Some privileged expatriates may get a “look-see” visit to their new location prior to accepting a posting - depending on a company's, or government's, generosity. If you are one of them, the time you have for your visit will never seem like enough, but a bit of judicious homework and planning can make you feel less like a well-spun hamster by the end of the day.
Diligently research the list of international schools in the city or country- via the GSGI list (including those not deemed eligible for a full write-up by the national editor) or any you discover we’ve inadvertently overlooked (let us know). Then contact all potential schools of interest on your list to make appointments to visit and preferably meet the heads/principals during your stay. Even if there is only one international school in your new location, it is vital that you pay that all-important visit: it is this which will either make you eagerly anticipate your new posting, or will send you scurrying off to check out boarding or home-schooling options.
A word of caution: many popular international schools have waiting lists, so as soon as you get a whisper of where your potential posting will be, make enquiries quickly. Some companies favour a certain school and will encourage their employees to utilise it, but as different schools meet the needs of different children and parents usually have their own educational priorities, check out as many feasible options as you can. If you are living in a large congested city and want to minimise travel time, the choice of school may well determine where you set up house.
Apart from getting the low-down on schools from expatriates you know within the company, also contact fellow countrymen within the community you are going to via local expatriate clubs, accompanying spouses groups and chambers of commerce. During or before your visit, ask the school admissions office for the names and phone numbers of other parents from your own country, then (ever so politely) grill those parents as to how their children have adjusted, what activities they are involved in and what the school’s strengths and weaknesses are from their perspective. Bear in mind that everyone has his own little biases - especially when it comes to education- so ultimately follow your own instincts and our tips.
Naturally, when sussing out a school, you will apply all the normal common sense criteria that you would use when seeking a school in your home country. Apart from scrutinising the physical facilities and educational resources, when it comes to international schools, savvy parents need to add a few extras to their checklist.