Friday, February 19, 2010

The First Day of School

I'm linking up with Flashback Friday today...visit Mylestones to read more posts on this week's theme-school days.

On the last day of August in 2003 we touched down at Heathrow Airport.

Our new home. (England, not Heathrow).

Daughter1 was 15 and entering grade 10. Daughter 2 would be turning 13 in less than two weeks and was entering grade 8. We collected our luggage and located our driver who deposited us in the driveway of our new home.

A home our children had never seen in a country they had never set foot in before that day.

Our relocation agent was supposed to meet us at the house but there was a mix up and another agent had grabbed our keys by mistake so he was delayed.

We didn’t know this. We had no phone.

So we stood in the driveway and wobbled. Husband recognized his three girls were teetering on the brink of something that would not be pretty so we checked into the local hotel.

The girls promptly fell asleep and dreamed that their parents had not taken them an ocean away from everything cherished and familiar.

We woke up the next day in what felt to us like the middle of the night.

Everyone had a stomach full of dancing kangaroos.

We were tired yet wired.

We were headed to our first day of school.

We passed thru the gates and my children had their first glimpse of the International School from which they would both later graduate.

We didn’t know that then.

We’re only here for 3 years. Tops.


Kangaroos are doing the polka now.

The school is housed in a former manor house and it is beautiful. We step into the lobby and are greeted by the very nice receptionist. Almost immediately someone arrives to whisk daughter1 away. She needs to take ‘just a little French assessment’ before they can give her a schedule.

Mom is reassuring.

assessment =20 minutes max, right?

The examiner said she'd be back in two hours.

Kangaroos are doing the can can now.

Daughter1 shoots mom the evil eye.

Meanwhile, back in the red room...

Yes. There is a red room.

It is indeed red. And gorgeous.

I want to go to school here.

Or at least have coffee in the red room.

Oh, I will have coffee in the red room.

Hundreds of coffees over the span of the next five years.

We are escorted over to the middle school wing. Daughter2 is led away to find her locker, a classroom and fifty new best friends. The secretary inquires of mom and dad as to whether or not daughter2 will be going pony trekking because if she is pony trekking we need to pay. Today.

Pony trekking?

That sounds like riding ponies.

Daughter2 hasn’t done that unless you count the occasional birthday party.

No, this is pony trekking.

As in riding horses in the Black Mountains.

In Wales.

With the rest of the 8th grade.

Oh, well, yes, if the whole 8th grade is going yes of course.

Right. You’ll need to pay.

We have no bank account.

Can we pay in US dollars?

35 phone calls later the conversion rate has been calculated.

Okay, she's good to go. Next week.

For three days.

She’ll need a sleeping bag.

No problem-we have four.

They are in our shipment.

Which is still at sea.

Note to self-buy sleeping bag.

First learn to drive.

Then locate the nearest Target.

That would be America.

That’s a problem.

Mom and Dad leave the middle school office in a stupor.

What have we done?

Where is Wales?

Is that England?

Is a three day pony trekking trip dangerous?

The Black Mountains sound ominous.

Mom returns to office…idiotically inquires as to whether there are chaperones.

Oh yes. The teachers.

Alrighty then.

Meet daughter1 in highschool office.

!!! Mom!!!

!!!I had to write an essay!!!

!!!In French!!!

Daughter1 throws daggers with her eyes.

Mom can see the daggers behind the tears that are threatening.

Principal appears. Principal is nice. Oh so very very nice.

A warm smile. A gift. Principal is also new but has mostly lost the dazed look common to the newly arrived. He hasn’t lost his sense of compassion.

He never does.

He calls to a girl in the hall.

She’s an Aussie.

Show daughter1 around please.

Sure. She smiles.

Aussies are happy.

I think it’s the weather.

Daughter1 is led off to the lockers and to meet her classmates.

From no less than 40 countries.

And to wonder what in the world has happened to her life???

We wrap up the paperwork and the tour and the organizing.

Daughter2 knows she is going to love it.

I’m going pony trekking!

With 50 of my new best friends!


Daughter1 puts on her brave face.

And cries herself to sleep.

More than once.

And misses her big American highschool.

And the place she called home.

New friends call.

Shopping in London? Yes please.

Time passes. Tears stop. Smiles grow big.

Home is here.

Living in a foreign country is educational in every sense of the word.
We spent an enormous chunk of time in this school building.
A safe place. Friendly faces. A home away from home.
An entire world was opened up to us in this school.
Friendships were born.
For mom and dad too.
Trips were taken.
Art in Berlin and Barcelona.
Spanish in Spain.
French in France.
Theatre in the Czech Republic.
Senior trips to Turkey and Cyprus.
Sporting events in Paris, Cairo, Antwerp, The Hague, Munich and Frankfurt.
Music performances, plays, ceremonies.
People moved in and people moved out.
Every. single. year.
A place to learn not only maths and history.
But also life.

Among people who look and speak and dress and think differently than we do.
Among people who laugh and cry, work and play, study and travel.
Among people who love their families and their pets and their home countries.
People like us.
Your children thank you.
For shaking up their world.

You cannot live in an international community and not be changed by it. Some days are hard. Some days are more than a little bit frustrating. Some days are completely amazing.

Some days you cannot believe how your world spun differently forever after that first day of school.


  1. I loved reading this and I'm so glad everything worked out well for your girls!

  2. I loved your Flashback Friday photos and the wonderful memories of this season in your life. How exciting! I also follow a blogger who is living in Hong Kong with her family and writes about adjusting to life there. How fun.


  3. Now I'm hoping you're daughter is going to start posting something for Flashback Fridays! I'd love to hear her tell the same story.

  4. Joyce,

    Oh how I can relate on so many levels. I loved reading the beginning of your journey and knowing that we felt the EXACT same way. Your girls were given so many wonderful opportunities through the International school they went to and have become the lovely young ladies they are because of it. How wonderful!

    Now we are in the middle of reversing our move and you know all too well how that feels. I'm right there... 3 weeks out to the big return. My head is spinning and I look forward to being on the other side soon.

    It's good to be blogging again however sporadic it may be... :-)


  5. WOW..what a beautiful journey!

  6. What an adventure! Sounds fun and scary all at the same time!

  7. Wonderful memories! We went through some of this in reverse when we came back from Uganda. Children 4-6 adjusted well. Children 1-3 ... well, I dried quite a few of their tears that year. But they did eventually adjust and they were eventually grateful for doing what we knew was best for them.

  8. You are such a great writer Joyce! You should write a book!
    So poetic and beautiful. Full of emotion. Loved it!

  9. What an adventure. I love the pic of your daughter graduating. Her smile says it all! Loved your Friday Flashback!

    until next time... nel

  10. Oh I just really enjoyed reading this. Wonderful wonderful. :)

  11. I love the way you write in snippets, Joyce, not belaboring any particular part of the particular story you are telling. You give the most important details which makes it so interesting. I love reading your writing! :-)
    And I was so glad to read that your daughters made the transition to their new school and country without too much difficulty.

  12. Fascinating!
    You have a lovely family!

  13. Thank you for dragging me to England! I loved this post. I wrote a response.

  14. I love this post and the peek you gave us into your world in Wales. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Oh! What a 'memory lane' you wrote also for me. I just have the same recolections and also loved the Manor House/School. Wonderful memories and happy days knowing your children are safe and happy in such a wonderful enviroment... friendly and caring. It was great to know that just as some people looked after us...then,we also did the same for the new arrivals. Thanks for writing and sharing.

  16. This post made me excited and nervous about the possibility of our next move being overseas.

  17. LOVED this. Except reverse countries and put me in the US on my first day of school. It was just as foreign, and the kangaroos were there as well.