On Saturday during the Unconference, a group of us had quite an interesting conversation regarding International Schools, and the social implications they have as well as the transnational net that they build. International Schools are usually private, English speaking schools set up across the globe, they usually follow the International Baccalaureate curriculum or other English speaking curriculums such as A levels or Advanced Placement Classes. In most cases, they harbour a tight knit community of expatriates and children of Diplomats who move around the globe from International School to International School – In my personal experience, around 75% of the students at my school were expatriates. In an article published by the UNESCO Institute for Educational Planning, they described the emergence of International Schools lying in the need to form a schooling not available through national curriculums, that is schools which provided an ‘International Education’.

Historically, International schools emerged in the mid-late 19th century, mostly for the children of Diplomats who were living abroad. The school I personally attended in Brazil was called Fundaçao Anglo-Brasileira de Educaçao e Cultura (Anglo-Brazilian foundation for education and culture), more than a school it was also a cultural centre in which expats could communicate in English and build a somewhat isolated international community, which basically lived their lives as if they were still in the U.K. rather than in Brazil. With the creation of the International Baccalaureate in 1968 there was now a more or less formalised curriculum for International Schools, one which although highly flexible for teachers in different countries, was centred around building a global mindset. When you attend international school, although your own nationality remains deeply important personally (especially when put in a context where everyone comes from a different place), nationalism is not something which is perpetrated by the school itself. There are no national anthems, there is no national flag, the curriculum is focused on ‘Global History’ rather than the history of the country the school is set up on, and the language is English. In one way or another, students in International Schools somewhat loose their national identities, as they slowly transition to a ‘global’ identity.

But what are the social implications of International Schools? For one, International Schools are educating and building a transnational network of elites. There is mom definitely an issue of class, as International schools are not only costly but sometimes not open to residents which are not expatriates. Most of the time, if you attend and International School and meet someone who has attended even if it’s all the way across the globe, chances are you have a mutual friend. It is a tight knit community, woven by things such as Model United Nations and international sporting events, and in some way or another, the experience of growing up somewhere you are not actually ‘from’. Moreover, the curriculum taught in Intentional Schools remains somewhat Eurocentric. I barely got to learn about Brazilian history (the country where I was living in) but have written more essays than I can count on Russia, the United States, England and France. Does ‘International Education’ mean a Western or European Education? and if so, if ‘International’ the right terms for it, or does it perpetrate an Eurocentric ideal in which even in the International, the Global South remains forgotten?

I cannot fit into this blogpost all of the ideas that I have regarding this topic, or my experiences and opinions. Don’t get me wrong, I loved attending International School, and it has without a doubt made me more accustomed to and also curious about different cultures, nationalities and identities. I believe that after 150 years of the inception of International Schools, they are now most definitely a relevant topic of analysis for Transnational History.  The effect these international networks have had on students, as well as the experience of being removed from a ‘national’ framework to an ‘International’ one can help historians map the impacts of globalisation through the 20th century, and also question, what is truly ‘International’.

A Transnational History of International Schools

One thought on “A Transnational History of International Schools

  • March 9, 2020 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Ana, thank you so much for writing this blog post! I really enjoyed the conversation we had on Saturday about international schools. The thing that I found really interesting about this was the universality of our experiences. The school I went to took place was situated in a completely different context to yours. I went to King George V School in Hong Kong, and as whilst I was there, I always felt like my own contexts were certainly unique and different to other schools. For me, it seemed like that particular Asian pressure to succeed permeated everything we did. We studied the International Baccalaureate and European History, and a lot of my classmates were expatriates (or held foreign passports) – and yet it still felt like we were ‘typical’ Hong Kong students. Several years on, after looking back at my education and talking to other international school students, it feels like my experiences weren’t that unique after all. To my mind, international schools across the globe are bound together by a mixture of stable and unstable forces. Students don’t quite fit into their home or host cultures; they are sort of in between national and cultural containers, so they feel unstable and ‘unsituated’. Yet at the same time, class functions as an element of stability that binds these schools together. International schools are typically seen as a kind of privilege to attend, and those that do attend them usually belong to upper middle class families. Even Kim Jong Un studied the International Baccalaureate in Geneva! So, in some ways, this element of prestige unifies the network and allows this sort of ‘unstable’ cultural nexus to function without splintering apart.

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