken with the entire school.

University Entrance

AP Exams ― Many non-American schools will recognize American AP exams as qualifying for university entrance if the scores are sufficiently high. (See Appendix 15—The American Advanced Placement Program and British University Entrance Requirements.)

Comparable Schools ― Many universities will recognize the acceptance in a “comparable” university in another country for their entrance standards. For example, if a student from a school with an American curriculum applied to an American college or university and was accepted, they could use that acceptance as leverage to be accepted in their passport-country university.

SATs ― The American Scholastic Aptitude Test is often helpful in gaining admission to other national educational systems. This is also important for American high school students, especially those attending non-American or non-accredited secondary schools.

Foreign Student Admission Standards ― At least two years ahead, ask the university what their foreign student admissions policies are. Dealing with someone familiar with foreign student admissions may be easier than dealing with someone who only accepts students from within the country. It may be helpful to ask for the head of the admissions department, too, rather than dealing with a clerk who is only familiar with applications from within the country.

Financial Aid ― It is important to check into the residency requirements for financial aid. It would also be important to see if there are any special exceptions for residents living overseas.

Entrance Requirements ― It is good to check on entrance requirements several years before anticipated graduation. It may be that required courses could be taken as correspondence courses or on furlough.

Entrance on Probation ― It may be possible to request entrance on probation. Ask the school to give the student a year trial, based on their unusual circumstances.

Ask Others ― Ask several people. Don’t always take one person’s word for things. Ask others who have done this what worked for them and what to be careful of. Especially try to find those who had a successful re-entry experience. One person’s experiences may be very different from another’s. Try to find a way to share successful experiences with others from your home country so each family doesn’t have to start all over.

Accentuate the Positive ― Granted there are some drawbacks from living overseas. But there are some real tangible advantages too! When applying to universities, don’t be hesitant to point these out. The student may be fluent in another language. For those from non-English speaking countries, often fluency in English is a real asset. They certainly have many experiences that will enrich the school they attend. They will normally get along with others very different from themselves.

Social Concerns

Dating ― Many TCKs do not have much experience with dating. Often when they do, it is very “safe.” This can be an area of concern when they return to their passport country. Dating customs in the passport country may be very different from those where the students grow up. One suggestion would be to ask a trusted church youth worker or friend to advise.

Driver’s License ― Driving in one’s passport country may be very different from driving in the field assignment. Also, not having a driver’s license for a teen-age boy can be a real blow socially and in trying to get work.

School Programs

Interface (Hillcrest International School, Indonesia) ― A program whereby students go to their passport country between their 11th grade and 12th grade years of high school. The program seeks to meet the following goals:

Mother Tongue Program (Ukarumpa International School, PNG) ― This is a program in both elementary and high school. Parents come into the elementary school during the school day to offer instruction in language and culture in the mother tongue. This then is a part of the school program for these students. In the high school, the MTS course is taken as a class and sometimes replaces other requirements.

Release Time ― Schools may be open to giving some release time for parents of non-Americans to offer other courses (besides language and culture) to their children. They may, for example, allow history (or social studies) of the non-American to be substituted for US History or may be open to allowing expressive arts to be taught, if that is important.

School within a School ― Schools could offer two curriculums of two different nationalities in the same school. Some courses that were sufficiently similar (e.g. math, art, music) could be combined. Courses that were quite different (e.g. language, history) could be taught separately. The ideal would be to get teachers from the home country to teach these courses. Co-curricular activities could be combined as well as things like chapel. (Consider RFIS, UIS, Faith Academy Manila.)

Combined Curriculum ― Sometimes a curriculum can be modified to meet the needs of several nationalities. RFIS does this using the British IGCSE and the US Advanced Placement (AP) program.

On-line SchoolNorthStar Worldwide offers a British curriculum, and NorthStar Canada offers a Canadian curriculum. These could be used to offer a complete package to a student individually or within a school or to supplement what is offered within a school. [*We would welcome information on other non-American online schools that are available.]

Substitute Assignments ― Ask the school if they would let the families substitute assignments. (For example, if students are asked to memorize US Presidents or states and capitals, they may allow a non-American to memorize their national leaders or provinces and capitals.)

Liaison ― Let the minority group(s) choose a representative to be a liaison or advocate for them with the school.

National and International School Gaps

Evaluate and Compare the school syllabus with the passport-country system to identify the gaps that need to be filled. One of the most obvious gaps is in the area of Social Studies. But in some of the developing countries, it may include things like technology. Perhaps sports would be an area where parents could help their children learn the sports that are common in their passport country but not the host country.

Spiritual ― Usually the spiritual aspect is missing from secular international schools. Many would like us to think that this can be separated from the academic program, but it can’t be. When the biology class talks about evolution, they are teaching that creation did not take place. When the social studies class talks about man solving all their problems, they are implying there is no need for God. These are often very subtle, but they have an impact on our children. Parents need to not only ground their children on the Bible, but also talk about what they are learning in and out of the classroom at school. One parent very specifically prayed over his children every morning that God would protect them from error.

Careers and Job Training

Job Experience ― Because it is difficult for young people to get jobs overseas and often even illegal with the visa they have, creative means need to be considered. One parent went to the school and asked if the school had a job his son could do as a “volunteer.” The parent then paid the son a “salary” for the job.


Multi-national Field Education System (FES) ― In the case where there are many nationalities using an FES program, the time spent together could be done in the national language.

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