Adapting Educational Strategies for Immigrant Families in Europe: A Story of Challenges and Triumph

By Anika Brain & Toma Sokolova
Anika Brain is the co-founder of Bilingval, PlaySEND, and Brainika. She recently moved to Europe and, through this interview with Tamara Sokolova, shares essential strategies and experiences to help immigrant families adapt to new educational systems. Tamara Sokolova is the founder and visionary behind the Russian Math School. She has extensive experience in preparing children for advanced studies and competitive exams, making her insights invaluable for parents navigating the European educational landscape.

You can watch the full interview in Tamara's native language (Russian) with auto-captions in any language below or read our short review here
Choosing the Right Location

When Tamara decided to move to Portugal, it wasn't just a change of scenery; it was a strategic decision based on the availability of international schools offering English instruction. The year 2022 saw a surge in demand for these schools, making it essential for Tamara to adjust her expectations and act swiftly.

I realized early on that we needed to research and reach out to schools ahead of time. The competition was fierce, and the spots filled up quickly,” she recalls, emphasizing the importance of early planning for other parents.

Embracing Educational Differences

Tamara’s children were accustomed to the Russian educational system, which focuses heavily on rote memorization. The European approach, emphasizing independent learning and project-based work, was a significant shift.

At first, my children found it challenging. The emphasis on research activities and practical applications was new to them,” Tamara explains. “But within six months, they adapted and began to appreciate this method of learning. It taught them skills that are crucial for real-life problem-solving.

The Crucial Role of Language Proficiency

One of the first hurdles Tamara’s family faced was language. Moving to a country where both English and Portuguese were necessary for daily interactions and schooling was daunting.

Starting language learning early was key,” she advises. “My children had to become proficient in both languages, which was initially challenging but ultimately facilitated their integration.”

Adjust Expectations and Provide Support

Parents should lower their expectations and focus on creating a supportive environment. The transition period can be tough, and children might not meet previous academic standards immediately. It's vital to be their safe haven during this time. Maintaining native language skills is also important to prevent regression and ensure bilingual proficiency.

Motivating Your Child

Motivating children in a new educational system can be tricky. Tamara suggests setting short-term goals and rewards for younger children while helping teenagers understand long-term career prospects.

Sharing personal experiences and involving mentors can significantly motivate them,” she adds.

Fostering Social Connections

Social connections are another pillar of successful adaptation. “My children found friends through school and a local Russian weekend school. These social interactions were crucial for their adjustment,” Tamara notes. Encouraging similar opportunities for your children can help them build a supportive network.

Preparing for Career Orientation

Early exposure to various activities helps children discover their interests and strengths. “It’s not about pushing them to choose a profession immediately,” Tamara explains. “Instead, it’s about understanding different types of work and finding what they are passionate about.”

Handling the Possibility of Returning Home

For parents considering a return to their home country, Tamara advises maintaining the child’s native language skills and academic preparedness. “Consider additional tutoring or dual education programs to cover both the host and home country curricula,” she recommends.

Practical Tips for Parents

1. Language Proficiency: Prioritize early and consistent language learning.
2. Adjust Expectations: Be patient and understanding; immediate academic success may not be realistic.
3. Regular Communication: Stay in touch with teachers and school staff to monitor progress.
4. Encourage Social Interactions: Facilitate opportunities for social interactions.
5. Support Their Interests: Encourage hobbies and activities that provide a sense of normalcy and comfort.

Tamara Sokolova’s experiences offer a roadmap for parents embarking on the journey of adapting to a new educational system in Europe. Her practical advice, grounded in personal experience, underscores the importance of language proficiency, adjusted expectations, and a supportive home environment.

As you navigate this challenging but rewarding journey, remember to be patient with your children and yourself. Creating a nurturing environment, both academically and socially, will help your child thrive in their new educational setting. Wishing all parents the best of luck and resilience as they embark on this new chapter.

For more details, you can watch the full interview in Tamara's native language (Russian) with auto-captions in any language here

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